Dog And Dragon – Snippet 23


“Yesterday, all you wanted was to go west,” said Fionn as Díleas danced around him, barking. Darting off southward, and then running back to see if Fionn was following. Doing everything but to bite the dragon’s heels to get him to follow. “You’d have been well served if I’d had have left you there for the plump lady to pamper, forced to sit on a satin cushion, and be fed sweetmeats for saving her precious boy. It wasn’t easy getting you out of there, but the last thing we need is a young knight traveling with us as well. He’s probably trying to track us, and we’re a lot harder to follow moving down the roadway than fighting our way through the forest.”

Díleas was paying no attention to his eloquence, so Fionn gave up and followed. He wasn’t prepared for the sheepdog to turn around and give him a lick on the nose.

He also was not prepared for another trilith, some three hundred yards into the forest. A low, squat one, barely five cubits from the forest floor to the balancing stone, and covered in enough moss and fern to blend into the woods.

“Now just how did you know that was there? And I’ll warrant it leads to elsewhere,” said Fionn.

It did. They came out in a long grassy dale, with the hills rising all around them. Fionn smelled the air. And then turned his back on the dog and went to have a long hard look at the trilith…which wasn’t there. He walked back up the track past where they had stepped into this place. It did not take him back to the forests of Brocéliande.

“A one-way gate. And another I did not know existed. Either things have changed in the wider planes while I’ve been trapped, or I knew very much less than I thought I did.” Fionn used his vision to peer into the currents of energy around the spot, ignoring the dog and his “come on” bark. There was very little sign of the vast flow of magic and other energies that such a displacement should cause. Someone or something very skilled had set up this gate.

Fionn preferred to be the one who knew more than others, to being the one who was still trying to understand. Why had the dog come this way? How did it know where the gate was?

And…did it really, somehow, as he hoped desperately, know where his Scrap of humanity was? He missed her fiercely.

Up the slope some white-grey shapes ran away. “Sheep. Yes, Díleas, I am coming. I don’t entirely like it, but I am coming. And you should be a very happy sheepdog as there seem to be a lot of sheep, rather than wolves, afancs and giants…not to mention the mother of knights here. Lead on. Here I think the appearance of being human will lead to less problems.”

It felt like Albar or Carmarthen. Which was illogical. Ys and Cantre’r Gwaelod abutted Brocéliande. But as the trilith gated way had proved, there were places and things that he had known nothing of, linking places, obviously by some sort of different mechanism. Well, Groblek could be anywhere…

They walked on. Díleas seemed determined that only one direction would do, taking them cross-country and through a muddy stream, over several dry-stone walls and into some conflict with a shepherd and his dogs on the steep hill-path they were following. “What are you doing in this pasture?” yelled the shepherd standing astride the path next to some large boulders. “Here, Strop, Cam. See them off, boys.”

Two black-and-white sheepdogs, remarkably like scruffier versions of Díleas, hurtled towards them, barking, dividing at the last minute, to flank them, and then suddenly getting the smell of dragon.

They weren’t stupid dogs. They were a lot brighter than the shepherd, Fionn decided. Brighter than Díleas, who was regarding the two suddenly halted dogs with a display of fur, a curled lip exposing his teeth and a deep burring growl. “We’re just passing through, fellow. Call off your dogs, and we’ll be on our way.”

“Not over my master’s land you’re not! Strop, Cam, gettim.”

The dogs advanced. Not in a hurry.

“Díleas. Put your head between my legs,” said Fionn quietly.

The sheepdog did, and Fionn whistled. He’d found dogs — and animals who heard higher frequencies — did not like that whistle. People didn’t even hear it.

The dogs did. So did the sheep on the hillside and quite a lot of mice and a fox. They all wanted to leave.

The shepherd did quite a lot of yelling and then some whistling. And a fair amount of swearing. “He lacks originality, Díleas,” said Fionn, addressing himself to the sheepdog. “And you’re a young dog. I don’t think you should be listening like that,” because Díleas plainly was listening, head cocked to one side, tongue a little out. Looking at his expression, Fionn was fairly sure Díleas was laughing in doggy fashion. “Now, shepherd, we’re tracking someone we’ve lost. Will you get out of our way, or shall I repay the favor by letting Díleas bite you? Or I could toss you down this hill? I’ve no real desire to fight, but I’m in a hurry.”

One of the sheepdogs had returned to behind its master, nearly crawling on its belly, tail between its legs. The other was staying a lot further off. “What have you done to my dogs?” said the shepherd, backing up himself. “I can’t let you walk over here. My lord said I was to keep people off. They’re stealing his game, he said.”

“Don’t be dafter than you have to be,” said Fionn, his sympathy, as usual, with whoever was stealing the odd pheasant. “Firstly, you can see I’m not stalking or hunting anything, and secondly, I’m not going to tell him I met you if I happen to run across him. And who else will tell him? I’m just passing through.”

“But…but there is now’t up there. Just devil’s leap.”

“Then maybe I’m the devil, going there.”

The shepherd looked at him, wide-eyed, and then jumped down the rocks on the edge of the path and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him, followed by his dogs.

“Come on, Díleas. Barking at him is just rude,” said Fionn. “I think we’ve started a new legend, which is enough chaos for one day. And it should make poaching up here a bit easier too. I do like doing public service, especially when it involves a mischief. And something tells me you’re taking me to this ‘devil’s leap.'”

Indeed he was.

It was well-named, if you were human. A great plate of cap-rock had been eroded into a narrow tongue, while the softer underlying rock had been eaten away. It hung above the wrinkled valleys of the lowlands a thousand feet below.

To a dragon, of course, it looked like it could be prime real estate, especially if there was a cave somewhere close. The difference was that dragons had wings, and dogs and humans were a little short of those.

And that fool dog was simply walking towards the drop. It did seem to be giving him pause…well, he was slowing down. “Wait. Díleas, this is a better task for a dragon than a human. And better too for a dog to have a dragon for company. I really need to rig you some kind of harness. Aha! I have it. The coil of traveler rope. Let’s tie it to you, because my talons might have a bad effect on a fast falling dog.”

So they stopped, high above the world, where along a distant roadway a cart toiled. Fionn could detect a minor perturbation in the energy flow here, but he would never have found it without getting so close. Whoever had built these Ways between worlds had been adept at hiding them from planomancers, also from others here, if reaching them involved walking over a cliff.

The dog got a long harness, which, Fionn could tell by his pawing at it and sniffing, was less popular than the red boots had been. “I haven’t got you on a lead. You’ve got me on one,” said Fionn taking the end in a dragon talon, and wrapping it around his leg. “So lead.”

And Díleas did. One cautious foot at a time…stepping out into the air. And then, he leapt into space. Fionn followed. Either the dog knew more or could sense more than a planomancer, or it was just a really crazy dog.

They did fall.

But not far enough for Fionn to unfurl his great wings. Actually he had to do a frantic roll in the air so as not to land on the dog. And the turf they landed on was springy and covered in thick moss. There were trees — gnarled, huge, ancient trees — overhanging the dell. The air was sleepy, warm, and full of the gentle background sounds of bees.

Fionn was attuned to the use of energies and magics. He knew this for what it was. He turned to Díleas, who had flopped down, panting. “Come, dog. Don’t even think of lying down. Think of rats, or rabbits, or better still, busy beavers. Or you’ll end up like that.” He pointed to a green-white curved dome, lying in the shade. It might have been a rock, except for the eye sockets. Díleas got up and walked with leaden feet, still with the rope leash on, too tired to even protest that indignity. There were other bones here in the forest. A rotten femur nearly tripped him. Fionn could feel the lethargy affecting him too. Dragons were not as much affected by the magic of other species, not even the magic of the tree-people. How many desperate humans had walked to the devil’s leap to jump…and found themselves here? Spared to become plant food. They walked towards another long-dead human, with shreds of faded clothing and a rusted sword and hauberk. Fionn picked up the sword in his dragon talons. The dog was swaying on its feet. “That’s enough,” he said. “Stop this now or there will be trouble.”