Dragon’s Ring — Snippet 14

Chapter 13

Vorlian had acted with great circumspection, calling them together only some days later. It was probable that Zuamar had talked to other dragons. It was possible that he’d talked to Vorlian merely as a feint, or a warning. He was one of the old ones and they were as cunning as only a dragon that had survived to that age could be.

“It would seem,” he said coolly to the sprite and demon friend. “That you underrated Zuamar. He’s been hunting high and low . . . for your dragonish conspirator. Who is he?”

Even the sprite, who normally looked just faintly supercilious, looked confused. “If we had one we would hardly have come to you,” said Lyr.

That had the ring of truth and logic to it. Of course anything a demon was involved in made treachery likely, but they needed him. Dragons prepared to work with the lesser . . . other species were rare. Did this mean that another dragon was involved . . . perhaps in a separate plot? Given dragonish nature, you could not discount the possibility.

“Anyway. Zuamar is searching both the land and ocean for your pirates. He’s convinced that a dragon was involved. I hope I’ve sent him off on a false lead. But we need to act with circumspection in Yenfar. It’s only a single little human girl-child, and she almost certainly doesn’t know what she is capable of, or, if she does, has no idea how to control it. She’s hardly a danger. Can we not arrange a quiet kidnapping without bloody mayhem? Humans disappear all the time. They will think that she’s run off, probably.”

“Her village is deserted. We followed the trail to Tarport,” admitted Haborym.

“Carefully,” said the sprite. “We have some human agents. Religious ones.”

“Tarport,” said Lord Rennalinn. “There have been some strange rumors out of there. Some of my bondsmen sailed from the place. But their ship was searched from stem to stern. And the Dragon Zuamar himself came and sniffed between the decks, apparently.”

Vorlian started. “He knows what is afoot!”

Rennalinn shook his head. “No. Someone set fire to and looted his tax hall.”

The very idea shocked Vorlian almost as much as the idea that Zuamar could have found — and killed — the human mage they needed. Of course she would have to be killed. Dragonkind would settle for no less — the old ones like Zuamar still remembered that human mages had abused them and used them in their conflicts. But they planned to kill only after her work was done. But to dare to steal gold — because they would have stolen gold, what else, from a fellow dragon? Tarport would be lucky if it escaped incineration.

“Zuamar is an impediment. We need to remove him,” said the centaur — as if a dragon was a mere human or dverg. To Vorlian’s surprise the others nodded.

“But a dragon in his own demesne is not easy to deal with,” said Rennalinn.

“I disapprove,” said Vorlian. “But I believe that he’s looking for a dragon called Jakarin that recently lost her hoard. I . . . er, cast suspicion on her. It is possible they may fight. Jakarin is fat bodied and witted, but . . .”

“Zuamar is one of the great old ones,” said Haborym. “Not likely to be killed by a conflict with this dragon. But it might distract him.”

Vorlian was struck, once again, by just how well informed the fire-being was about dragonkind. They didn’t know everything, but they certainly had studied dragons. Vorlian wondered why? Well, perhaps it was natural. Dragons ruled Tasmarin after all.

“Nonetheless I think we need to act with some caution about that Merrow ‘treasure’ held by the alvar lordling of Yenfar.”

“We have secured the services of a very skilled thief and provided him with a simulacrum of the Merrow treasure. It will defy even the most expert detection. Prince Gwyndar is away too. A hunting trip, I believe,” said the fire-being.

Once again they were moving too far and too fast. And knew too much.

A little later, after some further discussion the conspirators went their various ways. Vorlian found a reason to delay and have a private word with Lord Rennalinn. “A word, alv, before you go. It concerns our relationship.”

Rennalinn seemed flattered. “Of course, Lord Vorlian. We — as the ruling classes of Tasmarin — must have matters to discuss.”

Vorlian smiled. Some of the alvar did delude themselves that rule of Tasmarin was shared. He said nothing however, just waited until the others had left.

“Now, Lord Vorlian,” said Rennalinn — putting himself in dire danger by sauntering toward the dragon and his hoard, “what can I do for you?”

“I want to know about the magical compulsion of the other species,” said Vorlian, restraining himself.

Rennalinn blinked. Looked faintly guilty. “It is possible Lord Vorlian. But not to dragons, of course. They cannot be compelled.”

“Zuamar said that that was most distinctly not true. Dragons can be compelled, and were. He said that this was how they were forced to act by the human mages before the creation of Tasmarin. And by the First before that.”

“Ah. By humans. But not by the First. We alvar are directly descended from them. And human mages are now extinct. Besides,” said Rennalinn with a hasty and rather false little laugh, perhaps suddenly grasping that Vorlian’s tone was far from friendly, “You’d know straight away if anyone even tried, my Lord.”

“And you are sure that this ability was confined to humans?” said Vorlian.

“Absolutely certain. That was why the dragons eliminated them.”

“I have to point out that we have good evidence they’re not extinct. Or without power.”

“Don’t worry, Lord Vorlian,” said Rennalinn. “The balance of power among all the species is such that human magic works poorly on us. Or the creatures of smokeless flame.”

Vorlian found that relatively uncomforting.

* * *

Lyr watched. Communication among her kind was not instantaneous, but, as long as there were growing things around, she could pass word, and receive information through the vast delicate chemical net that the sprites controlled. One of the reasons that the sprites disliked this world so much was the endless islands. The sea, of course, had plants too, from the great kelps to the things that floated and could not be seen. But they fell at least in part under the magic of the merrows, with whom the sprites had an old enmity.

She did not like the meeting place the fire-being had insisted on. The cave was above the tree-line. There was little that grew up here beside lichens, and she hated the place as a result. But she understood the demon’s reasoning. It made Vorlian so uncomfortable that he could barely think. Because all sprites were one, Lyr knew that this was not the only dragon they’d got to that point, but the others were less able and more difficult to push in this direction. She listened. So he was suspicious. But at least he had asked the alvar-fool.