Fair Upon the Tor #10 (updates Mondays)

“But wurum poison,” said one of the women with books and donkeys, “it’s not easy to cleanse.”

“I don’t know about poisons,” said Caewen, “but we know how to hurry.” She climbed up into Dapple’s saddle so fast that she almost slipped off the other side, then steadying herself, she turned to Keri and said, “Pass him up. No beast with four legs is faster than Dapplegrim. We will hurry.”

Keri didn’t seem able to build words from thoughts, but she managed a nod and heaved her brother up until Caewen was able to drag him over the saddle like a stolen bag of grain. “On, Dapple!”

Dapplegrim erupted into a stride that left them all airborne for a moment. Hooves churned up wet soil where they landed, and then they were galloping. The grass underneath them lost its detail, turning into streaky blurs. Air whistled and stung. Travellers looked up at them, startled, scrambling to get out of the way or throwing spits and curses, waving fists. All of a sudden, on the left, the line of the Modsarie appeared. Caewen couldn’t quite resist the temptation. As they passed the Lady Sgeirr at a terrifying blur of speed, Caewen reached out and tapped the woman on the back. The impacted was enough to send a stinging jolt up into Caewen’s arm. She said, “Ow,” without thinking. But the swipe surprised the Modsarie lady with much more force. It was enough to unseat her. She flailed as she went over, shrieking, undignified. Caewen felt a little undignified herself, as she grinned and heard the yells and loud vows of revenge from all the Modsarie. She felt bad about feeling good, but pushed down the thoughts.

“Faster,” she said, as they tore onward. “Swifter and faster.”

“Hur,” replied Dapplegrim. “Maybe next time you can run, and I can ride?”

Caewen smiled. “There’s that wit of yours.”

The crowds, horses, wagons and oxen started to thicken, until their headlong rush was getting to be dangerous, for themselves and for others. Dapplegrim eased into a slower pace. Looking around, tents and market stalls were now scattered across a the wide green space. The road had lead them to a hollow where two low hills rose, one to either side, whilst in the near distance, the foggy, rock-strewn flanks of what must presumably be the Sorcery Tor rose sheer into the cloud of evening. Caewen didn’t take much notice of the landscape, just dimly noticing that there were some torch-light flames on the smaller hills and a few on the the great tor too. All around the flanks of the hills, and spreading across a wide, flat space, was a town of tents: stripped and chequered, dyed, plain and rustic, with peaks, or arches, or patterned fabric gables: there were almost as many constructions of canopy as there were canopies.

“Ho, there,” Caewen called down to the crowd, many of whom had backed away from her more than slightly. It was only sensible. Dapplegrim had come close to ploughing down more than one person. “Ho, there,” said Caewen again, exhausted and frantic. “Is there a healer near? Anyone with the herb-clever? Anyone at all?”

A tall fellow with bronze skin and rust-coloured eyes pointed to a collection of tents that stood a little way up the flank of the left hill. “Healer’s camp’s up there.”

“But you can’t go riding through folks,” said a woman in an outlandish red and green costume that seemed to be mostly made of feathers. “The moot will be getting you up on trial for that, yes. You get right down now, yes. No riding folks down.”

Caewen was already running her eyes over the heads of the crowds, up the flank of the hill to a place where the crowd was as thick as a market in springtime. “We’ll be an hour picking a path through that,” she said. “Gods of shear and plough.” She couldn’t see how Keru would survive long enough to reach the healer’s market. He was losing what was left of his healthy skin colour fast, and turning into a sort of blotchy brown-black-grey. “I guess there’s nothing else for it then. We’ll yell and make a noise. People will get out of the way. They will have to. If some wizard judges don’t like it, then blast them, one and all.”

Dapple had begun to trot forward when a friendlier, low, base voice cut out of the crowd. “Or perhaps I might assist?” They looked. It was an elderly man. He was walking towards them, carrying himself with a gentle rolling gait, like a pelican with a beak full of fish. He had a head going onto bald, a broad, twinkling, gnomish kind of smile and the sort of stout tub that comes from liking good food, or good drink, or more probably both. His beard, not long, but round and profuse was almost the size of his moon-shaped face. “I know a few tricks in the way of blood-cures.” He seemed uncomfortable making such a bold claim, adding, “You know. If one may pipe one’s own tune.”

“Yes,” said Caewen, a little desperately, “One may.” She climbed down, hauling the now limp and blank-eyed Keru with her. There were salt-stain spots of blood in the whites of his eyes. He was breathing, but only just. The swelling had found its way to his throat, and half his face was swollen beyond recognition. A painful puffiness was spread over his chest under his tunic too. His skin where Caewen touched it was fever-hot, uncomfortable to feel.

“Here, here,” said Caewen. She laid Keru out as carefully as she could on the trampled grass. “He was stung by a moor wurum.”

“Is that right?” said the man, his voice calm, giving out a sense of being somehow withdrawn within itself, considering, perhaps shy. His face jumped in and out of a fluster of seriousness and smiles. “How did a thing like that ever happen?”

Caewen tried to explain while the man looked into Keru’s eyes, touched fingers to his throat and prodded the flesh near the wound. As Caewen related everything, he said, “Ahmm… Ahmm… that so… ahmmm… I see. How ostensibly curious.” Once or twice he asked questions. “Who was the driver of the wagon?” She didn’t know. “The boy in the armour? Can you describe him again?” She did. “That’s interesting. A heir of the Drakkentunge. There are not so many of that bloodline left. A pity then.” He nodded and ahmmed some more.” He laid his hand over the wound as if he were feeling the warmth of it, judging how deep the injury went.

At last, Caewen said, “Can you save him?”

“Oh but I am.” He looked up with a quizzical smile and a funny little nod of the head. “Look. His colour is coming back. I think the inflammation is receding a little too. It had almost swollen shut his windpipe, though his heart would have stopped well before he suffocated, if you want the truth of it.”

“But how are you? I didn’t see you do anything?”

It was Dapplegrim who answered. “Old magic,” he murmured. “Strange, rich magic from somewhere far away.”