Fair Upon the Tor # 27 (updates Mondays)

“They must have walked paths I didn’t. For me, it was mostly just half-carven, unfinished stone walls.” Her brow knit, memories chased themselves around in her eyes, and she looked much more serious. “There were etchings on the walls, in places. Strange letters, but I couldn’t read them. A few rude faces carved in the stone. Some grasses and the odd sapling.” She concentrated, seeking inwardly, back through the short seven years since she was in the maze. “The walls were formed of the same rock that makes up the spurs hereabouts. What is that, limestone?”

Caewen wasn’t sure, but Dapplegrim, who had been trailing silently after the three of them, snuffled and declared himself abruptly knowledgeable about rocks. “It is most definitely limestone. H’m. Full of shells, if you look. From a long time ago.” His tail swished. “From before people. From before the wars of the goddesses. From a very long time ago. It takes a long age for fragile things to turn rock hard.” He cast a glance at Caewen then, his red eyes gleaming dully. “Even under great pressure.”

“And yet you know this how?” said Keru, amused. “How indeed? You’re not so old as that. And don’t lie to me.”

“Spirits remember. Spirits talk.” Dapplegrim threw his head around. “This was all a sea once, this place. If you dig deep enough there are still watery spirits here, deep, deep down, but they have tunnelled into the soil, into the wet caves far beneath, looking for darkness and coldness. The sorts of spirits who swam in the sea before there were humanfolk or gods are not the sort of spirits that like daylight and airy breezes.”

Keru’s smile played up around face. “Done a lot of wandering through dark wet tunnels yourself, have you?”

“Some,” replied Dapplegrim, but he didn’t elaborate, choosing instead to flick his ears and set a frown on his skullish face. “So you and Caewen will walk this maze? Then what? How long until Caewen can speak her piece, and her and me can leave this rotten mound of cunjorers and tricksleeves?”

With a slight shake of her head, Keri spoke, her words lighter than the lingering mists that still faintly roused and stirred in the cold hollows of the morning landscape around them. “Who knows? You have to take a lot to speak, and the lot could come up anytime. Could be later today. Tomorrow, or later still even, after the festivals.”

“What festivals?” Caewen had been thinking about the maze, but also, in flickering half-moments, about Fafmuir, about dead boys crushed by cages, and burnt tents. She came back to her focus as Keri turner her face towards her.

“The celebration of Uncreated Night, Firstborn Day, the Living Flames and the Dead Ashes. Four festivals strung out in a row, but it’s not as exciting as it sounds. I was bored and disappointed seven years ago. Went to bed early both nights. It’s all very…” she waved a hand… “rigid and formal. A touch too pious, for my tastes, anyhow.”

Her brother gave out his opinion, as he was wont to do. “I’d say very much too pious from everything I’ve heard. Getting towards a sort of fool-sacred. When does it start? Tonight?”

“Tonight would be the Festival of the Uncreated Night, yes.” Keri nodded. “Tomorrow is the Day of the Firstborn Daughter, the Day Queen. Then, the evening is the Time of the Fires for the Living, and in the small hours, the Red Ashes for the Dead. Flames for the living; embers for the dead. The fire-priests build up huge bonfires and let them burn down. Supposedly, the good dead come back to sit by the embers, but I slept through it all last time. I’m not much in the mood to talk to ghosts this time either, bad or good.”

“M’m,” said Caewen. “So there’s a series of self-important sounding festivals. That would fit. The magicians of this moot never do cease to surprise with their talent for being a little more uppity about themselves.”

A light curve of a smile touched Keri’s mouth, and ran up into her eyes. “I’m afraid it does often seem that way. It rather goes with the job, I expect.” A shrug. “Being magicians, and all.”

“Yes.” Caewen looked away, past her companions, at the tents passing by, at the bright morning sky full of mist of cloud in full, soft light, at the trees and the hills beyond them. “I’ve been thinking also about that escaped wurum. Here. I’ve a question… Keri, Keru: did you know the boy was a serpent-talker? He came from some lineage that could talk to wurums and dragons, snakes, and other things too, probably. Fafmuir told me.”

“I didn’t” said Keri. “But what of it?”

“Does’t is strike you as awfully convenient?”

“In what way?” she said.

“Well, I mean, think about it. Right there, we had a person who could have simply told the wurum to go back into its cage, or asked it nicely to go to sleep, or I don’t know, whatsoever he wanted it to do. But he was killed the very moment the wurum got loose.”

Keru snorted and puffed out his cheeks. “I would have described it as awfully inconvenient.”

As her head nodded in slow, thoughtful agreement, Keri said, “Inconvenient for us, but convenient for anyone who wanted a rampaging wurum. You think it wasn’t an accident then?”

“I’m just about sure that it wasn’t an accident. Only, I’m not sure to what end. There’s something murky going on here. I feel like there are shapes flashing just out of sight, like white-bellied eels coiling just under the surface of a muddy creek. A glimpse here. A rush of a shape there. But I can’t see the whole of it yet.” She sniffed the cold air through her nostrils, feeling the chill in her head and down the inside of her windpipe, turning her breath over, and puffing it out in one irritated whisper. “I want to go and look at the tent that burned down too. I think I must. I need to know what happened there.”

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