Fair Upon the Tor #28 (updates Mondays)

“You heard about that too? Wasn’t it an accident?” Keru held his words for a breath after he said it, reflecting, then adding, “I didn’t hear much, I guess.”

Keri skipped her voice in over his. “Oh, brother, you do love the sound of your own voice. When you don’t have anything to say, you still say what you haven’t got to say.”

“I do, yes.” He smiled, boyishly.

“Sometimes I wonder how we can be related.” A smile belied any irritation. “Anyway, yes, I did actually hear something about that fire. I was, um, gossiping with a merchant down at the market. Wasn’t it some sect of priests and their minor godling? They had an oracle in the tent, but it was all burned to the ground, priests, oracle, tent and everything: all ashes and bones. They had pitched camp in the soothsayer’s market, down at the far end of the fair. It’s not too far past the other stalls. We could go and have a look around, you know, after the maze.”

“Yes.” Caewen nodded. “I think we should. Fafmuir mentioned it to me. You know… I’m not sure if he’s trying to prod me towards discovering something, or if he’s trying to tie me in knots, or, maybe there is nothing to him at all? Just words and nonsense. It feels as if there is an intent in him, but I don’t know what it is.”

Now it was Dapplegrim’s turn to snuffle and snort, and give out a low huff of a laugh. “He is an odd one, but he is before all else an achimage of the moot.” His voice ground itself away into old wild tones. “You can stand assured, Fafmuir is not made of mere words and nonsense, hurm, hur. No archimage ever uses words merely. An archimage will be plain with words no easier than a horse can toast crumpets.”

“I suppose you would know,” said Keru, laughing.

“But then, if he is trying to nudge me towards something, why be so cryptic about it? He could just set me to a task. He still has that obligation over me. Unless he’s trying to get me to do something without resorting to calling in favours?” She started then, and looked around, hunting, but saw nothing that wasn’t just low scrabbly trees, soggy grass and the heaped mass of the earth and rock and twisted thorn trees that was the tor, standing above them. Had there been a sound of children’s laughter? “Can anyone else hear that?” she asked.

“What?”

“Laughter,” said Caewen, looking around. “Giggling.” Maybe Fafmuir was about? Did he leave his tent with his wards in toe?

But the others agreed that they couldn’t hear anything. Dapplegrim seemed quite suspicious of the possibility. He looked at her quite hard with his dull red-on-black eyes. “I’ve a much better keenness of hearing that you,” he muttered. “There is no one laughing for some distance. Over the brow of the hill two drunk men are laughing at a rude joke. That’s the closest to laughter there is, and you could not hear that.”

If she had been catching sounds of children, they were gone now.

“I couldn’t no. I guess I was mistaken.”

“As for Fafmuir,” said Keri continuing her train of thought, “who can understand the minds of great wizards? Unfortunately, insanity threads itself alongside magic. That’s why it’s sensible to only learn a little in the way of charms and spells, old secrets, runes and suchlike. The deeper secrets will drive a person mad, in the end. There’s a reason some superstitious folks think wizards and witches are a wholly different race of being. Not human at all. Workers of miracles and magic end up changed in strange ways.” As Keri finished, she looked up, huffed, and said, with a note of pleasant foreboding, “Ah! Here we are then. The entrance to the maze. There’s a few people waiting to enter. We’re not too late then. That’s good. I wonder if old Quinnya is still in charge of the entrance?”

The view ahead was of a wide, shallow depression, running smoothly like a half-funnel towards the base of the tor, and then up to a wall of tall flat-faced stones that formed a sort of rampart against the green turf. Beyond the wall stood a jumble of stone, mossy heaps, and just visible wall-tops, disappearing into a web of half-glimpsed tunnels. The maze itself, visible in a few straggling pieces and peaks. The huge, primitive entry into the maze took the shape of a rough arrangement of uprights and one massive lintel that had been hauled into place by some ancient people. This set of stones formed a heavy, lichen-crusted doorway, softened by darkness and cobwebs behind and within. Carvings ran rankly all around that passageway, thick as weeds and twice as tangled: abstracted whorls, sweeps and lines, and primitive human figures too–though the distance was too great to make out details.

Downhill and across the grassy open slopes, were scattered smaller stones–misshapen and dwarfish looking–arrayed in rough lines. These looked as if they demarcated some forgotten processional concourse that had its origin off at the far end of the broad gully.

Nearer the maze entry, a milling of magicians, servants and attendants were gathered into small and clumpy flocks. They groups seemed to be keeping themselves well apart. There was little mingling among those who planned to walk the way, apparently. In Caewen’s assessment it wasn’t insanity that ran deep alongside magic, it was suspicion, and perhaps also guilt: for one tends to circle around the other, pairwise.

Caewen and her companions cut a quick decent downslope, into the gully, swishing noisily through the thickest patches of green. The expanse they strode into turned tufty with dandelion, clover, ragwort and cat’s ear. It had a weediness that settled against the part of Caewen’s mind that still dwelled on the work of running a farm. The dandelion and cat’s ear were useless for sheep or cows, and the ragwort was poisonous. These were not fields that any farmer had tended for long ages.

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