Fair Upon the Tor #31 (updates Mondays)

For a time then, there was nothing for it, but to wait. So they chatted idly, watching as magicians-to-be were called, one after another, into the maze. Out of an urge to make conversation and pass the time, Caewen asked Keru and Keri why they wanted the status of magehood when neither of them seemed very inclined to magic. She had seen neither of them so much as talk about a charm or talisman. They told her that they came from a long line of sorcerer-chieftains. The family would consider it unthinkable not to attend the moot and walk the paths. “Early on,” said Keri, “when our people first washed up on the cold stony shores along the Foresetti woodlands, we were mistrusted, feared, oft attacked. But the moot has a rule that all comers are welcome. Our sorcerers and ghost-talkers were welcome here. It was the first point of acceptance in a strange land. All the old sorcerer families still walk the maze, even if they have little enough sorcery in the family any longer. It’s tradition, I suppose.”

Keru added, “And you know, a bit of fun too. Travel. See the moot. Walk the maze. People talk it up as dangerous.”

“Well,” suggested Caewen, “it sort of has been that.”

Dapplegrim just snorted out one, “Hurrrm,” in agreement.

About an hour passed before Keru’s name was called. They all got up, and walked with him down to the maze entry.

“Just him,” said Quinnya with a low, hard-lipped tangle of breath. The storm-cloud black and sleet-white of her ribbons and tatters stirred and moved as she spoke. She pointed at Caewen. “You are last, and your horse-thing cannot go with you, naturally, in case you were planning on it, well? One of the earlier supplicants, an upstanding young woman of clear potential warned me about you and your horse-creature. The rules are firm. No familiars, demons, spirits, no enslaved faer folk, no totemic beings, or gods, be they great or small, may be taken the maze. Only the mortal supplicant may enter.”

“Hurm. Hur. Hurrrr.” The pinpoint red lights in his cloudy black eyes flamed brighter. “I’m no enslaved spirit or demon.”

“And what are you then?” Quinnya raised herself stiffly, straightening her back and tilting her nose. “A talking pony? A cursed toy horse? A shrunken, skinned dragon who lost his wings?” A huff of irritation from her. “No pets either.”

“Pet. H’rm. Hur. Hurm. A friend, is what I am. I’ll not be happy if something unpleasant happens in there.” His sharp teeth shone. “Best remember that I am no magician, lady magess. I am not bound by the rules of this place.” His grin deepened. “I can murder whomsoever I like.”

“That is supposed to frighten me? I’ve been threatened by worse than you in my time. I’ve seen worse. I’ve scraped worse off the bottom of hobnails.” She waved at Caewen. “The other one, the Forsetti boy, he will go through now, but you must wait. Go away somewhere. I’ll call you when I’m ready to call you. As I said, you are last in line. That’s all you need to know. You can go away and eat griddle scones and strawberry jam for all I care.”

Keri gave her brother a quick hug, extracted a promise from him that he would be sensible and not do anything stupid, then let him go. He laughed, performing a dismissive little shrug before turning to the tall moss-crusted and damp-strewn doorway, and then walking directly into the darker space beyond. Soon enough, he turned a corner and was lost to sight.

An uneasy sense of foreboding came over Caewen then. She thought, perhaps, it was nothing more than nerves of the unknown, and shook herself free of it. “Did you want to sit down again?”

“Actually, would you mind if I walked by the old straight road to the maze end? I think I would like to be there when Keru comes out from the maze. He’ll probably have managed to trip over, graze himself, or something such thing that will give him a nice bit of hurt that he can make a fuss about.” She seemed to chew on some indecision before saying, “He’s tall for his age, and not as old as he looks. He’s still in that foolish space, where boys act like yearling calves and think they can’t be hurt by anything.”

“You go. Dapple will keep me company.”

“Thank you.” She grabbed Caewen by the hand, briefly, applying pressure to the fingers in a tight, warm squeeze, then hurried away. As she walked her face was turned down, taking in only the grass.

“Dapplegrim?”

They were moving away from the door now, looking for a place to wait out the next span of minutes, hours or longer. “Was that true? What you said about the rules not applying to someone who isn’t a magician?”

“Old Mannagarm used to wring his guts out about it. He was cheated by a merchant at the moot he went to, years and years back. He had no way to get back at the fellow using the laws of the moot. The laws only apply to workers of magic. Of course, it works both ways. If the old witching-man had got his own back through dark spirits and evil spells, well… there was nothing to protect that merchant either. It’s a foolhardy soul that comes to the moot intending to get the best of wizards.”

“What about an intermediary then? If Samarkarantha sent his little grassy-haired creatures out to steal or kill, would the judgement come back to him.”

Dapple fumed air in and out of his nostrils. “I think so, yes. I don’t know for certain, but anything in your power, a spell-thralled servant, a spirit, demon or faer creature: it would be viewed by the three goddesses as an extension of the spellworker. At least, I’m guessing. Why do you ask? You aren’t thinking of sending me off to do something unscrupulous. I’m usually all in favour of unscrupulous things, but remember: I did pass to you from Mannagarm under old laws of exchange. I suspect the goddesses would look unkindly on using me as a means to doing murky work.”

“It’s not that, no. I suppose I was wondering about using a cat’s paw. There’s that man who Fafmuir said was an assassin. What if he was hired by a magician?”

“That might work? Gods and goddesses, even the ones who want sacrifices of gold and bronze don’t really have a good grasp on monetary exchange. It’s sort of outside their sphere of understanding. Although, I don’t really know, truth of it. So, maybe, yes.”

“I wonder then.” She looked around. The crowd waiting at the gate was thinning. As would-be mages filed into the dark door, one after another, their friends, retainers or servants also drifted away. Presumably to meet them on the other side of the maze. Finally, the shadows of afternoon gauzed out into shadows of early evening and there were only two supplicants left. Caewen and one other young woman, of outlandish dress and strange foreign appearance. The woman was alone except for some small creature of a pet she seemed to be feeding out of her cupped hands. As they were the last two waiting, and as the other young woman had no one with her, Caewen tried a friendly smile, and finding it returned, she walked over, Dapple loping along behind her, head low, red-black eyes aglow.