He seemed affronted, and taken aback, blinking those weak coloured eyes, pursing his lips, and even quivering a little, just along the line of his brow, but, at last, he answered, “If I could but wield this that I possess, then I might avert all that will otherwise befall, and all the folk of the moot would then look upon me and acknowledge my greatness.” His eyes wandered then, drifting, and slipping in and out of focus. “They would reward me. A seat on the boradtable, no doubt. At the very least. I would be chiefmost among the four princes of Sorthe too. I would rule in comfort, and in safety.” A almost whine-like tone crept into his voice on that last musing.
“If you could but wield that thing, you would be twenty foot tall, and a giant among mortals. I imagine you would not need any sword then, large or small, to attract praises of greatness.”
He let out a half-whistling scoff of a noise, clearing upwards out of his throat and through his nose. “Shows what you know. This would be as light to master as any sparring sword made of wood, if it were only whole.” He snarled with effort then, moving his arms against the dead weight, twisting the blade and swivelling it. A harsh scraping noise came from the tip where it scratched the stone flags across the other side of the encircling pool of water. Light shone down its edge, and a triangular notch of metal, missing from the sword about half way along, came into sight on this new angle.
She sighed. Right then. Another phantom wanting something strange and unattainable. “I suppose you are sitting there wishing for that shard of metal then?”
“Well,” she continued, “I haven’t seen any chips of steel, but if I see one, I’ll let you know.”
“Ensure that you do.”
With a shake of her head, she made to go. She was stepping away from him, already leaving behind this boy on his strange perch of rock, with his odd fiery pool and his strange too-large sword, when it occurred to her to ask, “Hold a moment–who are you? I mean, I know Mannagarm. And I know myself, but I don’t know you at all. Are you at the moot?” Reflecting she added, “Out there I mean. You are here, obviously, or some semblance of you is, I guess.” The phantoms in this place really did make very little sense to her.
“Here? Idiot! I’m no fool, though you must be a grand fool to have come to the moot. You see, I have stayed far away.” With an ominous note that bordered on the theatrical, he added, “I was warned,” and he looked down at the pool of flickering lit-up water. “The voice whispered to me.” One detached sniff followed. He waved his spare hand. “Besides, I’ve tasks to see to. Decrees that must be made. I am a prince, after all. One of the four Princelings of Sorthe. As for who I am, you may address me as His Grace, Athairdrost.”
“The name means nothing to me.” She said this thoughtfully, as much for herself as him. “Though… isn’t Sorthe a kingdom far in the north and east? North of Brae? Off east of the mountains, isn’t it?” She then considered carefully what she said next, testing the conversation like a fisherman dabbling a hook into water, afraid that she would scare away a slippery fish with too jolting a touch. “Are you under the sway of The Winter King?”
“Of course not. Sorthe is a realm and dominion unto itself.” After an uncomfortable pause, he did say, with a touch of concession, “Although the Four Crowns have entered into alliance with that personage, the pact is wholly in the favour of Sorthe, I assure you. The Four Crowns of Sorthe do not cow before him.” Though when he said this, his eyes did dash back and forth, as if he was half-expecting someone, or something, to manifest. When nothing eventuated, he seemed to grow bolder. “You ask a lot of questions.” A light glinted in his eyes. “Ah, I see it now. You are a spy! I have been warned about spies, and assassins too! You want to take my treasure from me. You will not! I will not let you.” With a colder crust to his tone, he cast his voice quietly into the dark air, “Arise to me, vassals of mine.” A smile. “Those who serve me will not ever, no never allow harm to come near me.” Stress daubed fragility into his throat. With more than a little of the breaking in and out of a teenage rasp in his throat, he declared, as if giving an order: “Take her! Bring her!”
Immediately, a cold touch of fingers brushed over the back of Caewen’s neck, and something caught at her hair. She lunged forward, then wove off to one side on nothing but instinct. Other invisible hands plucked at her, grasping–still weakly–at her clothing, hair, her skin. Pulling herself still further away, she twisted and broke free from the soft, chill touches, then stumbled as fast as she could around the water-bounded rock where the boy remained perched, glaring with his bright grey coloured eyes.
She ran for the door at the far end of the little stone courtyard, and made its threshold, just as fingers were grabbing and scrabbling at her back.
The moment she was through the doorway, the groping and clawing stopped. She looked back, racking her lungs for breath, and saw him, now quite white-faced, definitely enraged, pointing after her. He was shrieking, wordless and high-pitched, like a spoiled child, ready to throw his toys. But his unseen servants, for all that they had a chill otherworldliness to their cold hands, they did not follow after her.
She was safe in the doorway.
Rattled, she leaned into the wall on one hand, and called back at the waterlit, firelit boy, “I take it back, Athair-whatever-your-name-is. If I find that piece of your sword, I will keep it for myself, drill a hole in it, and wear it for a trophy. I do not know who you are, for truth, or what you are, but if you cross my path in the world of trees and earth, I swear you will come off the worse for it.”
This enraged the prince still more. He descended into a incoherent boil of words. And yet, despite what was now a blistering, spittle coated anger that babbled out of his lips, the boy remained unwilling, or unable, to get down from his little stone precipice. It was only his spit-covered, echoing knot of rage that followed Caewen, as she stalked out of that space, and into the next length of stonework, and onwards.
She shook out a sigh and bowed her head, tired.
Just one more insubstantial spectre, unable to do harm, but able to rattle and frighten.