Fair Upon the Tor #51 (updates Mondays)

Caewen could not bring herself to be angry. She felt only flat, worn out, coldly irritated. “There was no cheating.”

Quinnya said nothing, but stared in her off-kilter way, as if by staring she would force Caewen into some sort of blubbering apology and confession.

“If there is nothing else?” said Caewen. “I would like to go to my friend. He’s just come out of the maze, from the looks of it, and–“

“Yes. There is. One thing else,” snapped Quinnya. “He must stay here. On the outside of the line of flames. I have already warned him twice. This makes the third.”

“Fine, fine.” Caewen turned to Dapplegrim. “You don’t mind waiting a moment longer? We’ll get the greeting done quickly, and have Keru back here, then back to the tent.”

Dapplegrim snorted, not taking his eyes off the iron-grey magess. At this Caewen suppressed another irritated sigh. She said to him, “Alright then. I’ll take that as an indication that you are not going to try and eat Lady Quinnya.”

To this the old mage simply narrowed her eyes. “Oh no, please let him try.”

Caewen walked away from them both, shaking her head. Does magic drive people insane? What was the matter with all these wizardly sorts? It really was as if casting spells made people odd in the head. And maybe it did? The only other magician she knew at all vaguely well was Mannagarm, and he had never seemed totally collected and sane. The winter-warlock Vespertine had not been right in the head either, in her opinion… although he had done a better job of faking a sane mind perhaps. Or maybe, she realised–well, perhaps she had it the wrong way around? Maybe it was only borderline lunatics who thought spellwork was an awfully good idea in the first place? That made as much sense as the other possibility.

The grass was turning damp under the expanding night, and the long sweeping reflections of blazing red cast from torches and fires danced out before her. Keri was already at her brother’s side, and there did seem to be something wrong. Keru was bent forward, and it looked like he was relying on his sister to stand. When Caewen reached them, she found herself speechless, first with shock, then anger. Blood, thick and reddish black in the dim light, caked Keru’s face and neck, and several savage gashes cut his arms and right shoulder, visible through the hacked rents in his clothing.

“Hello,” said Keru, smiling. His teeth had caught some small trickles of blood between them. “Sorry I took my time. Ran into someone who thought I’d be better off staying in the maze.”

Keri had a smouldering fire in her voice. “It was that two bastards, Sgeirr’s retainers. The Modsarie. They attacked him.”

“But I got away,” said Keru. He tried to straighten up, but had difficulty. His eyes looked like they were swimming, and his skin seemed bloodless under the dark tan of his complexion. He gave Caewen an odd look, and said, “Hey there. You’re looking lovely.”

His sister snapped at him. “Oh, shut up, Keru.”

The boy shook his head, dizzily.

Keri then said, “He’s lost a lot of blood. We need to get him to the welcomers quick, and then to someone with the healer’s knack, right away. These rags are barely holding the bleeding.” She was right. Keru had torn strips from his tunic to bandage the worst cuts, but the redness was welling out, like a thick juice from rotten fruit.

“Come on,” said Keri. “Get on his other side.”

Caewen lifted Keru’s right arm, and eased her shoulder under it. Together, they managed the long, uphill walk to the stone dais where the talking lion and the old icy man were seated, silent, watchful. Neither of them bothered to try and tempt Keru to their side in the endless war. They seemed to implicitly expect that the Forsetti would go their own way, and they spun out neither argument nor enticement. The lion only said, “Peace be upon you,” and then, “go and speak to Quinnya before you go.”

“Must we?” muttered Caewen, but Athmis growled low in this throat, rumbling a sound that seemed to assure that yes, this was required.

Of course Quinnya was not hard to find. She was still standing beside Dapplegrim, her arms folded, and her hard eyes full of a cold, stormy light. As the three of them hobbled towards her, they left a trail of crushed grass and bloody drops.

She shook her head, and looked skyward, before saying, “Put him down. I am bound to help those who come out of the maze, hale or injured, though it is few enough who are fool enough to get themselves this injured. What did you do? Try to climb over the walls to find a quicker way through? I expect you discovered that the maze dislikes clever clogs.”

“No,” wheezed Keru. “Attacked.”

At that Quinnya stopped, and her face froze into a closed waxy visage. “Attacked by what?”

“By whom, you mean,” said Keri as they lowered her brother to the grass. “It was those two retainers of Sgeirr.” She sniffed, and wiped some of her brother’s blood from her hands. “But they are dead now, so that is that.”

“Are they now?” asked Quinnya.

“They are.” Perhaps Caewen was a little too definite in answering. The old magess looked at her oddly, before arranging herself beside Keru and kneeling down. She lifted one of his eyelids and then the other, felt his right hand, and placed her hand over his heart. “There’s a lot of blood gone out of him,” she said, but followed this with a quieter, “Yet he will live. He is young and strong. Here now…” She fetched a small glass vial out of a pouch, held it up to the night sky as if trying to peer through it against darkness and clouds, then uncorked it. A smell of wet flowers suffused the air. “On it goes,” Quinnya said, tipping the bottle upside-down, and dashing droplets of a silvery grey liquor into Keru’s wounds. He winced.

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