Fair Upon the Tor #52 (updates Mondays)

His eyes opened wide: jarringly awake and alert. “Ow! What in the all the earth’s fire–?”

“This is made the spit and blood of a sea-foam hydra.” Quinnya dribbled more of the stuff into his cuts. “Also, wine from vines in the gardens of the Temple of the Silver Dusk, ashes from the funeral pyre of a respected healer, and other more subtle ingredients. It’ll staunch the blood loss and do something to stave off mortification. After a good sleep you’ll find the cuts are more healed than they would be in the natural course of hours. Though you will find yourself with a few scars,” she added, indicating the gash above his left eye. “Lucky you’ve a thick skull, well.”

Despite the medicine, the grogginess of blood-loss was swift in regathering itself into Keru’s eyes. He was soon slurring his words again, sounding almost drunk as he said, “Smells sweet.”

Quinnya nodded. “Hmmm. It does.” She looked up then, first at Keru, then Caewen and finally over at Dapplegrim. “I was certain you were of the night-relam, given your companion there.”

“I’m in no-one’s realm,” she said.

“I can see that. I have eyes, and I have ears. I’m no fool. Which may not be true of you.” Hitching up her black dress, white strips of rune-marked fabric ruffling, she got up with a wince of middle-aged joints. “All of you might as well listen, though I don’t know if you will. My sorcery is the sorcery of the storm and wind, sky, squalls and lightning. I have no alliance either, not today, not tonight. The storm rages at noon. The storm rages at midnight. It has no allegiances. And my life has been a long hard road.” She chuckled, quietly. “I’ve a few striking scars of my own, though I keep them covered. But, I am also the officiator of the maze because I am neutral in all matters. I am trusted because of it.” She put away the bottle of the silvery dark wine and blood. “I have lived a long life only through the application of care and considered action. You–all of you–need to understand that you are nothing but trivial pawns in a great war, and yet, unaligned magicians are also a nuisance. A wild element in the vast games of the Sun and the Night Sky. If the great powers perceive a reason to expunge you, imprison, or execute: they will. Be assured of it. They will not pause for a moment.” She looked around at them. “You think me a nuisance too, well. But those who walk the third path would do well to follow my example. Do not cause a fuss. Do not kick waves from the shore. Do not draw attention from the magicians of night, nor of day. They will only find you aggrieving in the end, and eventually, you will be aggrieved by them.”

She cast a quick glance over the flame-lit hillside, to Sgeirr, who was standing in a ruddy glow of light, fuming to look at now, her cheeks bright red, her eyes thin slits of rage. She must have guessed the reason that her companions had not emerged. Past her, the lion and the old icy magician-king had since stood up, and were now departing. It seemed they did know when there was no reason to remain waiting. They knew the two men were dead. anyone who watched them walk off knew the truth of it. But Quinnya just made a clucking noise at the back of her throat. “When a princess of a powerful kingdom–who comes of a long line of respected sorcerers–when she complains to me of falsehoods and trickery, I take the complaint seriously. As I must.” She looked at Caewen and her friends. “When some sorry excuses for half-wit witchingfolk present themselves, I do my best to steer them onto paths that are less likely to lead to untimely death. Though I can’t say I’ve done much to help you, have I? I did try.”

“Help us?” said Caewen. “You’ve insulted, belittled and done nothing but put walls the way.”

“And if you had delayed yourself by seven years, you would be older, wiser, and at this moment, you would very likely not have a deadly enemy wanting your head on a plate, young lady. The three of you–“

“–four,” interrupted Dapplegrim, with a snort.

“Four. Fine, yes. Four. The four of you have some serious enemies now. I don’t know how you conspired to murder two prentice magians in the maze without invoking retribution, and to be frank, I don’t want to know.”

“Actually,” Keri started, “it was those two who–“

“Uh uh uh uh uh… I said I don’t want to know.” A long draw of breath. “Now, if you will gather yourselves up, your friend here needs his rest, and you need to be out of the night. For payment, I ask nothing. I am bound to help, as I said.” She nodded at the darkness. “The Festival of the Uncreated Night has already begun, and our dear and lovely Princess Sgeirr will no doubt be wracking her head for ways to have you lot dead before dawn. Am I clear on this?”

None of them answered. Caewen looked at the ground, and scuffed a toe of her shoe through a rank tuft of grass.

“Well?” said Quinnya.

“Yes,” they muttered, except for Keru who seemed too giddy from blood loss to understand quite what was happening. He just craned his head back and said, “I feel like my toes are all made of sparkles.”

Quinnya looked at the sky. “Fine. Get along with you. I don’t want to hear anything more of you, not any of you. If you go about breaking more rules, and if the Goddess does not see fit to punish you for some reason, it will fall to an officiator of the moot to carry out justice upon you. Given my luck of late, I expect it will probably be me. That would be unpleasant for me.” She paused a moment, then added, “though not nearly so unpleasant as it will be for you.”