Fair Upon the Tor #53 (updates Mondays)

They managed to get Keru on top of Dapplegrim, and together they walked along slowly, making their way first out of the shallow corrie, then down the wending hillside way. Caewen and Keri walked on either side, supporting the boy so that he didn’t fall. As they trod along, a few magicians did overtake them at a faster pace, but no one seemed to be following them, or for that matter, taking any notice at all.

“You know,” said Keri, as they descended a long and sweeping curve in the path, “I was thinking… maybe the reason that you weren’t punished for killing those two men, was that you were the punishment. The goddess might have worked justice through you? You know, in retribution for what they did to Keru.”

“Hurm. Could be,” said Dapplegrim. “Gods and goddesses are lazy. They do like to have others do their work for them. Go do this. Go do that. Oh, they dress it up as sacred quests, but mostly they’re just getting some chores done. Hur.”

But Caewen, just said, “H’m.” She looked out into the open air, over the rolling hills and darkness. They were a third of the way up the tor, and had a clear view across the camps of people gathered for the moot, the torches and lamplight, the glowing tents, pavilions and lean-tos, all aflame-seeming, like some vast ember-heap strewn among the black and shapeless spaces.

“Do you think Samarkarantha will be happy to see us back–given you’ve not taken a side? I mean, I was already neutral in things,” said Keri, ruminating, “but maybe he thought you or my brother might go over to his side? He’s in the camp of the Brightness Queen, after all.”

“H’m,” said Caewen.

Keri looked at her, expression growing cross. “Caewen. What is wrong with you?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. I was listening. Just distracted.” She tried an apologetic smile, saying, “I expect Samarkarantha will be fine. He offered us a place to stay, no matter what. I think he’ll keep his word. He doesn’t seem like the sort to break it. And besides, it’s not like we’ve decided to worship Old Night and Chaos, is it? We’re just trying to keep out of things.” She looked down, at the ground, wondering aloud to herself now. “I was wondering though–maybe it would still be safe to walk about a bit tonight? I want to visit the fortuneteller’s market after we get Keru back. Sooner, rather than later. I’d prefer not to leave it for tomorrow.”

“Why?”

Well, thought Caewen, the Goddess of the Tor had said, look to the oracles, and there was a sense of urgency to all the warnings in the maze… but she couldn’t explain that in so many words. It turned out that being saddled with a divine geas could unreasonably restrict conversation, and annoyingly so. “Um. There was that burnt tent, you see, and the dead soothsayers… Fafmuir seemed to think they had something to do with the wurum that escaped. Well, he seemed to hint at it, at least.”

“That serpent-thing we killed?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“I don’t see how,” said Keri. She shook her head. “I can’t go with you, I’m sorry. I need to look after Keru tonight. This is twice in two days that my little brother has nearly got himself killed. First the poison, now blades in the maze. I can’t leave him alone tonight. I really can’t. If I did, I’d probably come back and find a dragon trying to eat him.” She rolled her eyes. “Or something worse.” She did her best to pull a face that suggested a joke, but it was a thin effort. A rather defeated shrug followed. “Anyway, I don’t want to be out tonight either. Wandering about during the Festival of the Uncreated Night is not my idea of a fun evening, or a safe one. The night-worshippers go a bit mad during the festival. And frankly, they don’t really have excellent self-control at the best of times.”

“I’ll come,” said Dapplegrim, craning his head. “I could use the walk. Getting a bit cramped, sitting around all day, you know. Hur. Need to stretch my hocks.”

“Alright. Good. Dapple and me’ll go then.” She followed this by asking, “But what exactly happens in the festival? People keep talking about it, but I don’t know a thing about it. Is it really dangerous? It’s just a celebration, isn’t it?”

“Depends who you ask, and who you are,” answered Keri. “I mean, if you were one of the night-worshippers I’m sure it’s not very dangerous.”

“That’s not entirely true,” said Dappelgrim, brightly. “They sometimes sacrifice their own.” After a considered moment, he did add, “though they usually ask first. I mean, it’d be voluntary, typically. Hrrum.”

###

They arrived at the white and ochre tent, but found no sign of anyone inside except for one of Samarakantha’s strange woody faced, grassy haired servants. The creature indeed seemed to have been expecting them, and was waiting for them. It breathed out in its hissing, rattling voice, “Be welcome, so says the master of the bells. Be at ease, so says he. Food is freely provended, so do we do.” A resentful snarl followed.

Keri and Caewen helped Keru onto a pile of cushions. He fell asleep immediately. In the light of the oil lamps he looked more peaceful than pained, despite his angry dark bruises and scabbing cuts.

With a slight sigh, Keri said, “Yeah, I’m staying put. Are you really sure you want to go out there?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” She looked around. “Though I will at least go armed this time. I was too casual today.” She frowned. “I guess I really didn’t expect trouble in the maze.” Another glance around. “And I wonder where Samarkarantha and Pel are? I wouldn’t have thought they would be out of the tent.” She had something to talk to Pel about too. A puzzled twinge strung itself through her thoughts. “If this really is a night for the night-worshippers, shouldn’t those two be here, inside, keeping safe?”

Dapplegrim had managed to push his head and neck through the tent flap. He huffed out a snort, which was presumably meant to be agreement. As Caewen went to fetch her sword from where it was standing against a wooden stool, Keri wrinkled her face into a sudden awkward expression.  “Wait a moment, you left your sword behind? I didn’t even notice… but then… how did you… that is, how did you kill the two men in the maze? They were armed. One of them had an axe.”

“Ah, well.” Caewen shifted uncomfortably as she looped the leather belt around her waist. “I’d rather not discuss it, if that’s alright? There’s nothing mysterious abut it. Nothing like that.” She turned over some words in her head before saying, “It would just be unpleasant to talk about. That’s all. Maybe later? Just give me a day or two.”

“Right. I see. Later then. Very well.” Keri looked as if she was a bit less certain of her new friend. She looked at Dapplegrim then too, and maybe she was wondering if there was something deeper and darker to Caewen than she had supposed. “Well, I guess I’ll see you both when you get back. I suppose.”

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