“And you were simply standing around… watching… what was it you said?”
“The Tent of Gifts.”
Before Caewen could ask what this was, Keri cut in, anticipating the question. “The two dynasties, Day and Night, give the other peace gifts at each moot.” She shrugged. “The presents are kept in a tent, and on the last feast night, they are doled out to the bigwigs… kings, mage-lords, sorceress-queens; the grand and fancy folk take their pick, then the next fanciest and so on. Lesser nobility maybe get a few leftover scraps.”
“Thanks. I was wondering. Uhm. Obviously.”
“You looked confused.”
“So, then, what about the third dynasty, nature, elements…”
Keri shrugged and said, “Don’t know. Guess they get something too?”
But Samarkarantha shook his head. “No. They do neither receive nor give gifts. They are not at war, and do not need to offer make-peaces.”
“And besides”, added Dapple. “They wouldn’t worth bribing, would they? The third dynasty doesn’t have any cohesion, does it? Hur. It’s all just a bunch of factions, fighting each other most of the time. Why bother buttering them up with pricey trinkets?”
Caewen paced across the tent, then turned on her heel as a realisation struck her. “Letha!”
“What’s Letha?” said Dapplegrim.
“No, no… who, who is Letha. I am such a fool. I spoke to her outside the maze. She had a little dragon-thing, a pet creature. She could speak to it. Oh, gods of stars, ash and sun… if she hasn’t already been killed–“
“Someone will try soon enough,” said Keri. “That fits the mould of the murders.”
“It does. But how do we find her? How would we warn her?”
A silence then hung between then, stretched out like a cold limp sheet. They exchanged glances, one to the other, to another. It was Keri who eventually spoke, saying, “Was she walking the maze?”
“Then she will be on Quinnya’s list. Quinnya will know where her tent is pitched, or caravan parked.”
“Where is Quinnya then?”
Samarkarantha answered, quietly. “She always raises her tent at the foot of the maze. Near the entrance. It’s a great grey and silver thing with clouds and canvas turrets and white lightning bolts stitched into the fabric.”
“Right then. Keri, did you want to come?” Caewen started towards the door.
“Are you mad?” Keri’s eyes were immediately wide with disbelief. “You’ve already gone out into the festival once, and once is enough. It only gets more crazed as the night goes on. You go out now–there are packs of night-worshippers just strutting about, looking for sacrifices. And someone already near enough killed Samarkarantha and Pel. Clearly, whoever is behind the killings knows about us now. They are watching us, without question. We’re staying in his tent. We’re all staying in this tent.”
“Hiding in a tent didn’t do the snake worshippers any good. They’re all still burned to cinders.”
“It’s better than going out there,” snapped Keri.
“Keri is right,” tried Samarkarantha. “Pel and I are not without skill and arts of defence. We are, to be truthful, far more dangerous persons than you, or your shadow-horse thing. And whomsoever is undertaking these killings, well, they had no compunctions nor hesitancies about the two of us. Of you? They may well make short work.”
“So what? We just wait until dawn. What if the murderer is planning to kill Letha tonight? We have to warn her. We have to at least try.” She looked questioningly at Samarkarantha. “Well?”
He sighed. “If I were not already badly hurt, I would go with you. But look at me. I can barely breath without pain.” He looked at the ground, and shifted, uncomfortably. “Caewen, please listen. Please. Mark well what I have already said to you: I am no hedge-wizard, nor paltry conjurer. I have real power, deep and marbled with veins of old magic. And yet, I was ambushed, and nearly killed. If the murderer comes for you…” He shook his head. “I don’t wish to be some old doomsayer, but you will not survive. You’ve no real power. Not really. You will be killed.”
“Keri,” she tried again. “Surely you won’t stand by… that’s not who you are.”
She shut her eyes tight. “No. It’s not. But I can’t leave my brother either. I can’t.” She drew in a suffocated breath. “My parents.” Then opened her eyes and looking squarely at Caewen. “If there is a clean fight, I will be at your back. But not this…. wandering around in the darkness, stumbling about… hoping to find some stranger’s tent before the night-worshipers find you. No, Caewen. There is right and there is wrong, but there is also sensible and there is just plain stupid. No.” Her head hung a little. “I’m staying here. With Keru. Someone has to.”
“Fine.” She turned for the way out. “It’s just me and Dapple, then.”
“Hurm. I don’t want to be a wet fog on your dawn, Caewen, but they are both right: it really isn’t sensible. We were lucky the first time we went out. We might not be this time. And the revels do get more, hurm, exuberant, as the night goes on. It’s riskier now than it was before midnight.” His voice grew more philosophic. “Sometimes to hesitate is to lose, but sometimes to hesitate is to not be standing in the way when a tree falls on the path.” Softly, he added a “Hurrrrm,” and a “hur.”
“Fine. I’ll go alone.”
Keri raised her voice. “Caewen. Please.”
“Hurm. And I didn’t say I would let you go alone. Only that I think this is a foolish choice.” He smiled and his jagged teeth shone against the lamplight. “But what are we two if not fools?”
“Alright then. Let’s think about this a moment. Could you outrun night-worshippers? If we were chased?”
“Probably. Depends on the night-worshiper. But they might surround us and I can only jump so far.” He turned over some thoughts, then said, “I might be able to bluff my way past a mob. Anyone from beyond the Snowy Mountains would know of my father–but, they would probably not know I am estranged from my father.”
“I thought you said you father was some sort of forest demon, who snuck out of the woods one night?”
“That is true. Hurm. But he has rights and powers. Few would want to cross him openly. Hrmmm.”
“There is that then. And, couldn’t you just sniff us around trouble? You’ve a good nose. Could you smell night-folk and skirt them?”
“Perhaps. Yes. It might work. Hrm. “Yes. Quite possibly. But it will have to be just you and me. To move quickly, I can’t be carrying more than one person.”
“It was just you and me to start with.” She resumed walking towards the tent flap when Keri cleared her throat.
“Er. You may want to put some more clothes on. You’re still dressed in undergarmets.”
“And you should take your sword,” said Samarkarantha.
“Oh. Yes.” A little embarrassed, she scrambled and pulled on her rough dress, and socks, boots and belt, finally looping her scabbard on. “Right then. Ready, Dapple?”
“As I ever will be,” he replied.