Meanwhile Conner said quietly, "Milady, please tell us we're not going to use that approach...?"
"I'm not sure it would work as well a second time." Damn good idea, though.
"He didn't seem to really have a body," Artos answered Meara's question.
"So, who gave you the gold?" I asked.
"Without a body?"
"Do you know whose ghost it is?" Llweder asked a question we'd forgotten.
"Who is?" he followed up patiently. It was like pulling teeth with these people.
"The last king of Caer Myrrthin."
"Do we know why his soul walks the keep rather than going on to the next realm?"
"No. I didn't really think it was all that politic to ask him after I was busy blackmailing him for money."
"As far as anyone knows, his is the only ghost that haunts the place?" I frowned. "The others who were in the keep are not present?"
A shrug. "Nobody's ever come back. He's the only person who came out to talk to me."
"I just have to ask for intellectual curiosity, did you stand at the edge of the keep shouting out his name, daring him to come out? How exactly did you present this?" Meara wanted to know.
"If you take a twenty-gallon drum and fill it with sand, it makes a good door-knocker," he told us. "And my grandfather left me this horn...."
"Hoo. So you kicked the drum down the hill, rammed the door, at the same time you blow the horn and stand there with your torch?" She was grinning.
"That works, I can see that."
"Dramatic," I judged. "I think we'll probably just knock." We didn't plan to ask for money, just information. Maybe we'd get points for not threatening to burn the place down.
"He was dark, see-through, eyes, crown...."
"Two eyes?" Meara jumped on that.
"Oh, yeah. Quite frankly I was more paying attention to not gibbering and running away, or accidentally lighting the castle on fire."
"He might not have appreciated that," Gannon agreed.
"Might have taken poorly to it. It was just after I started talking to him that I realized that if I lit the castle on fire, I didn't have a great escape plan."
"That's okay," I told him. The family is not generally interested in escape plans. If your attack plan is good enough, you don't need one.
"But on the plus side, this year's taxes wouldn't have had to include the castle," the accountant added thoughtfully.
"This is true, but I wouldn't really have been all that concerned," Artos pointed out. "Unless I was right, and the pool at the bottom of the waterfall is really deep. Right about when that actually started to have to be an option to be considered, I realized it wasn't a great plan. Don't tell my wife that," he added quietly.
"We suspect that she didn't think it was a great plan," Meara understated.
"What was that about sleeping in the smokehouse for a month?" I smiled.
"Seemed like a perfectly reasonable precaution," Conner shrugged.
"Actually, Artos, at this point I would say it was a great plan," Meara told him earnestly. "It just wasn't a good plan."
"It was a successful plan," the tall mage offered.
"No, no, all great plans, successful or failures, have a certain element of everybody staring at the person going, 'My god, you actually did what?' So this was a great plan, though not necessarily a good plan. Someday perhaps I will come up with as great of a plan."
"Tomorrow morning would be a good time," I suggested cheerfully, certain that we'd think of something.
"More importantly, it worked," the priestess added upon realizing that our host thought he was being mocked. Fortunately, he didn't seem to mind; perhaps youth worked in our favor.
We can be, as Meara once observed, a bit frivolous.
Dinner was pleasant; the assembled clan seemed lively enough, generally friendly and curious about the newcomers, though lacking in entertainers. Meara recited some songs for them, which seemed to be well-received. We learned more about the village; without druids or mages, the only local who served as a magical resource was Gudrun, the trollwife in the swamp, who would probably bear talking to. Llweder told the locals that he would have the Council send up some more people once we had made our report.
"So we've got Gudrun, we've got the ghost, we've got whatever's on the other side of the curtain," Conner considered the next day's agenda before we retired to our room for the night.
"And the eight-foot leeches," Gannon reminded him.
"I don't think we're going toI'm sorry, we may talk to the eight-foot leeches," he amended. You can never tell.
I woke in the darkness to a steady thumping noise against the wall of the longhouse, went out to find Griffon kicking at the wall; the village had nothing like an enclosure that could keep him in if he wanted otherwise. He was clearly disturbed, and I tried for a few minutes to soothe him, following his nervous gaze across the valley to where the castle lurked. Unable to make out anything that could have frightened him assuming it wasn't just the overall spookiness of it I slipped back inside and woke Conner.
"Pst. Something's got Griffon upset, something over at the keep."
He sighed, got up, and followed me outside. "What?"
"I don't know, I can't see anything over there. Thought maybe you could." Those eagle's eyes aren't just for show. He squinted, shook his head. If something was going on over there, he couldn't make it out.
The next morning started very, very early as Artos rallied his fellow fishermen out to another day's work. Just when we had been enjoying a chance to sleep under a roof, despite all that made our slumber uneasy. Conner and Gannon went out to see what sunrise looked like through the curtain of darkness: very strange. The sun moved across the sky, touched the darkness, and disappeared. Eventually it reappeared in its proper course.
Meara's morning devotions were a bit more involved than usual, and included a minor augury. The results were vague.
After breakfast and a bit of discussion, we headed toward the swamp to talk to Gudrun. The directions Meara had gotten seemed straightforward enough:
"Head in 'til you find the deep part of the river, then you turn right."
"Past the singing leeches?"
"Good god, they don't sing!"
It seemed the villagers weren't used to people with her sense of humor. All of us went on foot, swamps not being the best territory for riding. We crossed through the fields into cultivated forest, which eventually became somewhat overgrown. A short distance beyond that, the ground started squishing under us. The darkness was only about a half mile away. The river, when we reached it, was about twenty feet wide; we turned right as directed.
"Lovely day, isn't it?" Meara remarked.
"Until the leeches get here." My mood was not made sunny by swamp-slogging in armor.
A few moments later Gannon, who was bringing up the rear, felt something large and solid smack him on the back of the head, knocking him off-balance. The rest of us turned to see a gigantic frog four and a half feet tall behind us.
| Top |
© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al