"Actually, several people haven't wanted to gut us. Artos is one. If Gudrun wanted to gut us we'd be dead."
"That dead exchequer we found," Gannon supplied.
"Well no, but he was dead," his friend pointed out.
"And he might have. She gets the final vote," he sighed, looking at me.
Llweder grunted. He hadn't said much over the past few days.
"Thank you, Llweder, we've been missing that. Life just isn't the same without your grunting," he muttered disconsolately.
"Yes, we'll do it," I decided. "If only so you'll stop asking about it," I added. I didn't want to be hearing about the road not taken the whole way back to Rutland.
"It was the last time I was going to ask, I was going to just simply do it," she admitted.
The maze was still there, the entrance was still there. We traveled to the rightthe good side, in theoryand quickly concluded that whatever we found, it wasn't going to be a good mirror of Gwnn or of anything else. We weren't going through a maze of red roses this time, but white roses covered with blood.
"If we never get out of here, I blame you," Conner told Meara.
"I can't stop now; you guys can go back if you wish."
"Thank you!" He turned around.
"No, no. We have to go see," Llweder stated.
"See you, Conner," I told him.
"Finally, he doesn't grunt..." Gannon sighed, dragging Conner back to the group. We continued with ready weapons.
The maze grew bloodier with every turn until we emerged on a clear and level lawn. Again, there was light without benefit of sun or moon. We stood facing what had once been a great hall of marble, the same style of construction we had found on the island.
It takes a great deal of heat to burn stone like that.
"If this is supposed to be the good side, maybe Wynn has already been here and taken care of them," I said, looking over the area dubiously.
"I'm thinking Wynn didn't do this," Meara replied. "I could be completely and totally wrong...."
"I feel stupid for asking, Llweder, but are there any oghams?" Conner asked.
He looked, and found none other than those in the maze. There might have been in the building at one point, though. "Let us go in."
We made a slow, careful circuit of the place, which was when Connor noted the graves. There were thirteen of them, very old, without markers, notable only as sunken, overgrown places in the earth. They radiated out from the building, and a couple of the others had the suspicionthough they weren't sure whythat they faced inward.
He cast a spell to see if we were being watched. "The environment is aware of us. It knows we're here."
Gannon noted that there were unpleasant magical forces at work in the area. No great surprise there.
"It's very rare for me to say this, but I think this is something that would be better left alone," I remarked.
"You know, I was actually just about to ask you when the inevitable order for us to wander in there was going to show up," Conner replied. Gannon smacked him in the back of the head for me.
"The thing is that, it's not my intention to mess with this, but it may be necessary for us to deal with the consequences of what took place here," Meara said.
"Just expressing an opinion," I sighed.
"It's more than an opinion, you're in charge," Conner pointed out.
"You guys are the magical experts here."
"No I'm not," Gannon spoke up.
"Okay, they are. Those two are. You're the accounting expert."
"I swear, there is not a beehive in this country that she doesn't want to poke a stick in," Conner remarked quietly to Gannon.
"But here, here she doesn't."
"No, I mean Rose."
"Oh. Good point."
Meanwhile, our Rose examined the graves more carefully. One lay before the main doors, with six to each side. There was nothing unusual about the plants growing on them.
Conner decided that he might as well help out after all, and cast a spell that made old tracks visible. Before our startled eyes a set of bloody footprints appeared. They emerged from the building, passed down the steps, and vanished in the rose maze, though whether they faded or were simply lost in the overall bloody nature of that place we couldn't tell. They had been left by someone vaguely human-sized wearing boots. Wynn? Emer? Someone we didn't know about?
"I'm going to have to go in there," Meara announced.
"Which means I'm going to have to go with her," I sighed, drawing my sword. "Oh, well."
"You don't have to."
Yes I did.
"Do we have to?" Gannon asked quietly.
"No, you can stay out here," I told him.
Conner looked as happy as I'd ever seen him. "Okay. I'm covering you, though!"
"You guys stay out here and cover us. Llweder comes with us," I decided. I wasn't worried about Llweder's nerves giving out and maybe shooting one of us in the back. I kept an eye out in case Snuffles had a twin brother on this side.
It was an old-style great hall, one large room with a couple of alcoves at the far end. The roof had collapsed, the walls were scorched where they hadn't been destroyed, and rubble filled much of the floor. Whatever furnishings had once been there were gone except for the throne.
It was large, granite, and occupied. The three of us approached carefully, although the man there had clearly been dead for quite some time. Someone had left a dagger in his ribcage, his hands and feet had been nailed to the throne, and there were more nails driven into his eyes and tongue. Horseshoe nails again.
"Someone is flinging iron around like mad," Meara muttered.
I know enough about vital spots to know that dagger wound hadn't killed him quickly. I found myself wanting to shudder. There were no other bodies in the room, or any other sign of them. There were (I was told) traces of magic of a most unpleasant nature; Fae or human, the killing had been done in such a way as to potentially cripple or even destroy the man's spirit.
"Let us retire," Meara suggested eventually.
"Let's get out of here before the maze decides to keep us here," I agreed.
"Anything important?" Conner asked.
"Yes," Meara said.
"Anything gross that we don't want to hear about?" Gannon asked.
"Oh, good," the two said on chorus.
"We saw the site of a most foul murder, a king with his eyes" Llweder started before they stopped him, insisting they really didn't want to know.
When the rest of us had started into the bloody maze Meara paused, knelt facing the hall and said, "We will do what we can." She set out offerings of healing herbs and violets, and rejoined us.
"She used a plural," Conner noted.
"I didn't specify you guys," she replied.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al