"It could constitute a hazard to the village. I know, we can tell Rhonwen that there's a cave troll about. Although chances are they already know about it."
"I'd be surprised if they hadn't sent someone up here."
"I wouldn't," she laughed.
"They don't seem to be the curious types," Gannon agreed.
"That was because they were ensorcelled."
"They're still ensorcelled," she pointed out. If we concentrated on it, we could feel the not-in-Powys sensation, though it went away when I was carrying the standard.
The trip into the mine had taken considerably longer than expected; we weren't going to make it to the village, and headed for the druids' grove as fast as we could.
"I wonder if Emer's going to say hi," I mused.
"Maybe some of his men might. If we're really lucky whatshisname might show up. You know, the prick."
"He didn't even knife you." Her animosity toward Wynn puzzled me; she seemed to take his continued existence as a personal affront.
"Yes, but what he did actually was offensive."
"Yes. Yes it was," she told me seriously. "We're going to have to go check out that maze, too, the next time we're not lugging around coffins."
The grove was full of blossoms and new leaves; the mages went off on one of their collecting binges while I wondered if my arms were going to actually fall off. There were lots of green flames in the keep this evening, and even more of an unpleasant air about the place than usual.
"We've got to do something about that castle before it goes all the way black," Meara said. "I'm beginning to think that Artos' idea might not be that bad. Might not work, but it's worth a try, what the hell."
"We could build some siege engines," I suggested brightly.
"Yeah. We could just do this the old-fashioned peasant way, too."
"The old-fashioned peasant way of besieging a castle?"
That being to light the place on fire and shoot everyone who came out.
"I'm not sure fire would really bother Emer," I noted.
"It might not bother Emer, but it might actually... we've got to do something about that castle before it goes all the way black," she repeated.
"Agreed there, I'm just not sure how."
Llweder stood at the edge of the grove, looking over the bay, and found himself making eye contact with the sea dragon. He managed, somehow, to avoid being drawn in by its hypnotic gaze, and it vanished beneath the waves. "Hark! Sea dragon!"
"The one we saw before?" I asked. It was too dark to tell for sure, but it didn't seem likely that there were a lot of them in the region. "It's good to know that things are back to normal around here."
"I'm not sure if anything here has ever been normal."
The night was surprisingly uneventful, even pleasant, despite the green flames from our neighbors. Meara looked around for signs of more Fae, but found nothing around the grove. In the morning, "Let's go see if Artos knows about the sea dragon," I said.
"And the cave troll."
We crossed the causeway, waved to Gudrun. The swamp hadn't changed since our last visit. On our last visit we hadn't been lugging what felt like a ton of lead containing three magical weapons. We put it in the shrine at the house.
"So how's Rhonwen these days?" Meara asked Gaenor.
"Oh, well enough. I assume you're going to go see her?"
We headed for the longhouse.
"Hi guys!" Meara greeted them. "Had a lovely winter, I see?"
"Good morning," Gannon said, more restrained.
"I see the sea serpent's happy," she added.
"Yes," Artos agreed, unfazed by our unorthodox arrival. "Swims in the harbor, mostly avoids the fishing boats."
"Doesn't bother you too much, I hope."
"Not really. Occasionally swims over and asks riddles."
"Is he good at riddling?" Meara wanted to know.
"Oh, he's very good at riddling."
"He doesn't eat you if you can't get the riddle, does he?"
"No, mostly he mocks you."
"Could be worse, then," decided.
He shrugged. "He just calls you names and it's a month before he talks to you again. Other than that, he's pretty fair about it. Gives you really nice stuff if you win, too."
"Stuff?" I queried.
"You know, stuff. Treasures, things like that," Meara supplied.
"I see. Does that have to be declared on the taxes?"
"Couple of giant pearls, sunken gold, things," Artos shrugged. We noted that Rhonwen had a considerably better jewelry collection than she used to, as did Gaenor. And there was a pearl the size of doubled fists on a shelf.
"Did you know there's a cave troll nearby?" Meara said.
"Really?" Artos' eyes lit up; the two women winced.
"Now, at the moment, the knocker has the thing pretty much under control, hasn't learned how to cast magic again, he keeps it distracted with sheep."
"It wouldn't in other words really be worth your time," I tried.
"Yeah, you might want to wait a couple years. Actually," she added to Rhonwen, "more importantly, the biggest reason I mentioned it, besides to cause problems and see the expression on your face, is that sooner or later it's going to start wandering out of the cave, and you need to know it's there."
She sighed. "I hadn't noticed it when I went to check out the caves."
"When did you check out the caves, before or after the explosion?"
"After the explosion."
"Right after it?"
"The knocker said something about not being entirely certain if he existed much before a couple months ago."
"The explosion woke them up."
"Did you see the really cool smithy?" she added.
"The really large pit with the lava at the bottom? The huge winch?"
"I didn't go down," she said. "I did see the winch, I didn't make it to the bottom. I went down a ways and decided that anything further down wasn't my problem yet."
"Could be," I remarked. "So, how's the castle been behaving?"
"It's dark, it's getting darker, there's lots of green fire."
"No sallying forth, however?"
"No sallying forth at all."
"Hm. All right. I assume no one's heard from Wynn. Or whatshisname."
"No, I haven't heard from him. Tonight should be the first night of it, though, you'll be here for this month's festivities."
We looked at her in confusion.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al