CHAPTER 19: A Question of Colour
It was just as well they had done so. Some squeaks in Tye’s ear were translated by her as having indicated that Pip had lagged behind to see what would happen, and that a group of Darxds from Dennet’s dome had flown up to keep an eye on them. They therefore kept going until they were sure they must be out of sight, and then waited for Pip to confirm that they were not being followed.
Then they took a different direction for a while before landing once more.
The spot they chose had a sparkling stream and several different kinds of berries which ranged in size from the size of their thumbs to the size of their hands. Pip picked a selection, and conveyed them to Tye one-by-one, saying, ‘Yip!’ to each - then started nibbling on some.
None of them were in an eating mood, but after a drink from the stream they did get into one. Tye had an urgent, ’Meep! when she wanted to pick a particularly luscious-looking berry of what they now thought of as a bright red hue.
For some time, though, they weren’t at all in a talking mood, as each went over in their own minds what they had just learnt.
Finally, Dengana said, ‘We know more, now, but still not what to do.’
‘There are three main areas where we could try and focus attention,’ Hugh murmured as if thinking aloud. ‘The first is the situation here, and the threat to everything and everyone near Rhino Valley. A mass attack seems to be on hold for a few days, though, until the Darx Artz character comes to sort out that nasty thing at the fork in the tunnel.’
‘Yes, let’s wait for that to happen before we attack a few thousand Darxds and a few million nasties, shall we?’ Tye’s tone was heavily sarcastic.
Hugh didn’t rise to the bait. ‘You have a point,’ he said. ‘The second thing is whether there is any chance of freeing all the Daoine before they get “taken care of” – after speaking to that lot I’m not too confident they will simply chase them back into the Rings.’
‘That part same easy as fighting all Darxds here,’ Dengana observed. His tone was serious rather than sarcastic. ‘Job too big for us.’
Hugh nodded, trying to fight off a feeling of hopelessness which had joined the one of horror. These two showed signs of setting up home and thinking of starting a family. ‘That leaves a final possibility, which is perhaps the best one …’
‘… because it may give us some reinforcements?’ Tye finished for him. ‘Yes, if we could find any large numbers of Darxem who are not as charmed by this “Cause” thing as the rest, and get them to help, that would make sense.’
‘I think they already make groups to make trouble,’ Dengana said. ‘This why it now “Unmentionable” talk about them.’
‘Finding them will be a pretty impossible task, though.’ Hugh’s hopeless feeling was deciding to become head of household. ‘I mean, unless they actually outnumber the others they are going to be in hiding. How can we find them if patrols of the ones who are “spreading understanding” can’t?’
Dengana tried to speak through a mouthful of berry and choked for a while before getting out, between coughs, ‘We know for all ordinary not-princes it show on clothes that they think self more than think Cause.’
Tye stood up abruptly, as if reaching a decision. ‘So we try to find groups of Darxem, and do some colour-sorting,’ she said. ‘If we can figure out which way one goes to reach this Darrex Palace, we could also head in that general direction in case we have any good ideas by the time we get there.’
‘I’m not so sure about trying to reach the palace,’ Hugh objected. ‘This land is vast, remember, and even at flying speeds it could take ages, and place us further and further away from the Sad Ones Rift.’
‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ Tye snapped. ‘Don’t you remember that one of the first group of Darxds we spoke to said that the magician would only take a couple of days to get there from Darrex Palace – or do you think Darrex keeps his own personal Darx Artz mob in a totally different place?’
With that, she and Pip took to the air in a direction directly away from where they had entered the Circle, allowing for the sideways deviation they had taken. Hugh and Dengana shrugged at one another, and followed.
They flew steadily for some time, hardly speaking but occasionally pointing out to one another the sights that lay below. Tye was still taking the lead. Apparently under the guidance of Pip, she had led them quite high, and was finding favourable wind currents which gave them far greater speeds than normal flying would have done.
There were any number of animals moving below them. They were all still of the types to be found in Africa, but unlike in the Rings they came across no large predator-type birds, and the travellers were generally well above the range of other air traffic.
‘Are you finding that you have Adapted a bit more, or perhaps that this part is less Darx-like?’ Hugh called out to Dengana after a long silence. What he was now seeing corresponded closely with sights he would have expected at home or in the Rings.
‘We Adapting,’ Dengana responded. ‘You see if look harder all is still different.’
It was true. In anything he studied closely, more and more of the extra frequencies would become visible.
Hugh was just beginning to wonder if there were any Faie creatures here at all, other than behind them, when some Darxen villages appeared, with dwellings looking much like the ones in the Rings but without the ornamentation most had there. Then one more the size of a town came in view. He could pick out movement in it, but rather little bustle. It reminded him of a scene on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when most people were dozing.
Such Darxem as were visible, though, had noticeably more colour in their clothing than the ones at the Rift; more, even, than the hopeful recruits who had flown there. Tye quickly adjusted to having about the same amount of colour in her dress, and Hugh and Dengana followed suit – in two ways.
A refreshing difference here was that there were numbers of Darxem-in-dresses. It wasn’t too refreshing, however, to note that such Darxtas generally looked miserable.
There were a few here and there of both sexes whose clothing ‘un-proudly’ showed nearly the same drabness as the ‘Cause’ ideal, and it was interesting to observe the locals trying to be somewhere else when they saw these coming.
It was also clear that the dull ones were on the lookout for some who had allowed their lives to brighten up a bit too much. Just the sight of the former approaching appeared to be enough to turn the latter to a dirty grey, though.
‘Come on!’ Tye called impatiently. ‘We’re being noticed!’
This was true. A few on the ground were staring and pointing, and it looked as though one of the ‘dulls’ was about to take off and ask their business. They flew on hastily, with Tye taking them at a tangent to their original course.
This choice was a happy one. The further they went on it, the brighter the Darxem appearance became, and – significantly – the more mingling of the sexes was apparent in village streets.
Then there was a long stretch with no villages, and Hugh was just about to ask Tye about her persistence in sticking to this course when a palace came into view ahead. The sight of it was encouraging. Unlike anything Darx-made they had seen so far, it was beautiful.
The design was not as ornate as the Breena palaces had been, but had a simple dignity which went well with the predominantly sky-blue of the rock walls. Wonderfully long, brightly-coloured flags streamed from every turret.
The setting was stunning. It was on a hill which was on an island which was in the centre of a lovely lake of a contrasting deep blue. The sweeps and waves of the foliage looked almost too perfect to be completely natural, but at the same time gave no impression of being contrived.
They were still a good distance away when two groups of six Darxem each, both made up of three princes and three princesses, came from either side to cut them off. Each one of them had vivid shades in their clothing.
Hugh caught his breath. During the time he and his companions had still been more colourful, they hadn’t realised what scope there was in the local spectrum, and had been sad imitations of what could be achieved.
The two groups closed in to form a barrier hovering ahead of them, and the four of them had to go into hovering mode in response. Twelve pairs of eyes looked disapprovingly at their gloomy appearance. Then one of the men – as they did call themselves, Hugh reminded himself – said politely, ‘I am sorry, but we do not allow visitors any access at present.’
A princess from the other group said to him, ‘You do notice that they have a princess with them?’
‘Make that a High one,’ Tye remarked casually, upgrading herself. ‘Oh, how lovely to brighten up!’ As she said this, she went through a series of quick adjustments to achieve a combination of colours in her dress which was almost blinding in intensity. She was a quick learner.
The set of six gasps was a most satisfactory reaction, and was followed by a sub-set as Hugh and Dengana suited their actions to her words.
‘Can I assume that you aren’t too sold on The Cause?’ Hugh said. ‘Rest assured that neither are we.’
‘In that case, you are welc…’ the first speaker began warmly, but he was interrupted by one of the princesses from his own group.
‘Wait a minute,’ she said. ‘How can we be quite sure that they aren’t Crow spies?’
Tye gave a giggle. ‘Crows and their Cause!’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh, I love it!’
‘It has passed into full usage now, and is rather stale as a joke,’ the doubter said, a little coldly. ‘I think we should land, and have a good discussion before doing anything rash.’
‘Good idea,’ said Hugh. ‘I’m tired of working so hard just to stay in one place.’ With that, he folded his wings and dropped like a stone, opening them again just in time to break his fall and do a neat landing on a small hilltop below. The others followed.
‘Now,’ he said, when they were gathered into two groups facing one another again, ‘I will tell you what I can tell you, and we’ll take it from there. The four of us have come from a good distance away on a mission to find out what is happening here and what can be done to bring some sanity back.’
‘Four?’ said prince one.
‘Yip,’ said Pip, switching on.
‘A sprite?’ goggled princess two. ‘Attached?’
‘To me,’ Tye nodded.
The princess looked sceptical. ‘How could that have come about?’ she asked bluntly.
‘His cu was killed by rhaxen, and I … invited him … sort-of,’ Tye explained.
‘Yip,’ said Pip, a bit sadly but with an adoring look at Tye.
The princesses gasped and looked horrified.
Then princess two turned to the others. ‘Can you imagine a Crow wanting to do that, or having any hope of being able to?’ she asked them.
‘At any rate,’ another of the princes spoke for the first time, ‘haven’t you all heard that although some princes can hide their true colours a bit while ordinary Darxem can’t, princes who are Crows lose the ability to brighten up?’
‘Yes,’ agreed a princess. ‘It is said that even Darrex himself can no longer show colour.’
The first spokesman said, ‘You are right. I think we can trust these visitors.’ He turned to Hugh. ‘I am Demp, and with me is Deam and Dary. Over there are Drin, Delp and Durrun.’
The princesses then took turns to speak their names, which were Tarina, Tempia, Tala, Tisa, Trona and Temma,
‘Tyria,’ Tye responded, taking note of all the T beginnings and A endings, and hoping that this version would be close enough but different enough.
‘Hugh,’ Hugh blurted without thinking.
Demp looked puzzled. ‘Was that, “Dew”?’ he asked.
‘Yes, Dew,’ said Hugh, mentally kicking himself for having forgotten that all names, of princes at least, seemed to begin with D here. He waved at Dengana and added, ‘and this is Deng.’
‘Ah; then let me say welcome to Dallent Island Palace, High Princes Dew and Deng and High Princess Tyria. Higher Prince Dallent will want to greet you right away, I have no doubt. All of us together will be able to take you to him, if you don’t mind waiting for a few minutes for our relief watchers to arrive. Would you please keep an eye open for them, Dary?’
Dary took off, and flew in circles well above treetop level.
The princess who had identified herself as Tisa was looking admiringly at Tye’s dazzling display. ‘That is an unusually bright combination, Your Highness,’ she said.
‘Please call me Tyria,’ Tye said. ‘I think I did go a bit overboard with the relief of finding that there are places here where girls are still fully equal.’
Tisa blinked. ‘You mean, with one another of the same rank? Is it not so where you come from?’
‘No, I mean with boys … men,’ said Tye.
She got stared at very hard until she started feeling uncomfortable. ‘What?’ she snapped.
Several princesses started talking at once and then all stopped at once. Finally Tisa spoke again. ‘By “equal” do you mean that there is a partnership? That is what we do have between the sexes. It would be crazy, though, not to have the men as the senior partners and thus the ones who take the decisions.’
’Well, of all the stupid …’ Tye started to explode, but Hugh elbowed her hard, and she finished off with a ‘…whoosh!’
‘Neither the time nor place,’ he hissed at her.
For a second, he thought she was going to attack him, but then she subsided, looking furious.
‘Tell me, how you have been able to resist the persuasions of the Crows?’ he asked the group hastily.
‘We have been lucky.’ Demp was answering again. ‘Higher Prince Dallent was on a long visit to his cousin up north nearer to Darrex Palace when these ideas started spreading as a directive from the Highest King. He saw how the enforcement started with a few of the Crows coming in and making more Crows, and then sending bunches of Crows from other parts to take over. When he came back, he set up all the watches and simply ordered that all Crow-sympathisers be sent away on arrival.’
‘Also,’ put in Drin, ‘anyone who looked as if they were coming to the same way of thinking as the Crows was invited to go and live somewhere else. They were replaced by those coming in who did not agree with this “Cause” madness.’
‘Did not this Darrex he get angry at that?’ Dengana asked.
‘Oh, yes,’ Demp said with a smile, ‘and increasingly so. We simply stopped allowing his messengers anywhere near. Many other palaces have followed our example, too, like that of Higher Prince Dunn.’
‘Our Higher Prince is hoping that Dunn Palace has not run into problems,’ Durrun spoke for the first time. ‘It has been many days since we have had any report from there – ah, the others have arrived.’
They looked up to see Dary greeting another group of twelve, although these consisted of only one prince and princess, with the rest all encouragingly brightly-coloured Darxem. He was pointing downwards, and a dozen pairs of eyes goggled at them. Then the fliers split into three groups, and two went in opposite directions while Dary, as the sole representative of the third, flew down to join them. He might as well have stayed up there, as they took off again almost immediately.
The closer they drew to Dallent Island Palace the more attractive it appeared. Darxem and various equivalents of the Rings’ goblins and other non-flying Faie were lounging on the edges of the lake. Some were swimming, and the surface was dotted with of sailboats which were mostly adapted seed-pods with leaf sails. Hugh pointed to a group of them. ‘That looks like fun,’ he observed.
They landed at the imposing main doors of the palace, inside some walls which must be more for show than for any kind of defence. ‘The High Prince will be in the Great Dining Hall,’ Demp announced, and led them on foot though a large antechamber to another large doorway. Inside was an imposing circular room with two concentric rings of large round tables and chairs on the outer perimeter, and a round empty space in the middle. Each of the tables, with its seats, was revolving slowly.
‘Please wait while I announce your arrival,’ Demp said, and flew across to an inner table near the far side. Most of the tables were occupied, and Hugh judged that it must be lunchtime for many of the inhabitants. He counted the seats of the nearest tables – twenty-four at each. The whole room was a hum of conversation, and he could see that Darxem were chatting to those at the same tables as well as with those at tables nearby. The inter-table conversations needed to be fairly brief. Not only were the tables revolving, but the two circles of them were also moving slowly in opposite directions.
‘Look,’ said Dengana excitedly, pointing. ‘Tables they change like Möbius twist.’
Reflecting again that his friend’s knowledge showed a surprisingly high standard for his rural school, Hugh looked in that direction, and saw a table on the outside circuit moving in some mysterious way to becoming a table on the inner circuit. On the other side of the room, the reverse was happening. Trying to work out how it was done made him dizzy, so he stopped.
There was a flurry of activity at the table Demp had gone to, as many of those seated there flew off to other tables. Then Demp beckoned, and the remaining members of their reception committee shepherded them to where they found exactly fifteen seats made vacant for them.
Tye was directed to sit at the right hand of a Darxd whose height proclaimed him to be a Higher Prince, and who, surprisingly, had a girth to match. He was certainly not overweight by back-home standards, but looked it in comparison with the normal slim builds of all Faie folk.
Tisa tried to direct Pip somewhere else, but the sprite made quite clear an intention to remain with Tye, and alternated on her lap or shoulder, getting goggled at a good deal.
Hugh was placed next to Tye with Tarina on the other side of him. Dengana was seated at the left hand of a Higher Princess who sat to the left of the Higher Prince. Tisa was to his left. Hugh could see that, in fact, the seating arrangements at all the tables had males and females alternating.
‘Help yourselves, High Princes and Princess,’ Dallent said. He did not appear to see any need to introduce himself, and they were sure he already knew the names they had given.
The Higher Princess said, ’You are welcome. I am Tabbia. She leaned forward slightly to speak across Dallent to Tye. ‘You are very vivid in your raiment.’
Tye wasn’t sure whether it was praise or criticism, but simply replied, ‘It was a reaction after needing to be so dimmed-down so that we wouldn’t have problems with the Crows.’
‘Interesting. You must show me how you would do that,’ she responded, but not in a voice that meant it.
‘Now, I gather,’ Dallent said to Hugh, ‘that you have come here out of a concern for what the Crows are up to?’
That struck him as a massive understatement, but Hugh simply responded, ‘Yes.’
The Higher Prince helped himself to some more food, and took a sip at whatever he was drinking.
Then he said, ‘Oh, there is nothing much to worry about, really. We have the situation fully under control.’