CHAPTER 29: Extermination Plan, Paramount Princesses
Higher Prince Drail, returning from yet another visit to Darrex Palace, was delighted at the progress made. The courtyard was now filled only with colourful or nearly-colourful Daoine. One of the better sections of the palace had been cordoned off magically as the quarters of sufficiently strong Cause sympathisers. Most of them preferred to be indoors, anyway.
Lusi was summoned to the prince’s presence. ‘I can see that my judgment was, as always, sound in appointing you to perform this task notwithstanding your youth,’ he said in a smug tone. ‘It is now time to make arrangements for us to rid ourselves of these pests. On my next visit to His Highest Majesty I shall suggest that we make them available to one of the army divisions nearby, for practice and sport. I’m sure he will agree. You will need to put your mind to the easiest means of delivering them; and also of making the best use of those now brought to embracing The Cause.’
Lusi thought longingly of sending a blast to fry him on the spot. It might come to that, but perhaps not yet …
‘We still have need we do more sorting,’ she said.
‘No, I’m sure what you have accomplished will suffice, but you can carry on for a while if you like. It may be a day or so before I can obtain the necessary authority. You may go.’
It was now possible to chat to Chenia outside without having to lay on an ‘interrogation’ as an excuse, although she did draw her away from her fellows to be on the safe side. With what she was being told, the Daoine had no need to pretend she wasn’t enjoying the chat.
‘Clearly, we have little time left to come up with some plan,’ Chenia said, bravely keeping her voice steady in spite of the shock regarding Drail’s latest charming ideas. ‘I am fairly confident that we will be able to think of something to deal with the barrier here, or whatever they use to bind us while we are in transit, but the question is, what we can do then? We can’t get back to Breena, and it will be nigh impossible to hide in Darx with a group this size.’
‘I thinking that after escape maybe the group it split up and hide in small parts in far parts,’ Lusi said. ‘Still not good idea. I wish the boys they come and help. The boys they do well the things they are impossible.’
‘Back to the Meeting Room,’ Darrex said tersely, when they had some breath back after walking up all the spiral stairs. They followed him up the shaft and into the room.
‘The Paramount Princesses should be back from their mission at any time, now,’ Darrex said. ‘I certainly can’t describe Tergina as “compliant”; and even less so my friend Darp’s sister Terblia, from all I’ve seen of her. As for her powerful young friend, Tyria …’ at this point, for some reason, two of those present jerked as if struck by lightning, ‘… she is as far from that as can be imagined. A most forceful and talented princess,’ and he turned to the pair who had jerked, ‘about the same age as you two, I would judge.’
He gave a sigh. ‘I cannot question the wisdom of His Greatestness, but it does strike me as strange that some of the very qualities we have sought for selection of Paramount Princesses must now be eliminated in those we have appointed. I fear that reason alone will not change them, and …’
Derag felt emboldened to interrupt. ‘We can appreciate that the means that will undoubtedly be necessary would be distasteful to you as a brother and as one who is connected by friendship. The most sensible thing to do, therefore, would be to leave it entirely to one or two of the rest of us.’
‘I suppose you are right,’ Darrex said with clear reluctance. ’I wish I could speak to Darp first, but he’s still away. Overdue, in fact. He should have had more than enough time to investigate. He looked at Hugh and Dengana. You will be interested to learn that it appears the Northern Rift near Darp Palace also appears to have, or perhaps to have developed, a similar problem to the one in the south …
‘Anyway, regarding the Princesses, I make it the joint responsibility of all of you here. Try to use … moderation. I will give orders for you to be notified as soon as they return.’
Derag looked disappointed, but nodded.
As they started down the passage after Darrex had dismissed them, however, he turned on the others. ‘I want it clear that I will have the first try with this Tyria. I believe that my, er, powers of persuasion will be sufficient without any help,’ he snapped. ‘Understood?’
Dengana and Hugh did not fancy returning to their quarters. The service was too good there. Instead, they found their way outside, and somehow Hugh gravitated towards the area where the young wolfhounds had been at play earlier. They were not there now, though, to his disappointment and Dengana’s relief.
‘Tye she make the big miracle,’ Dengana remarked.
‘She has, indeed,’ Hugh agreed, ‘but it looks as if she’s about to get into a great mess from His Greatest-mess.’
Dengana grinned, and said, ’Funny; I like.
‘I can’t wait to find out how on earth - in Darx, that is - she has managed to get to such a position of power so quickly in such a male-dominated society. It must be her, surely, and not just a coincidence of names? And how could she be a friend of Darp’s sister when Darp was anything but friendly during our one brief meeting? I wonder …’
They were interrupted by a loud flapping, and Cudorge landed in front of them with his sprite clinging to his back. ‘Thought I spotted you,’ he said with satisfaction.
‘Meep,’ said the sprite.
’Oh, alright, you did,’ said Cudorge. ‘Tell me, do either of you recall any of the overgrown puppies you saw this morning?’
‘Me, all of them, and all give to me fright,’ Dengana responded, backing up a bit.
‘I can’t get Big Black out of my mind,’ Hugh confessed.
‘Yip, yip yip!’ said the sprite excitedly.
‘Really?’ Cudorge said. ‘How remarkable. I thought I saw his tail move when he sniffed you, but decided I must have imagined it. He hasn’t given any indication of wanting a companion at all. Even turned down Darp after Cudarp was viciously murdered by some terrible Daoine creatures in Glit Ring. Cudarp had been a puppyhood friend, actually, which is probably why Darp asked him.’
‘I so wish I could invite him to be my companion,’ Hugh said sadly, and Dengana gave him a disapproving look. ‘I met Cudarp and his sprite, once, and they were wonderful. I can’t, though, because I … my home is … that is, because he wouldn’t be able to fit in with me …’
‘Why ever not?’ Cudorge said in the greatest astonishment. ‘There is always a way, if the bond is truly there.’
Hugh shook his head, and the sprite snarled at him. This gave him a sudden wild idea. ‘You knew Pip?’ he asked.
‘As a friend of Pip, can I ask you for a great favour? It is important. You know the Paramount Princesses – that is, Tyria, Terblia and Tergina? And where their quarters are?’
‘Could you keep watch and warn us the minute they get back? We’ll be in our rooms.’
The sprite looked at Cudorge, who nodded. ‘Yip,’ he said, and promptly flew off towards one of the towers not far from their own.
‘And, for the time being at least, could you please not tell Dorge about any of this? It may get to wrong ears.’ This time there was a long pause while the wolfhound thought about it. Finally he gave another nod.
‘D’ you really think Big Black might have considered me as a companion?’ Hugh asked wistfully just before they parted. ‘Never mind. It‘s hopeless.’
Cudorge said nothing, but his look spoke volumes.
The wait seemed interminable. A number of times they went out and strolled up and down in the vicinity of the tower the sprite had headed for, with eyes wide open, but the watched pot refused to show any bubbles.
Early evening had been reached by the time a highly excited sprite came into where they were seated and squeaked at them. They rushed to the shaft, and hurtled down.
‘Meep, meep, meep!’ came from the sprite as they started towards the entrance passage. He did some circles and dips in the shaft as they glanced over their shoulders, and as soon as they returned he plunged down ahead of them to the lowest level. There he hovered in front of the door to the spiral stairs, and went, ‘Yip!’
‘The Princesses they go down there?’ Dengana asked disbelievingly. This time, the sprite merely nodded, and as they opened the door and started down he gave a squeak of farewell and started back up the shaft. He obviously regarded his duty as completed, which Hugh thought was a pity. They could have used a scout.
Alert for any sounds ahead of them, they went cautiously down the stairs to where the passages started. Now, it was a question of which one to follow, and both listened carefully at each entrance for any sound of voices. Then, with a mental kick at his pants for forgetting what he could do in this land, Hugh willed a subtle, low-key magic trace to go out, with Tye as target.
Immediately, he had a strong indication that they should follow down the passage which led to the rooms of His Greatestness. He and Dengana shrugged at one another in bewilderment, but continued on tiptoe to the doors to the underground rooms. This time they didn’t open, and in any case the trace on Tye was no longer straight ahead, but leading along the passage forming the top of the ‘T’ to the left.
As soon as they started down this, there came an unpleasant feeling, growing ever stronger as they progressed. ‘Repel-spell?’ Hugh whispered, and they tried their ‘dispel’. It didn’t work. ‘Like bad Rift tunnel; but not same,’ Dengana mouthed, and Hugh nodded. The same sensations of revulsion and evil came through, but in a different way. Hugh found himself comparing the two sensations to two different kinds of disgusting smell, like rotten eggs as against rotten fish.
This one was nearing the limit of what he had been able to endure in the Rift when some voices sounded faintly from ahead of them. They forced themselves forward, and then reeled as they found themselves passing an entrance to their right which gave the repulsive Rift-type magic at full blast. As soon as they were past, the horror receded again.
Then they heard female voices more clearly, and one sounded very much like Tye’s. They quickened their steps, and came to another doorway similar to the one of His Greatestness. This door was open, and they peered in cautiously. Three Highest Princesses - or the Paramount Princesses, as they must be - had sensed something and were swinging round to look at them.
Two of them were unknown, and there was no noticeable resemblance to Darp in either. The nearest, though, was quite definitely known.
‘Tye!’ Hugh called out joyfully. ‘So glad we found .. ’
That was as far as he got before she yelled, ‘It’s them!’ and sent a viciously lethal glarespell at each in quick succession.