CHAPTER 31: Cudew, Pattern, and Flight
The two boys went for an early walk in the grounds the next morning in the hopes of coming up with a better plan than ‘go with the flow’. They kept feeling that there was a real threat that the flow might again carry them over a high waterfall.
They were tempted to take a flight over the palace walls and into the country, but had noticed that others only seemed to arrive from somewhere else or left to go to somewhere else on definite errands, and would always check in or out at the gateway, so this would simply draw undue attention to themselves.
‘We are going to be taking an enormous risk in going into another of those mind-meld things,’ Hugh said. ‘The trouble is that I can’t think of any faster way of getting more of an idea of all that is going on, and particularly where those wretched Paramount Princesses fit into it.’
‘I think those princesses they very bad, but they brave like lions,’ he said. ‘I know I not be able to stand and be hit with stick like they do.’
There was much more they wanted to say on the subject. Walks in the garden were, however, clearly an invitation for cu to fly down at them. This time, it was a large, black and rather fluffy one, and Hugh’s heart leapt.
‘I think we need to talk,’ he said, giving Hugh a soulful look. ‘Would you mind?’ he added, casting a puzzled one at a still-backing-up Dengana.
‘Not mind; I go,’ said Dengana, and headed for their rooms at speed.
The cu came straight to the point. ‘You are in my thoughts almost constantly, now, ever since I first set eyes on you. Cudorge says you feel the same way, but something prevents you from having a companion. Are you considering your convenience, or mine?’
‘Well,’ said Hugh, ‘it is more complicated than you would ever believe, and …’
‘Yours, or mine?’ the cu persisted.
‘Yours, more, perhaps, but …’ Hugh was floundering.
’Then that is settled. If you are my companion, I will put up with any partings or problems or inconvenience, as long as I know we are companions. I am Cudew? And I don’t mean a large antelope.’
Hugh felt a surge of love for the great animal. ‘Before you think of becoming a Cudu-not-a-kudu,’ he laughed, ‘you should know the whole truth about me, starting with the fact that to most people here I am an enemy and a spy.’
‘Then, so am I,’ said the cu, bending his head down to touch the very tip of his huge tongue to Hugh’s cheek.
‘It gets worse,’ said Hugh. ‘I have Adapted from human, first as Daoine, and now as Darxd.’
‘I can live in all three without the need to Adapt, of course.’
Hugh took a deep breath. ‘Right, try this,’ he said. ‘Yesterday I was nearly killed by one of the humans I came here with, but was saved by her sprite who happens to be Pip who was originally bonded with Cudarp.’
‘Now that,’ said the dog, ‘definitely shows a wild imagination. Still, it doesn’t put me off. I am Cudew.’
‘Er, that would be another thing. My real name is Hugh.’
‘Cuhew? No, there I draw the line. I really dew not think that is hew I am. You are Dew, here, and I am Cudew everywhere.’ He put his head on one side. ‘Do you really mean it about Pip and all that? I got on particularly well with Pip.’
‘OK then; Cudew.’ Hugh said, smiling at the awful puns. ‘Yes, I do, and it is a particularly long story. How do we officially become companions?’
‘Good. Start at the beginning then. And, we became companions the minute we accepted one another. It only remains for others to know it, which they will as soon as we are seen together.’ He gave a wide doggy grin. ‘Shall we go home now? Your friend Dengana is going to freak; or maybe he saw it coming.’
‘Let me fly up to neck height and hug you, first.’
They hadn’t been in the rooms for long before the summons came, to go to the meeting room rather than straight down.
‘Stupid, the way king he always call us to one place when we go another,’ Dengana grumbled. He was forcing himself to get used to the idea of having an added group member that scared the pants off him andenjoyed silly jokes, but the effort was costing him some of his normal sunny nature.
Cudew came with them to put in an appearance. The full complement of Highest Princes were there, plus cu, and Cudarrex led the others in applauding and coming to sniff the latest companion, whose tail wagged in sufficiently sedate and dignified fashion in response.
The Paramount Princesses were standing near Cudarrex. It appeared that nobody had yet worked out where they would fit into seating or standing arrangements here. No marks were visible on the parts not covered by dresses, but they did look a bit drained.
‘Magic it is wonderful thing,’ Dengana elbowed Hugh in the ribs to say.
‘Before we split up and some of us go to His Greatestness,’ Darrex said, ‘Higher Prince Drail has a request regarding the Daoine prisoners. Come forward.’
Drail moved up to stand near the head of the table and said, ‘Thanks to the group of helpers I recently had the foresight to recruit here, and my good judgment in putting in charge a young princess called Tuza in particular,’ - it was strange how the mention of some names caused two of the Highest Princes to jerk - ‘I have now sorted them into ones who are enlightened enough to adopt the glories of The Cause, and those who are still steeped in their selfish ignorance. It is my proposal that the latter be taken to conveniently close divisions of the army to provide the men with entertainment while they rid us of them. The rabble will furnish recreation and sport as well as giving subjects for practice. Do I have approval?’
The main debate which followed hinged around whether it was providing sufficient equality for them to be available only to the nearer divisions, but the argument that moving them further would waste too much time and effort won the day.
‘I will return there tomorrow to get it underway,’ Drail beamed.
The surplus Highest Princes and all the cu had gone separate ways, and the chosen ten princes plus one king and three princesses had descended to going round in circles for a while. Now this group stood before a dim old man who was, actually, looking brighter and better than the day before.
As before, he went straight to the point without greeting or preamble.
‘I have already familiarised myself with the current state of The Pattern in readiness for our merge. The section of obscurity has advanced alarmingly. The Highest King and Princes already know what to do. You … women …’ there was a note of distaste in his voice ‘… must clear your minds and focus on the concept of it as represented by the design above my head. Be prepared for me to gather you into a meld whereby you will join with me in contemplation of the actual Pattern.’
This time, after the dissolving feeling gave way to the appearance of The Pattern in all its unfathomable complexity, they could tell that the focus was going directly to the point of the here-and-now where the main thrust had been made during the previous study. Hugh and Dengana could both sense the increase in ‘fuzzy’ area mentioned by His Greatestness. Immediately, the probe of everyone was directed at the outside part of this, and this could be ‘seen’ to be working straight away. The edge-that-should-not-be-an-edge receded, and some fresh images danced and swirled into perception.
Included in these were some of the Paramount Princesses, and suddenly an impression of awareness and alarm came from His Greatestness. If put into speech, this would have amounted to, ‘Why are the Princess-minds on the closed side when they should be on the open side with us?’
Immediately it was clear that he intended to bring the meld to an abrupt stop. This didn’t happen, though. Instead, there was an impression of a shift in the locus of control, and of His Greatestness being gathered in as forming a part rather than as being the spearhead. The ‘edge’ advanced rapidly, taking back in an instant the ground lost in the previous thrust, and then going still further.
The integrity of the cohesion of His Greatestness now seemed threatened – or, to put it into far clearer language, some cracks were appearing in his cover and in his self. Starting to come into focus was that he was still nowhere near the full power he could have access to …
Hugh discovered that the switch in control had given him back a measure of the ability to think and act independently. Before, he had been a helpless tool in the hand of His Greatestness. Now the tool, in a different hand, had come alive.
With an enormous effort of will, he broke away from being carried along and using his consciousness in thrusting blindly behind the leader. Instead, he formed the strongest probe he could envisage and sent it darting at whatever was impelling him.
In the briefest of instants, he felt a flood of knowledge coming into him. It was as if, as he thought later, a powerful hard drive had been plugged into a computer. The computer had not changed, but greatly increased access to information and functions was now present, and available for activation if one knew how.
Among the most important pieces of information to be used immediately was that Terblia was not Darp’s sister. She was an imposter. She radiated pure evil.
Tergina, on the other hand, gave an impression of great power, but not sufficient to avoid being dominated and influenced by Terblia. Significantly, there was nowhere near the same element of evil about her.
In Tye, surprisingly, was the greatest power of all, and yet she was also completely in thrall to Terblia. There was evil of a frightening intensity present in her, but it did not seem undiluted as with Terblia.
Based on these impressions, Hugh formed the instant decision that the best action for now was to align himself with His Greatestness in opposing the Paramount Princesses. Somehow he knew that it would not be a good idea to try and take the lead. Instead he ‘moved’ himself mentally to behind His Greatestness, and used all the force he could summon to thrust him out of the controlled group. ‘Dengana and all of you, break away and join us,’ he shouted – and was dimly aware that this part had been done by actual speech, in the room.
Now, they were an opposing force again, and were checking the advance which the princess group had been making. They regained a small amount of previous ground, but then came a stalemate. Special effort on the one side was met by the same on the other.
Hugh could feel that the probe he had made gave the potential for further contact with the minds of the princesses. He again said out loud, while also projecting at them, ‘Tergina and Tye, why are you being so foolish? Why join in such evil?’
He felt the slightest wavering from their side, which was enough to enable His Greatestness to give a mighty push. Once again, they started progressing into the previously obscured area of ‘the edge’, enough, once more, to get impressions of the princesses from that side. From Terblia came a burst of fury directed at Tye and Tergina, amounting to, ‘See what your vanity in using so much magic to heal those stripes is costing us.’
Hugh may have been thrusting behind His Greatestness, now, but he had kept some independence. ‘Thanks for telling us you are running out of power,’ he projected. ‘Come on, everyone, squash them!’
The special effort which followed resulted in the collapse of the other side. For an instant, the minds of all three of them were laid bare as never before, and then, by some supreme effort, Terblia forced the meld to break.
Everyone was still blinking when Terblia raged, ‘What a waste; but you shall not have her!’ With that, she gestured to send a blast of hideous magic, which was visible as a lightning-like streak of fire. It was directed straight at Tye, who screamed and toppled over.
For the briefest instant it could be seen that Terblia was weighing up the chances of blasting the rest of them as well, but realising that she could never get everyone before somebody got her. She threw up a hasty shield which was enough to deflect some sort of magic beam sent by His Greatestness. On her way out she directed a smaller streak of fire at Dunge, who started screaming. Then she was out of the door and it had slammed behind her.
Darrex dashed to follow her, and then said, ‘Locked.’
‘Not easy locks, that one she do,’ said Dengana in an ‘Oops!’ moment.
The king didn’t notice. He was going into a fury while failing to open it. Then he said, ‘Somebody, heal that man; his noise is irritating … oh, too late.’ Dunge had given up screaming in favour of fading.
Hugh was kneeling next to Tye, and on his shoulder was the weight of something that wasn’t there, giving off pathetic little wails and ‘Meep’ sounds.
‘Help me,’ he urged the nothing. ‘I can’t trace the magic, at all. She’s alive, but feels hot.’ The nothing sent nothing because it apparently knew nothing to help.
His Greatestness spoke up. He was staring fixedly at Hugh. ‘I am curious about a number of things. How do you know so instantly how to put up a shield that can counter magic like that firespell? It was slightly different to anything I have ever seen, although it reminds me of ...’
He changed his mind about going into reminiscences, and went on, ‘You only had a matter of seconds between when her intention was projected in the Pattern and when she emerged to carry it out. Remarkable. I need the opportunity to meld minds with you without having a crisis to deal with. From your useful contribution there, I can tell you will be of great value to The Cause.’
‘My “useful contribution” saved your skin,’ snapped Hugh. ‘Now tell me, what is wrong with T... Tyria?’
’Oh, of course, the girl is doomed, anyway. She was knocked out by a fraction of the firespell that got through, but normally that would have dissipated by now. I can tell, though, that the Terblia woman sent a feverspell as a backup, and there is no magic which can counter that once it is in place. It just takes longer than the firespell would have done. To make things worse, it will have taken that fraction of firespell and locked it in as part of itself. ’
‘It’ll save me the trouble of having her executed,’ Darrex snarled, having given up on the door for the moment. ‘As is going to happen to that woman who used to be my sister.’ He glared at Tergina with loathing, and she quailed.
‘You can tell that the Terblia person she make fool of her?’ Dengana said.
‘No matter. She is a traitress, and will die painfully and publicly,’ snapped the king. ‘Now, any suggestions on how we get out of here?’
‘I have an idea that Deng or Dew may be able to open it,’ came from His Greatestness.
‘We do get to know this magic,’ Dengana nodded. ‘Need both of us we work together, though.’
Hugh was thinking furiously. ‘When we have opened it, stay where you are,’ he said. ‘I suspect that some traps may have been laid. You,’ he snapped at Tergina, ‘will carry Tyria and walk through first. Then we will follow, to make doubly sure before the rest come out.’
The king nodded, but it seemed as if His Greatestness was on the verge of doing some thinking which might give a problem. ‘Come on, Deng,’ he said, and the two of them went into their double act (not counting invisible helper) at double speed as well. Having naturally deduced that they must have beaten the previous locking spell, Terblia had put a refinement in the latest, but not one which gave Pip any difficulty.
The door swung open, and Tergina, staggering a bit under Tye’s weight, was ushered through. Dengana overacted by cringing back as if expecting an explosion. Then the two of them crept out with apparent nervousness, slammed the door, and reapplied the lock. ‘We should leave them to rot here, but I suppose we should put in a timer – twelve hours should do,’ Hugh said. He took Tye from the flabbergasted Tergina, retracted his wings to carry her in a fireman’s lift, and they started down the passage. ‘Come on,’ he snapped over his shoulder.
Then Pip, now visible, hovered in front of them giving agitated squeaks and wouldn’t let them go any further. ‘Well, I’ll be …’ Hugh exclaimed. ’She did put in a booby-trap!’
Tergina came forward. ‘Let me sense that – yes, there is something over here. No, a bit to the left. Lucky we were warned. This magic is enough to blow everyone who happened to be in this passage to bits.’
It took the combined talents of Tergina, Pip and the two boys to de-fuse Terblia’s ‘bomb’, after which they proceeded with great caution but found no further hazards.
On the way to the spiral staircase, Hugh said, ‘Look, we’ve obviously outstayed our welcome at Darrex Palace. What we need to do is get moving straight away. We can use those handy trees to get over the wall and out of sight. Then, the top priority will be to find some care for Tye. After that, we need to get to Lusi and try and help her with whatever plan she has thought up. And after that … I don’t quite know.’
To Tergina he said, ‘You now have the choice of throwing in your lot with us, or we will let you go off into hiding on your own. Otherwise, you can stay or come back here if you really like the idea of being the main attraction at a public execution.’
‘I will come with you, but will need to know more about what you stand for to stay with you,’ she said with dignity. ‘As for Paramount Princess Tyria, you may as well leave her. I do know that there is no treatment for a fever caused by a feverspell because, once started, the fever itself will take its course to death without anything but its existence to carry it forward. There is nothing, therefore, for magic or any other treatment to fight against. It would be hopeless, even without any traces of firespell locked into the fever.’
Hugh jiggled Tye’s limp body by giving a shrug, and started up the stairs. At the top, he put her down with considerable relief from the feeling of having a far-too-hot water bottle draped over him. He said, ‘Wait,’ let himself out into the shaft, and flew up to their rooms. Cudew greeted him with a happy grin and flapping of his tail.
‘We’re leaving, probably for ever. You’re sure about this?’ he said to the dog.
‘Of course,’ came the response.
‘Right, then, can you wait until we’re ready, and then fly over the gate? Tell them you’re going for some exercise?’
‘I often do,’ nodded Cudew.
‘Fly out of sight going north, and then circle round widely to go in the direction of Drail Palace. We’ll look out for you.’
Hugh hunted frantically for anything remotely like a laundry bag, but they didn’t go in for such things in Darx. Finally, he grabbed the biggest blanket he could find, folded it quickly, and after waiting for some traffic in the shaft to clear, started down with it.
They had great difficulty in converting Tye to a bundle that didn’t look like a person and could be carried between two fliers, all in the limited space at the top of spiral stairs, but finally they succeeded. Then they had to wait until Pip gave the all-clear for the shaft before they all shot out of the doorway, up to the ground floor, and followed Tergina into a passageway which she said led to a side entrance not far from the trees they had described to her. Thus Cudew’s flight was no longer needed as a distraction, but it did make things easier that he had left separately. It was also still useful in giving misdirection.
Luck was with them, and they came across nobody in the passage who could goggle at the group of a pair of load-carrying Highest Princes and one Paramount Princess. Then the Paramount Princess flew ahead and distracted a group in the grounds which, had they looked behind them, might have observed the transit of a four-wing-powered bundle in a blanket.
When her audience had been casually dismissed, she ambled across to the trees, apparently aimlessly, before vanishing into them.
Hugh looked alarmed when he felt Tye’s forehead before they took off. ‘We need to get as high as possible,’ he said urgently, ‘so everyone scout for good updraughts, and then look for the highest peaks you can see anywhere near our route.’ He seemed to have a definite sense of purpose, and if he wasn’t in the mood for explaining nobody wanted to press him.
Actually, Hugh was finding himself able, more and more, to experience the ‘reality’ of Darx directly, rather than compensating for not being able to understand it by seeing it according to what would be normal back on the Earth plane.
Avinia had said that adapting to such understanding would be ongoing, and he knew he had started the process of a perception which was taking in a different actuality. This process had increased after the sudden injection of information which had happened during the recent mind-meld.
He was now becoming dimly conscious, for example, of what was taking place in this reality when his senses translated it into flapping wings and flying. It was, he now knew, a process governed by principles entirely different to what he would normally have been able to make sense of, but that ability was emerging.
Some instinct was telling him, however, that particularly for the present crisis his safest course was to go back to seeing things in terms of the science he knew, and of letting all his actions be guided by that perception. It gave results, and was far safer than groping with something only partially understood.
Tergina was particularly good at finding rising air. When Cudew finally spotted them above him, more by luck than anything else - they had, of course, been watching him for some time - he had to keep pace with them at a far lower level. Then Dengana pointed to a mountain some distance away which looked to be nearly as high as the rarefied air in which they were flying. Hugh nodded, and they made for it.
The relief to the two of stopping flapping their wings was enormous when they landed on the summit. Extra effort involved in carrying an extra half-body each became taxing after a while, especially when in thinner air.
‘Look for … highest … mountain stream with … good pool,’ Hugh panted to Tergina, and she nodded and took off again. When she returned to lead them to her find, Cudew was still trying to get to their altitude, but Hugh made signals for him to land lower down and wait.
The little waterfall near the summit tumbled into an almost circular pool. With frantic haste, Hugh opened the blanket, and sighed with relief to find Tye no worse. Her skin was still burning hot to the touch even in this cold air, though, and he picked her up straight away and carried her into the icy pool, where he sat holding her with only her face above the surface.
‘Could this work?’ Tergina said wonderingly.
‘Yip,’ said Pip unexpectedly, from where seated on a rock at the edge.
‘H-heat, c-c-c-cold; fire, w-w-water,’ Hugh shivered. ’N-now, l-leave us, all of you, and s-s-see what you can d-d-d-do to help Lusi. T-tell Cudew I w-want him to g-go with you – I th-think you m-may need him, and he can return to t-tell us where you’ve gone. I’ll … we’ll … j-join all of you as s-soon as p-p-possible.’