CHAPTER 34: Catching Up and Planning
As soon as they found a spot nearby that boasted Cudew’s recommended benefits of water and softness, Hugh carried Tye there despite her protests that she was fine. He could tell she was still far from being that.
The long twilight showed signs that it would turn into a clear but chilly night. ‘Keep yourself wrapped in the blanket,’ Hugh urged. ‘I don’t know when a person is safe from a relapse, and I don’t want to take any risks.’
‘Don’t be silly; we’ll share the blanket,’ Tye said.
‘Of course, Hugh has a particularly large hot-water-bottle,’ Cudew grinned. ‘If you’re very nice to him, he may let you share that, too.’
‘Can I share your little one, as well?’ Hugh smiled. ‘It’s a lot softer than mine.’
‘Do you think we’ll let him, Pip?’ Tye asked.
‘Yip,’ said Pip, and went for a brief snuggle against Hugh.
Soon Cudew was curled up, providing more than enough warmth to a blanket with Hugh, Tye and Pip in it which rested against his body. Hugh knew Tye must need sleep, but for some time she insisted on talking instead.
‘I can’t believe I let myself be poisoned to such an extent that I was even prepared to kill you and Dengana,’ she said miserably. ‘That Terblia is dreadful – oh, I know now she isn’t the real one of that name, but I have no idea who – or for that matter, even what - she really is. There is something really weird about her.’
‘We’ll have to call her that until we know better,’ Hugh agreed. ‘During that mind meltdown, I did get that she wasn’t actually Darp’s sister, and that she had in fact killed him and the real Terblia, and also that she is filled with more evil than I ever thought there could be, but I still don’t know much more than that.’
‘She was so set on getting to that meeting with His Greatestness,’ said Tye. ‘She said it was an amazingly lucky chance, and we had to grab it no matter what the cost. Even Derag,’ and he could feel her shudder.
Hugh was scared to ask, but did anyway.
‘Oh,’ said Tye nonchalantly, ‘I did everything he asked me to, like bring him nectar and straighten the carpet and stupid stuff like that, but he didn’t know I had a handy little spell on him making him unable to bring himself to touch me. It was driving him crazy. He suspected something, of course, but there was simply no way he could detect the magic.’
‘Wow,’ Hugh said weakly. ‘Oh, by the way you’ll be greatly distressed to know that Terblia fried Dunge from the inside out.’
‘How sad,’ said Tye. ‘Now, tell me; it’s starting to drive me nuts: how did you get yourselves and me out of there? I take it that after Terblia zapped me and Dunge, she and Tergina got away?’
‘Weird as you may find this,’ Hugh said, ‘Tergina is now an ex-Crow, an ally, and - dare I say it - a friend.’
At that, Tye wouldn’t let Hugh have any peace until he had given her an outline of all that had happened from the time she had left Dallent Island Palace to the present.
Finally, it was his turn to ask questions.
‘After that brainstorming session,’ he said, ’there is a lot I now know, and I think there is a lot I know but don’t yet know I know it, but there is also still a lot I simply don’t know.
‘Well, you can’t say clearer than that, can you now?’ came in sarcastic tones from Cudew.
‘I thought you were sleeping, Cudew,’ laughed Tye ‘I can relate to it, actually. That’s how I feel myself.’
‘Sleeping?’ Cudew woofed indignantly. ‘With all this yapping? Not to mention the incidental causal assaults from sharp bits of both of you, wriggling about like that …’
‘Anyway,’ said Hugh, ignoring the cu. ‘When, how and why did you start getting so extra poisoned against us?’
‘Highest Queen Glorianne,’ replied Tye promptly. ‘She found the chance for quite a lot of confidential chat, first just after I had changed my clothes, and then even in front of your nose at the banquet. She told me that I had special talents and a particularly vital role to play in the task Aiennea was going to set us, and that she had been entrusted to let me know. She said that men had all become corrupt, and that action was being taken to correct it. Then she gave me veiled warnings about you. Borne out by all your dallying with the princess sisters, of course.’
‘I wasn’t dallying! I was just …’ Hugh spluttered.
‘Oh, I know,’ Tye interrupted. ‘In any case, she also said that messengers would be sent to me wherever possible to help me get to Darrex Palace, which it was important to reach as soon as I could.’
‘Messages?’ Hugh repeated blankly.
’Yes, like the quick one I got from a Darxta I’d been told to meet in Ummango, who spoke to me near the shop – you remember, I went and bought the things? She said we should take the ridge to The Sad Ones and we’d get help.
‘Then, when you wouldn’t let us go that way, I waited at the top of the road leading down to Rhino Valley and sure enough another came to talk to me in a rush. She said I should go along with you and Dengana for the time being, but not take too long about getting to Darrex Palace – oh, and she told me to take the left-hand fork in the passage. Now that I think of it, I believe she was also trying to warn me to ignore the fear, but I didn’t get that part.’
‘I wondered how you’d guessed which fork,’ Hugh said.
A sudden memory struck him, and he added, ‘Pip had seen her, hadn’t he, but you left that bit out?’ and she nodded.
‘Then, I was constantly fighting myself while we were fighting Crows. I couldn’t help thinking that all we were doing was right, but it was still for the wrong people. Finally, when it came to the risk of getting trapped during a siege at Dallent Palace, I felt I simply had to get out of there.’
‘Did you use Lusi’s high-altitude trick?’ Hugh asked.
’A bit. I also did a lot of fast zig-zagging to keep to farmlands and open places. Then I went straight to the inn near Dallent Palace – the same one you went to, I think? Almost immediately, I got a message to meet someone in some trees nearby, who turned out to be Terblia. She got me to ‘Highest-Princess’ myself, and we went straight to Darrex Palace where I was introduced as an old friend and as a suitable candidate for being a Paramount Princess.
’I impressed the king and all the Highest Princes like anything by demonstrating some really nifty magic Terblia had shown me, not to mention Tergina also coming to my support, and I was in. After that, with Terblia jerking the reins, we did a lot of stuff I still don’t understand – like blasting a few men who really seemed to deserve it, and soft-talking some and threatening others. I think it was all about building ourselves into an ever-increasing position of power.
’Then we went checking every now and again for some more Paramount Princess candidates who had been told to meet us down near His Greatestness’s rooms, of all places. Why they were going to be accommodated down there, I have no idea. The thing is, with Terblia, one didn’t ask for explanations.
’Oh, and finally she told us that you and Dengana, and someone I now realise was Lusi, had become utterly rotten with the influence of the society, and were doing serious damage to what we were trying to achieve. We needed to get rid of you. She also said you’d come to kill me, but under the guise of a rescuer.
‘To me, it was a betrayal like … my father … all over again. And she worked on that. Somehow, she got me to tell her about it, and she kept saying it was only a small thing compared with what people like you - males, basically - are capable of.’
‘That person is vile,’ said Cudew. ‘I thought so, from the minute she arrived. Cudorge thought so, too, but Dorge wouldn’t listen.’
‘I should have taken notice of Pip,’ she agreed. ‘I believed her when she said Pip was just being jealous of our friendship.’
‘Yip,’ came in an indignant yip from under the blanket.
‘I’ve been thinking about these Interfaces and Conjunctions,’ Hugh mused sleepily after a long silence. ‘I’m starting to see them in different terms.’
Then he said, even more sleepily, ‘Actually quite a lot is coming into a slightly different focus. Do you think we are Adapting to having less reliance on our comparisons with things we know?’
‘I think you’re right.’ Tye yawned. ‘I have felt at times recently like a person who was born blind, now gradually introduced to sight, but not understanding the new things that are happening in their brains, so continuing to rely on the other senses. In fact, I …’
In fact, she … went to sleep. The other three already were.
The following morning, after a berry good breakfast and a good argument when Hugh refused to let Tye take a swim in the icy water of the nearby pond and threatened to tie her up in the blanket if she tried, there was yet a further argument. This took place when Hugh discovered that she still had a few indications of hypothermia after-effects, and refused to let her fly.
‘So you want me to walk?’ she snapped.
‘Yoo-hoo, I’m a cu wot flew!’ Cudew said.
‘Oh,’ said Tye. ‘You mean I orter flew wif you?’
‘Ooh; I do, I do,’ grinned the dog.
‘Idiots!’ said Hugh. ‘Here’s a question for you: why does Tye tend to get so irritable?’
The cu fell into the trap. ‘Why?’
‘She’s Tye-tend up because she’s so irri-Tye-ted and up-Tye-t, and needs to loosen up!’ Hugh replied triumphantly. Cudew groaned, but it was his own fault. He was having an increasingly bad influence on everyone.
Soon they were on their way towards Dallent Island Palace with Tye clinging onto Cudew’s back. comfortably clear of the wings,
When they reached the lake no sentries appeared, so they let themselves in through the barrier. It was elementary stuff compared with what Hugh had handled lately.
The island, and the whole palace as well, gave clear signs of The Morning After The Night Before. It had, indeed, been a party beyond even Dallent’s wildest dreams, and a great number of potent nectars had induced many of the wildest dreams for the party to be beyond.
Dallent Island had wall-to-wall, or shore-to-shore, Daoine on it, surrounding the palace. The whole hillside was covered, and their colourful bodies were even draped over every tree and shrub.
The visitors let themselves into the palace shield as well, and went to the Great Dining Hall, which had become rather a home from home for them when they had last been here.
Eager and amazed greetings were given by the smattering of still bright-eyed Darxem twirling around the room while enjoying a late breakfast or an early lunch. They goggled a lot at the huge cu, who took up a position on the central floor and sat watching the whirling tables in great fascination, helping himself from one or another of them from time to time. Actually, some of those present hadn’t paused to goggle, but had simply left at speed as soon as they saw him.
Hugh and Tye seated themselves at Dallent’s table while Pip was seated on it, periodically flying to get a special delicacy from other parts of it or from other passing ones. All of them enjoyed having some processed food like bread again, to supplement their diet of berries.
Dallent, Demp, Dengana, Lusi, Tergina, Tabbia Tisa and Chenia returned from checking on the (mainly draped or dysfunctional) dispositions of Daoine, and entered in a group to stare at the wolfhound and then at the pair-plus-sprite at the table. Dengana, Lusi and Tergina assumed the nervous expressions of people who were wondering what sort of Tye had come into their midst.
They were quickly given some indication. She let out a cry of delight, and – literally – flew across to hug Dengana, who nearly fell over with shock, and then Lusi. She followed up by giving an enthusiastic one to Tergina, who was nearly as startled as Dengana.
‘Don’t leave me out,’ Dallent said jovially, but she only grinned at him and went to resume her place.
When they were all seated, Tye was being stared at a lot, and she wiggled uncomfortably.
‘Let me tell all of you,’ Hugh said, ‘that Tye’s mind had been poisoned by that Terblia witch, and by others, far worse than her body was by the firespell and feverspell, and even a lot worse than Tergina’s had been. She’s bravely faced up to it and wrenched it out, but it will probably take quite a while for such a scar to heal. Give her space.’
Tye’s eyes welled with tears, and she spontaneously leaned across to plant a quick peck on his cheek.
‘Now,’ said Hugh, blushing a good deal, ‘anything exciting been happening around here?’
‘We have wonderful party. ’ Dengana responded.
‘What a party that was!’ Dallent interjected with stars in his eyes. ‘The best yet! The Daoine add such an element ...’
’You had a party?’ repeated Hugh, taken aback. ‘That’s the news?’
Oh, and we wipe out big detachment of Crows they come from Lookout Ford,’ Dengana added casually. ‘Nothing else, much.’
Hugh and Tye both choked on their food, and performed a duet of coughing and spluttering.
After recovery, they listened enthralled to an account of the ambush, and Hugh was particularly taken with the ingenuity of arranging for a course of study to be taken en route.
When the tale was done, Tergina said, ’Now I must tell you more about that barrier at Lookout blocking the Interface to the Rings. It is magic of a tantalisingly similar kind, in some ways, to the strongest stuff Terblia showed us, but not enough for me to get any sort of handle on it no matter how hard I tried.
’How can I put it? Perhaps to say that it is to Terblia’s magic as a lion is when compared to a tiger. Although they are the same in many ways, they are still two completely different animals.
’Then, I am convinced that it is made to fit one person only, as a kind of key. One thing I know is that it is not the sort of spell, like a normal shield, where greater strength against it is provided by greater numbers.’
She paused to do some delicacy-nibbling before summing up, ‘So, for the time being, at least, I can’t see benefit in any plan which relies on us being able to open one of those barriers.’
‘That only leaves two options,’ said Tye. ‘Either we have to find place to keep the Daoine in Darx safe indefinitely, and I’m afraid here won’t do for that …’
Dallent could not hide a look of relief – it was clear that while he enjoyed lots of guests, he didn’t want them permanently. Even if they did add a ‘certain something’ to his parties.
‘… or, we need to find some way to trick His Greatestness or whoever to open an Interface barrier for us. Any ideas?’
‘You forget small detail,’ put in Dengana. ‘Even if open gate, it still got all the dogs they guard it – I sorry!’ The last part of this was addressed to Cudew, who was glaring at him. The cu had become frustrated at missing conversation when the speakers waltzed away from him, and had now managed to squeeze himself onto the revolving platform by removing several chairs and sitting tightly up against the table.
After a pause during which everyone searched for ideas but failed to find even a tiny one hiding anywhere, Lusi said, ‘I worry for Dallent Island Palace. Darrex he will now get greatly cross that armies they disappear or they go for walk in desert when they come here.’
‘One thing I’ve done,’ said Dallent, ’is to send new scouts far and wide, but with orders to be a lot more careful than the ones who went to Dunn Palace. I am sure there are many groups like us, particularly to the east. We must somehow convince them of the need to form some sort of alliance to keep one another protected.’
Hugh nodded approvingly, and then turned to Tergina again and said, ‘Were the army at this Lookout place also using a lot of crecords and nasty creatures to be coordinated?’
She nodded. ‘The plains on either side of the river were packed with them. There were even some creatures I don’t even recognise, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of all the less pleasant Darxen ones. The armies have been scouring the countryside making collections, and gathering them at the Rifts and Interfaces.’
‘I wondered why there were clearly less creatures running wild in Darx than in the Rings, or even back … even than in the human lands,’ said Tye. ‘Terblia said that the Darxem had been killing them off, for sport or just out of carelessness.’
‘Plains? Why is it called Lookout, then?’ Hugh butted in.
‘That is true, to a point,’ Tergina responded to Tye, and to Hugh she said, ‘Three rivers plus an underground spring cause unexpected flash floods when there is rain up in the mountains. That is why people crossing the ford need to “look out” very carefully when the warning goes.’
‘I suppose,’ said Hugh slowly and thoughtfully, ‘that the warning operates by magic? From up in the mountains?’
‘Mmmmmmm…’ Tergina said. ‘Indeed so. I was wondering myself if any benefit could come from that, but it could be days, weeks or even months before another big one happens. Higher Prince Drik there actually boasted how quickly and efficiently they’d moved everything to higher ground in plenty of time a week or so back.’
‘It worth try,’ Dengana put in. ‘Make magic it still work for warning about small rain but stop for big one?’
‘That would be tricky,’ Dallent said doubtfully.
‘You really think so?’ Tabbia remarked. ‘Do you perhaps feel like a healthy excursion up into the mountains with me Tisa?’
‘Sounds wonderful. I think Trona might enjoy it as well, if it gives some “lookout” opportunities.’
‘I could do with some mountain air, too,’ said Demp.
Hugh laughed. ‘Won’t it be nice if the mountains get really wet really soon. I wish we could rely on that, but as we can’t, some other plan needs to be worked out for your people, Chenia. There is something buzzing around in my brain, but it won’t quite sett… hey! Wait a minute!’ He sat for some time, frozen into an expression as if he had just been jabbed with something sharp, while everyone stared at him.
‘You don’t have anything like the crecords, do you?’ he asked her finally.
‘No,’ Chenia said with a shudder. ‘Such manipulation would be repulsive to us.’
‘So you have no means to form or control group minds in creatures?’ Hugh persisted.
Again she shook her head. ‘We can communicate, of course, and our Higher Princes and Princesses can, in an emergency, cause such minds to come together so that we can try and guide groups away from disasters - like fire on Terra, for example - but it is often not effective. So, on the theme of fire, we can’t fight fire with fire as I imagine you had in mind?’
‘Pity,’ said Hugh. ‘Oh well. Plan B won’t work. Maybe back to Plan A.’
Then he frowned into the distance again for a while, ignoring the fact that the distance was blocked by walls. Finally he resumed, ‘Some glimmerings are coming. Let me check on a few of the facts in my mind. At Lookout Ford we have a magically locked Interface leading to Ding or Dong Rings. It has an army in between us and it, which may or may not be washed away depending on luck. Then the chances of opening the Interface are remote. Right so far?’
Chins bobbed up and down.
‘Now, at The Rhino, there is another Interface, leading to Safah Ring from the human world, er, Terra. That also has a similar magic barrier. This one is found through the Southern Rift, which is protected by some incredibly nasty magic coming from a tunnel to the side, but no actual barrier. Once through there, if the Rhino barrier proves impossible to lift, it is only an hour or so to fly across to Den… an Interface discovered by Deng between Terra and Safah Ring.’
‘One teensy-weensy little problem, there,’ said Tye, ‘is that in order to get to the Rift one has to get past the largest and nastiest army we’ve seen in all of Darx. There’s no way they’d ever fall for a Dolk-type bit of bluff.’
‘Details; details,’ said Hugh, suddenly looking smug and making a dismissive gesture.