CHAPTER 38: Plots, Plans and Probes
’Iam worried about the security of Glit Ring,’ Hugh said unexpectedly. ‘Presumably, Highest Queen Glorianne will be in overall charge there?’
‘Only if I don’t require her direct help, as the second most senior queen, in which case she would delegate to a temporary Higher Queen,’ Aiennea replied. ‘What is your concern?’
Quickly, he told her about what Tye had experienced while at Glorianne Palace, and Tye chipped in, ‘After Hugh had saved Pip from the boggart, I was in serious doubts about the serious doubts she was casting on his character, but then after I heard from him about his cavorting with Quinnie and Tertia …’
‘I told you I wasn’t cavorting!’ Hugh protested with indignation.
‘I know that now,’ Tye said contritely, ‘but at the time it …’
‘Wait!’ Hugh exclaimed. ‘The reminder about the boggart is bringing up some of the things I know, that I didn’t know I knew. Give me a minute.’
Then he said, ‘Oh, wow. Why didn’t you tell us, Pip?’
‘Meep,’ said the sprite miserably, and then squeaked at Tye for a short while.
‘Briefly,’ said Tye, ‘he still had loyalty to Cudarp, and through him to Darp, even though it was Darp who had tried to get him killed in case he didn’t have that loyalty.’
‘I am not easily confused,’ Aiennea said, less mildly than usual, ‘but you are all doing a remarkably good job.’
‘It would seem that various games were being played. Terblia - oh, let me call that one Terribler, as I still have no idea what her real name is or where she came from - had got at Darp to get at Glorianne. I suppose you have no idea how jealous she is of you?’
This rated another raising of eyebrows. ‘I should have guessed, but as we are of a similar strength in magic, she would have been one of the few able to conceal it,’ Aiennea said. ‘This is distressing news.’
‘I’m not fully sure what plot they were hatching together,’ Hugh went on, but …’ at this point, Pip squeaked at greater length and Hugh listened before adding, ‘… oh, it had to do with a little plan for a partnership to take over from you, here, and also from Darrex in Darx.’
‘How did you also get that?’ Tye said, gaping.
‘I’m understanding Pip quite a lot, lately,’ Hugh said, and continued, ‘Part of the strategy was to generate conflict between Breena and Darx. The idea Terribler had sold to them was that when war was raging, the two of them could take over leadership, instantly restore peace, and be seen as saviours.’
‘Meanwhile the war it being started anyway, by the Greatest-mess and the Crows?’ Dengana said.
‘Yes,’ Tye put in, ‘But Darp thought this was all happening as a part of their efforts and not due to something separate. He didn’t plan for the attack which killed Cudarp, though – that was the Crow creatures in Breena sent to stop us from messing up their Pattern. Still, it gave the pretext he and Glorianne had been looking for, so they put on their little act.’
‘He should have been completely shattered at the loss of his wonderful companion, but he wasn’t, really, thinking back,’ Hugh took his turn again. ‘Actually, he was more worried about Pip spilling the beans, and arranged for that to be attended to shortly after leaving.’
‘I remember him as a worthy cu companion,’ Cudew remarked sadly. ‘His mind must have become utterly poisoned.’
‘Why this Terribler she kill the Terblia and the Darp, though?’ Lusi wanted to know.
‘As soon as she heard of the intention to appoint Terblia as a Paramount Princess, she decided to go in her place as an ideal route to quick power,’ Hugh explained. ‘With Darp, I gather it was a combination of him not being too happy about that, but and also because of something he discovered at the Northern Rift when he was sent to check on the old magic being there too. I couldn’t get a clue what it was, though; anyone else?’
Tye, Dengana and Tergina all shook their heads.
’So all that side of things turns out to be Much Ado About Nothing,’ Hugh said.
‘The Shakespeare he make in that play one big confusion:’ Dengana muttered, ‘the Hero she a woman.’
Only Hugh and Tye had the vaguest idea of what he was on about.
‘What will you do now?’ Tergina asked Aiennea a little later.
‘First,’ she replied, ‘I must go to Glit Ring and set things right there. Glorianne must suffer the ultimate penalty, of course, and a replacement must be appointed right away to oversee that Ring’s defence. Then I shall go where needed.’
‘She will be executed?’ Tye asked in a casual tone.
‘Oh, no,’ said Aiennea, ‘she will simply be altered to lose all princess qualities by the magic to which I have access as a Supreme Queen.’
Hugh tried to visualise Glorianne coping with ‘ordinary’ status, and felt quite sorry for her.
Aiennea looked at all of them, but at Hugh and Tye in particular, and said with uncharacteristic hesitancy, ‘What about you, now? Do you feel that, following these great achievements of yours, your part has been completed?’
Hugh looked at Tye. ‘Is your instinct the same as mine? Half way?’
Tye nodded. ‘Yes, in two ways,’ she said and turned to the queen. ‘We have unfinished business in Darx.’
‘Me, I am thinking same thing,’ said Dengana.
‘Me, I hope I can change back,’ said Lusi.
‘Yip,’ said Pip.
‘I do need to return home, risky or not,’ said Tergina.
‘It will be nice to sniff a few cu again,’ said Cudew.
‘I have this strong feeling I will be able to Adapt,’ said Felin.
‘Do you really think so, Felin,’ Tye said doubtfully, and then let out a squeal. ‘Felin! How did you sneak up on us like that?’ and she jumped up, pulled him out of the seat he had slipped into unnoticed, and hugged him. He looked startled. So did Tye, at her own action.
Aiennea’s eyebrows were getting more exercise than they had enjoyed for decades. ‘Hello, Felin dear. So you heard I’d left and followed instead of going home?’ She sighed wistfully. ’How I wish the pattern was still visible to me. It must be becoming so interesting.’
Goodbyes were cut short in words and time, but long on emotion. Then the party of eight flew back towards the Interface.
They landed close to the ring, and Hugh started towards it with the others following. Then he stopped dead. ‘I’ve had a sudden thought about that barrier,’ he said. ‘This may simply be a waste of time, but I think it’s worth a try. Let’s go to the Rhino Peak Interface, staying in Safah Ring.’
When they set off, he could sense Tye glaring at him. ‘No, I’m not holding back,’ he said. ‘I’d find it difficult to explain my hunch. I need to try a few things and see if they work out. One of my ideas is that I was blocked a bit the last time by being Between. Another has something to do with the two of us. If they don’t come to anything, everyone can yell at me all the way back to Sisebenzele.’
Though similar, the terrain in Safah Ring was not the same as in Terra, so it was just as well Lusi was with them to show the way. The ring still happened near the summit of a mountain, and on a narrow natural terrace below a striking rock formation, though.
They all landed and Hugh walked to where Lusi said the ring started – the plants forming it were hard to pick out. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘not being Between does make a good deal of difference. Now, can you all fly some distance away, one by one, and land within sight, please. You last, Tye.’
As each one left, he felt a slight lifting of resistance in trying to get the gate-that-wasn’t-there to return, but not much. ‘Right,’ said Hugh when only Tye remained, ‘now come up with me … that’s it … now take my hand …ah! That is almost as if something gets alarmed as soon as we do that. Okay, now you can scoot.’
Tye put her tongue out at him, and flew to join the others. Hugh stretched his mind at it, visualising an entrance and where it was going to. He felt a definite response, but nothing actually happened. However, a recognition in the back of his mind that the feeling of it was something like that of His Greatestness … -mess … came forward to be noticed. He seized at this.
Now he tried to recall the essence of the mind he had shared, during the meld, and which had been briefly opened to him as his power had retreated with the Terribler-led attack. Then - and far more difficult - he tried to project a barrier-removal spell of the kind Pip had shown him as that mind would project it.
He had the feeling that he was really close, then, and he examined the structure of the spell bit by bit. Many small parts seemed wrong; somehow alien. He visualised discarding those and replacing them with something more comfortable which would function in the same way. Then he tried again …
‘Do you know exactly how long you have been standing like a stupid statue for?’ Tye stormed, the instant she landed in response to his beckoning.
‘To good effect, I would say,’ Tergina said, stepping forward into a ring of suddenly perky-looking flowers, and vanishing.
Soon they were all in Terra, on the level step below The Rhino rock, standing in a circle of happy flowers. After that they lost no time in flying across towards The Sad Ones. To be able to do this, three of them were Between again, of course.
Not long after that, they were flying over the deserted Rhino Valley – deserted by humans, at least, but there were now a surprising number of birds and small animals to be seen here and there. As they reached the vicinity of the hill with The Sad Ones, Lusi pointed out a group of horses, presumably from one of the farms and even perhaps from that of the Two Old Frogs, wending their way slowly in their direction from the head of the valley.
Then they were at The Sad Ones, and past them to the Rift entrance. Not surprisingly, there were no Darxds at the mouth. They flew in quickly, and when in due course they came near to the old magic Hugh urged the rest of them to fly past it as quickly as they could, but said to Tye, ‘Try holding back with me for as long as you can bear, and let’s see what we can sense.’
When they landed at the entrance it was to a series of ‘Meeps’, from a Pip whose head was buried in Tye’s neck. She said in a high, shaky voice, ‘I don’t think I can take it; even here. Let’s go on. Please!’ The last word had a note of panic in it.
Hugh forced away his own panic and again tried to sense all that was coming to him from this entrance. It helped, so he told Tye, ‘Don’t react: analyse instead.’
’How can one not react?’ Tye responded. Then she carried on speaking out loud, but now to herself, ‘Calm down; don’t be a baby. Now, what are these feelings? What is this fear, for a start – is there any trace of repel-spell in it? Yes! It is rather like one Terribler showed us, but … different, somehow. I don’t think I could stop feeling it. It is like seasickness; even though you know it is all in the mind you still feel awful. More to it than that, though. Even apart from the fear which isn’t real, there is a trace of …’
She gave a jolt and stopped speaking for a second, before continuing, ‘Calm, calm. Yes, there is a real danger, too. Any magic against it can trigger something … truly nasty. Maybe what sucked up that Darx Artz magician? And even apart from that, there is still this feeling of something live and horribly evil in there.’
‘You are doing amazingly, Tye,’ Hugh said. His voice sounded strained, and it was clear he was also having difficulty in keeping panic at bay. ‘Do you sense anything else, which reminds you of something?’
After a pause, Tye blurted out, ‘Yes, but can we go now and I’ll tell you later?’
‘One more thing,’ Hugh said. ‘Take my hand and try to sense what happens.’
They held hands, and both started panting as if running a race.
‘Last thing;’ gasped Hugh, ‘let’s go towards it as far as we can manage before we scoot.’
Pip was now bundled into a tight ball, uttering a muffled ‘Mee-ee-ee-ee-eep!’ which went on for so long that it was incredible how that much breath could be found.
The surprise at how far they could actually go helped to carry them forward until the writhing, hideously glowing wall Hugh had seen on his first visit was almost close enough to touch. Then, acting as one, they turned and flew – in both senses: of being in the air and of moving at greatest possible speed.
The relief of being out of range was enormous, but they still felt impelled to put maximum effort into their flying. So much so, that they overtook all the others before the opening at the far side had been reached, although that was also because their friends had slowed down and were wondering whether to turn back and look for them.
‘What were the other things?’ Hugh asked urgently of a still-Daoine Tye as soon as they arrived outside, and were looking down over a valley with a lot of domed tents and nothing much else to be seen. It was clear that the various creatures previously held captive here had decided to take the advice they had been given and move out without any delay.
‘The main one was a strong memory of something about His Greatest-mess,’ said Tye, ‘and another was that despite myself all my horror and loathing for men and boys came back.’
‘Don’t mind us; we’re only an optical illusion, Do carry on with your private chat,’ Cudew growled.
‘They didn’t even notice,’ complained a Felin who had failed to Adapt as a Darx, but had received the Highest possible princely promotion as a Daoine instead.
Apologies and explanations followed.
Then Tergina said, ‘I suppose we had better keep moving and see how far towards Darrex Palace - or whatever it may be called now if they haven’t simply given a new king the same name as usual - we can reach before dark.’
‘It make sense to me,’ nodded Dengana, and Felin and Lusi also nodded.
Hugh was hardly listening. ‘I wonder,’ he mused, ‘if there is the slightest chance that the same sort of concentration which keeps us Between would keep us as Darxd and Daoine instead? I think we were getting too much of a filtered effect.’
‘You want to go back to that lot unfiltered?’ Tye burst out. ‘Now I know you have gone stark, raving, hopelessly cuckoo. Call men in white coats, someone!’
Only Dengana knew what she meant by this, and the rest had brains doing cog-slipping while they wondered where to find anyone thus clad, and why she wanted them.
‘Didn’t you notice?’ Hugh said excitedly. ‘I thought there was something different when we were in contact with one another, and that proved it. When we went forward together, there was a sort of … a sort of … well, retreat, is the best way to describe it.’
Tye cast her mind back, and tried to rid the mind cast back of the various feelings of discomfort and terror and general unpleasantness. She ran her hands through her hair, and then cupped them over her face.
‘This is ridiculous,’ she said, her voice slightly muffled by hands, ‘but now that you come to mention it there was a sensation of some fear – but not ours rather than of something … else’s.’
‘Yes!’ exclaimed Hugh. ‘Whatever we were doing was somehow tending to weaken that whole … er … whatever! That’s why I want to try again.’
‘This maybe just wasting the time it is valuable?’ Lusi wondered.
‘No,’ Tye said slowly. ‘I think Hugh has a point. Perhaps the “old magic” right here is more important at the moment than finding out what is going on at Darrex Palace.’
‘Before I forget,’ Hugh said, ‘does “rages” mean anything to anyone?’
Cudew and Lusi merely looked puzzled, but Dengana, Tergina and Tye looked startled instead, and Pip said, ‘Yip.’
‘That did come through during the mind-meld,’ Tergina said. ‘You mean “rages” as in fits of fury, though, but to me it was a reminder of our old legends and fables featuring the “Wreyges”.’ She somehow managed a pronunciation where the difference came through.
‘What the Wreyges they be?’ Lusi asked.
‘They are the stuff of legend and fable in Darx,’ Tergina answered her. There were four grins at the thought that such things existed here. ’Evil parasite entities, lurking to trap and destroy. Darxem young are deliciously terrified by stories of them, and everyone knows the nursery rhyme which goes:
Fear the wrath of rampant Wreyges
Keep them locked in separate cages
See that they are never fed
On a horde of Darxem dead …’
She suddenly stopped reciting with a look of shock. ‘Can it be?’ she said. ‘Is it more than just a silly fantasy for the young?’ Then she saw that all her companions were regarding her with no signs of understanding but many signs of impatience, and she went on, ’The rest of it goes:
When their passages are made
Is the time to be afraid.’
‘So it could be an ancient warning, referring to the Rifts or those tunnels, or both? Nursery rhymes would be a wonderful way to ensure a message was carried through generations – although they might get some words changed over time, of course,’ Tye said. ‘When did the Rifts first appear?’
‘They’ve always been there; but sealed.’ Tergina replied. ‘It was only when His Greatestness appeared as another advisor to the king that he was able to tell them how to open them through to Terra.’
‘Another?’ Hugh and Tye chorused.
‘Yes,’ Tergina said. ‘Of course, you wouldn’t know our history. There have been such advisors to other kings in the past, with the tradition saying that such honour only came to those whom The Pattern has indicated would become particularly significant.’
‘The “Wreyges” thought I had, it came to me through His Greatest-mess, I am thinking,’ Dengana said finally, and Hugh nodded.
Tye shook her head, and said, ‘No, I think it was through Terribler,’ and Tergina nodded.
‘Yip, yip,’ said Pip, and even Tye couldn’t translate that one.
‘Oh well,’ said Hugh, ’Back again. If it must be done, “then ’twere well it were done quickly”. Macbeth.’
Dengana couldn’t resist a spot of Henry V: ‘ “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” ’ he recited solemnly.
Hugh wasn’t going to be out-Shakespeared, and retorted with:
’The Wreyges’ rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phoebus’ car
Shall shine from far,
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.’
’From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, muttered Tye. ‘Which is a fairy story. I wonder if he knew something? No, of course he didn’t. He wrote “raging rocks” actually … or did he?’
Hugh and Tye prepared to take off. So did everyone else. ‘Hey, wait a minute …’ said Hugh.
‘We are all coming,’ Tergina said firmly.
‘Wouldn’t miss the chance of seeing you sucked up,’ grinned Cudew. This bit of humour went down every bit as well as a hydrogen balloon does when one releases it.