Chapter Twelve - Psion
“Right then,” I said to the funny little dragon, “how do I go about getting food? I haven’t got any money.”
“Whilst wearing that torque, you could march into any establishment in the village and demand that they turn over their entire stock. The shopkeepers would comply without a murmur… for failure to do so would bring down the wrath of Rhiannas. In any case, they will be adequately compensated by the Council. Provided you ask for something simple – say half a lamb – no word will get back to him and we shall remain blissfully untroubled by his attentions.”
He paused and added in an amused tone, “You see! Already I am being of assistance!”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re laughing at me?” I asked.
“You are not the first person to observe this particular facet of my personality. It is, alas, in my nature to appreciate the more ridiculous aspects of the world. When I was proffering advice to members of the Council this was, at worst, a mildly annoying idiosyncrasy. In my currently reduced circumstances, however, it does tend to attract the unwelcome attention of the village boys… and of their stones.”
“And how am I going to recognise the butcher’s?”
“The carved wooden figures above the doors of the shops indicate the nature of their trade. The butchers in the village are marked by a ‘Side of Beef’ and a ‘Haunch of Venison’ respectively. The ‘Haunch’ tends to stock slightly fresher fare.”
“So you’re getting fussy now, are you?” I said with a smile.
“By the way,” I heard his voice in my head as I made my way on down the path towards the village, “my former mistress used to favour the pies from the sign of the ‘Sheaf of Corn’.”
And, as I carried on down the track towards the village, I realised that, for the first time since I’d got here, I was smiling.
As I walked into the village, I felt as if I’d dropped back into the dark ages or something. The place was totally squalid. Though the main roadway was in a reasonable state, the rest of the place was basically just a couple of ramshackle wooden shacks separated by a sea of mud. There were just a couple of stone buildings clustered around a muddy central square where children, pigs and chickens played and fought… in the mud.
Did I mention the mud?
The people appeared utterly miserable and downtrodden and Psion was certainly right about the torque. People jumped into the mud to avoid me and I saw a couple of mothers yanking their kids out of my way.
Apart from the mud, the most striking feature of the place was the smell. Let’s just say they had a problem with their sewers… and, from the way people were carrying water from a well in the square, you could tell that the shacks didn’t have running water.
And I suddenly realised that there were plenty of people worse off than me.
The ‘Sheaf of Corn’ was one of the few stone buildings by the village square. I mean… even if Psion hadn’t told me about it, I’d have been dragged there by the delicious, savoury smell.
There were a couple of people waiting to be served but they stopped talking and basically jumped out of the way as soon as I stepped through the door. The elderly lady behind the counter immediately turned to me. “Good afternoon, Miss,” she asked, clasping her hands together. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ve been told that your pies are good,” I replied. “Could I have one, please?”
“Of course, Miss. Thank you, Miss,” the shopkeeper said, hurrying to hand me one. “Will there be anything else?”
“Oh… err… yes. Two of those buns, too, please…” Tea tonight and breakfast tomorrow sorted
I could pretty much see the wave of relief as I left the place.
The ‘Haunch of Venison’ was next door and was a low built, wooden shack. There was meat hanging from hooks in the ceiling and a collection of dangerous looking axes, saws and knives and things on the walls. The butcher was even more cringy than the lady in the pie shop and was even keener to get rid of me.
So I was soon heading back up the hill to the little copse. I had half a lamb in a sack over one shoulder, a pie in my other hand, and the buns were stuffed in my pockets.
The sack was heavy and the flies were annoying in the heat of the day so I wasn’t really looking where I was going so I pretty much stumbled over Psion again. This time, too, he jumped wildly but he did manage to get his act back together a bit quicker.
“This cannot be right!” he exclaimed, settling on the tree stump once more and doing his preening thing. “No human comes upon me unexpectedly when I am awaiting their arrival. I pride myself on being something of an expert in the fine art of concealment and, not to put too fine a point on it, I know all the tricks.”
He sort of inspected me for what felt like a very long time until his eyes landed on my mother’s bracelet. When he saw it, he let out this wild, despairing cry… the first real noise that I’d heard either of the dragons make. It sort of spoke of years of pain and suffering and of a hope of which he had hardly dared to think.
Then the funny little dragon started to laugh. Waves of his mocking and self deprecating humour rolled around the tatty copse but, behind them, dark structures of his loss and despair remained. “It cannot be!” he proclaimed. “It is beyond my most wild hopes and dreams! Oh, I greet you, little Katie! I thought you were dead!”
“What are you going on about?” I asked. “And how do you know my name?”
“You don’t understand, do you? Of course, you cannot. My dear former mistress, so cruelly betrayed and so bitterly missed, was none other than your mother Psionon.”
“My mother’s name was Gwen-Owen,” I told him but then I paused. The other name was doing something inside me… as if I sort of knew it… without really knowing it.
“Gwen-Owen is the name that she used Outside,” he said as he jumped to the ground and lowered himself onto his forelegs.
For the first time since I’d met him, he turned all serious. “In fulfillment of a most solemn oath that I made to your mother, I hereby pledge my undying love and loyalty to you,” he said, putting his head on the ground as if he was worshipping me or something.
“Thank you!” I said to the funny little dragon. “But get up, please! It’s embarrassing.”
“First you must put your foot upon my head.”
“Please place your foot upon my head to denote your acceptance of my vow.”
I mean… he was obviously going to stay there until I did it, so I put my foot on his head. “Psion, I accept your vow,” I told him as formally as I could manage.
Then I took my foot away and, as Psion got back up, with a fair bit of difficulty, I added, “I never saw my mother. She died when I was born.”
“I can assure you that you are mistaken, Young Mistress,” he replied, hopping back onto his tree stump and resuming his preening operations… and now he had to deal with the mess of leaves and twigs he’d picked up whilst he’d been doing his head-on-the-ground thing. “Not only did you see her, you also saw me. Of course, you were tiny then.” The twinkle returned to his eye. “Even tinier than you are now!”
“See here,” he said, raising a wing and showing me scar marks underneath, “where my skin is most soft and flexible. When you were born, I had your mother cut a piece of leather to make into that bracelet which you are still wearing. You’ve been carrying a piece of me with you all your life. Did you not find it noteworthy that a bracelet that fitted you as a baby continues to fit you today?” he asked with evident smugness. “That it never became dirty? That nobody else ever noticed it?”
“Well, I never really thought about it. How did you manage that?”
“It is, to a certain extent, an illusion.”
“You mean it doesn’t really exist?” I asked, utterly flabbergasted. “But how…” I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to ask.
“Oh no. It certainly does exist. As I say, it is a trifle complicated.”
“It’s not a difficult question. Is it an illusion or isn’t it?”
“I agree it’s not a difficult question, or indeed two questions, and the answer to each is, ‘Yes’. As I say, it’s a trifle complicated.”
He sort of wrapped his tail round his body and did this kind of gesturing thing with the tip.
“Did you observe how it conceals and protects you?” he asked, “particularly when you touch it with your mind!”
“Sort of, yeah! I’ve kind of got into the habit of grabbing it with my other hand when things get tricky.”
“You are thereby indubitably bringing your mind to bear.”
He went quiet for a bit, deep in thought, then he suddenly jumped in the air. “And that, of course, is the reason that I failed to find you. I tried, but after months of searching I gave up. Perversely enough, I succeeded in hiding you from myself. I greatly feared that you, too, had been killed.”
My attention was grabbed by his use of the word ‘too’. “My mother was killed?” I demanded.
Oh yes. She was most cruelly betrayed and murdered!”
“Who did it?” I demanded. “I’m going to kill them.”
“I would have expected nothing less of your mother’s daughter,” Psion answered, staring at me with his golden eyes. “Have no fear, Young Mistress! When the time comes to extract revenge, you will be riding upon my shoulders.”
He held my gaze for a long moment then, with a smile, returned to his old jokey self. “In the meantime,” he said, “I believe you have food!”
“Ah!” I said, working to keep my face and mind flat. “This is all a trick to get me to provide you with meat on a regular basis, is it?”
“Let me make it quite clear. Meat or no meat, I will do everything in my power…”
But I couldn’t keep it up and collapsed in a fit of giggles.
“It’s all very well for you,” Psion said with a little flick of his tail, “but my provender of late has been distinctly lacking. It does tend to weigh on one’s mind.”
“Couldn’t you just help yourself to the odd sheep or cow or something?”
“Though I have, in the past, successfully acquired an occasional dainty morsel in said manner, the farmers keep a distressingly close watch on their livestock and, particularly since I lost the ability to fly, the endeavour has become significantly more challenging.”
“Couldn’t you just barbecue the farmer?”
“Putting all moral considerations to one side for a moment, one of my principal objectives, of late, has been avoiding unnecessary attention. Barbecuing random farmers, as you so delicately characterise it, would have quite the opposite effect.”
“Oh, I see… but I thought that eating people was what dragons did.”
“It is a distinctly base instinct and some of us like to think we are above that sort of thing,” he responded rather haughtily.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said hurriedly, hauling the large lump of meat out of the sack. “So, what do you want me to do with this?”
“In my present state of famine, the ground will serve as well as any silver salver.”
So I just dumped the thing on the floor.
He jumped down from his tree stump and started attacking it with wild enthusiasm.
“You do realise that’s not a particularly attractive sight, don’t you?” I said.
But he didn’t bother answering… in fact he seemed to have forgotten that I existed.