Chapter Twenty Two - A Tricky Operation
Jenko was flat out in bed when I went up to him.
I didn’t really know what to say. I mean… what do you say when you’ve just dislocated somebody’s shoulder… and you’ve not even done anything wrong.
“I’m sorry I hit you so hard,” I managed at last. “You might have spotted, I’m not really fully in control yet.”
“You looked pretty much in control from where I was standing,” he answered with a feeble sort of a grin.
“Anyway,” I went on, “I’ve brought you some lunch but after that you need to get up. I promised Carodoc that I’d give you a hand with tidying up the Mews but you’re going to have to be seen to be helping.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I really wasn’t looking forward to doing it on my own.”
I sat on the bed next to him but he covered his face with his hands and looked away. He didn’t want me to see that he was crying.
‘What’s the point?’ he said and it took me a while to work out that he wasn’t saying it out loud. His thoughts were just leaking out into the cloud world… and they were so loud I couldn’t help but overhear. ‘What is the point? Zalibar’s bound to chuck me out now… and then I’ll be no use to Janenas whatsoever… and I don’t know what he’ll do with me then.’
He lay there for a few more moments with his face covered, silently sobbing. Then, with an enormous effort of will, he pulled himself together. “I’m sorry,” he said to me. “You have enough problems of your own. You certainly don’t need mine.”
“Come on, eat something,” I told him gently. I suddenly realised that I really didn’t want him to get chucked out… and it wasn’t just because he took a load of stuff from Zalibar that would otherwise come in my direction. I mean… I wasn’t complaining about that… but that wasn’t the whole thing. I was sort of starting to enjoy his company too.
“Let me have a think,” I told him. “I owe you that much, at least, for the mess I made of your shoulder.”
“If you can think of anything, I’d love to hear it because I, quite frankly, am completely out of ideas,” he answered with another one of his grin type things before making a start on his lunch.
I went round to the girls’ side of the curtain and threw myself down on my bed. It was obvious that Jenko needed help… but it was just as obvious that the help he needed was way beyond anything I could do. I needed to talk to Psion.
So I flipped into the cloud world and, making sure my attention didn’t wander towards the dazzling lights in the Edifice, I swept my mind along the rocky shoreline at the bottom of the cliffs where I knew Psion would be lurking. I couldn’t immediately spot him, but I definitely got the feeling that there was something up. I swept back again and found something at the other end, up by the village.
I felt out in the direction of whatever it was. I couldn’t really work it out at first but, as I investigated, I started to see, for the first time, that there was a sort of background to the cloud world… as if the clouds were stuck onto a sheet of paper or something… and, in this one particular spot, there was a hole in the paper.
I probed a bit deeper and suddenly, with this funny ‘click’ type thing, the missing stuff jumped back into place and I could see Psion dozing amongst some rocks in a quiet little cove.
“Wake up, sleepy head!” I called, not trying particularly hard to keep the smugness out of my voice.
“Good afternoon, Young Mistress!” he responded with a yawn and a stretch. “People aren’t supposed to be able to find me like that. I’m going to have to build up my defences.”
“I wouldn’t bother,” I answered. “Let’s face it, I know you pretty well and I had a fair idea about where you’d be lurking.”
“Avoiding drawing undue attention to myself, if you please!”
“Whatever!” I answered with a grin. “Anyway, I have something else for you to think about.”
“Pray enlighten me!”
So I told him about what was going on with Jenko.
“And you wish to keep him alive to divert Zalibar’s attention from your good self?”
“That’s about right.”
“Elegantly self centred, if I might say so.”
I decided not to mention the fact that I was sort of starting to like Jenko… I just knew he’d take that all wrong… on purpose!
“I may be able to provide some assistance but I would need to inspect the young gentleman before I could commit myself.”
“Isn’t that a bit risky?”
“What would life be without the occasional gamble? Besides, I am confident that I can ensure that he forgets me, or at least, so cloud his memories that he will think of it as but a dream.”
“Fair enough, I suppose. How are we going to find you?”
“That could prove moderately challenging. Were the two of you to go strolling out through the main gate, hand in hand, It could attract comment…” I chose to ignore that one… “and, if I know Zalibar, his supervision of the compound’s defences will inhibit your departure by less conventional means.”
“Can’t you just mind zap Jenko through the wall?”
Psion gave this completely over the top sigh… but I could tell he was only getting stressy about the way I said it. “Cerebral manipulation is amongst the more challenging aspects of our art,” he explained. “Though I am more than commonly proficient, even I would be hard pressed to perform such a procedure remotely… particularly without drawing unwanted attention to our activity.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Some might even consider it polite to ask his permission before we commenced the manipulation of the squidgy stuff between his ears,” he muttered to himself, almost as an afterthought.
I thought for a moment. “We’re cleaning out the nag mews this afternoon,” I told him. “Could we sneak out through the Mist Gate and find you that way?”
“That could work,” the little dragon replied. “There’s a clearing around the back there which provides convenient concealment… I’ve been using it to monitor those runs which give you all such delight. Perhaps I could entertain you and your young gentleman companion there.”
I laughed as I broke the connection then I stretched out in bed for a couple more seconds… but I just about managed to resist the temptation to close my eyes. “Right,” I called across to Jenko as I hauled myself to my feet, “we need to get going.”
There was no reply and, when I peeped around the curtain, I saw he was fast asleep.
So I tried to do one of the mental nudge things but I must have overdone it because I had him jumping to his feet as if I’d just chucked a bucket of water over him. “Let’s get on with it,” I said. “You go and make a start on the stalls, I’ll do the water.”
When I’d finished my water lugging duties, I collected the key for the mist gate and went across to the mews where Jenko was trying to sweep out Towan’s stall using only one hand. “Come here a minute,” I called.
But as he was scrambling out of the stall, he managed to lose his grip on the nag’s mind and only just avoided a vicious flick of the tail. He tumbled over the gate and fell to the ground.
“Jenko,” I said as he hauled himself back to his feet. “I might be able to sort something out for you but we can’t let anybody else find out about it…”
“Nothing like that’s going to work,” he interrupted, “Janenas’s got a mind lock on me and he can pull the thoughts straight out of my head. I can’t keep any secrets from him.”
“Which is why you won’t remember anything about it afterwards,” I explained carefully.
He stood for a moment with waves of hope and despair clashing on his face. Then he made a decision. “I’ll try anything,” he said. “I can’t go on like this… I just can’t!”
As I led him out of the Mist Gate, I felt the familiar twinkle of Psion in my head. He guided us up, behind the stinking heap of dragon dung, to the path that led round to the obstacle course. The Master’s Lodge loomed above us but it only had windows on the quad side so nobody was going to spot us.
From here, we went down a steep, rugged slope and, as we drew close to the woods, a rough path appeared between the trees and, after a couple of hundred yards, there was a clearing. It was well shielded by trees but there was quite a good view of the wooded valley which led up towards the Edifice.
Psion was perched on a tree stump, waiting for us, and his tongue was flickering about nervously. “Good afternoon, Young Mistress, Sir,” he greeted us formally.
“A rogue dragon!” Jenko gasped.
“I prefer to think of myself as a former respected advisor who has, of late, met with somewhat reduced circumstances, due to political misadventures. However, if you insist on being so painfully blunt, your description is, technically, correct.” He preened himself self-consciously for a moment. “Be that as it may, I understand you have a slight problem.”
“I’m going to be nag bait unless something happens and happens quickly,” Jenko answered in a bit of a surly tone. “Is that what you mean?”
Psion nodded sagely. “Before we consider what is going on between your ears, I should perhaps take a look at your shoulder.”
Jenko nodded then winced a bit as Psion sent in a probe.
“Zalibar is a competent enough bone-smith,” he muttered after a few seconds. “It looks to be adequately repaired but I have effected some slight adjustments to allow it to recover more expeditiously and with less bruising. You should be fighting fit by Monday morning.”
Jenko muttered his thanks then tried out his shoulder… it looked as if it was moving more comfortably. A look a bit closer to hope flashed across his face.
“Right, now to the mind,” Psion said. “Please lie down, young man.” He wrapped his tail around his body and, after a few moments, Jenko went completely still.
“Preserve us from blundering, incompetent mind manipulators,” Psion muttered when he resurfaced about thirty seconds later. “Are you with us?” he asked. Jenko still looked dazed but he managed a nod.
“Right, I will be able to do something but, before I start, I need to make something completely clear, to avoid any possible future doubt.” He paused dramatically. “What I propose involves interfering with the mind lock placed on a servant by his lawful master. This contravenes a number of the basic precepts of the Edifice. If anyone ever finds out what I’ve done, we will all be declared anathema. Every claw, tooth and flame will be turned against us and we will certainly be killed.”
“I’ve nothing to lose,” Jenko answered promptly. “I won’t be any less dead if I don’t get help of some sort.”
But I had to think about it for a bit longer. “You can do this in a way that can’t be seen?” I checked.
“And Jenko won’t remember what happened?”
“He may have some vague recollection of something but will have no memory of names or places. Indeed, it will take extensive probing from a skilled operator to detect that the changes have been performed.”
I thought about it for another couple of moments before I decided it was worth the risk. “Let’s go for it,” I said coolly. “We’ll just have to make sure nobody finds out.”
Psion nodded then his eyes burned brightly as, for the first time, I saw him really concentrating. When I looked into the cloud world, I saw his shining blue cloud had gone all dull and it was pretty much wrapped around Jenko’s.
After what felt like ages, Psion relaxed. He slowly backed into the trees, though the link between the two minds remained.
But suddenly Jenko flinched as it vanished. “Where am I?” he muttered.
“I think you got confused when you were supposed to be emptying the wheelbarrow,” I said, bluffing wildly… mind you, Jenko was so confused I could have said anything. “Come on, we need to get going.”
Taking his good arm, I tried to help him up the path but the slope was steep and rugged and I pretty much had to drag him over the rough ground.
“How did it go?” I asked, sending my mind back down to Psion.
“His node had been implanted by some blundering incompetent,” he reported scornfully. “Not only was the thing pitifully insecure, it had also trampled all over his self confidence and self esteem. It is a wonder that the poor lad has been able to haul himself out of bed of a morning let alone survive the rigours of Zalibar’s School of Dragonology!”
“It looked like you were concentrating quite hard, back there!”
“Merely to remove the pathetic abomination would have been a trivial task. What I did, however, was, with all due modesty, at the very limits of what anyone currently living on the island could achieve. I managed to reduce the scope of the block without altering its characteristic shape and I am confident that nobody will notice my intervention unless they know what they’re looking for. In particular, that incompetent Janenas who implanted the thing in the first place will…”
He suddenly stopped talking and was silent for a moment. “Danger, incoming!” he barked urgently. “Get down!”
I looked up to see a dragon descending from the Edifice towards the compound. For a moment I froze but, as I stared, Jenko broke free and stumbled up the slope towards the path.
With only the slightest gesture towards asking for permission, Psion was inside my head. I had to resist the urge to fight him as he used my will to take over Jenko’s mind and throw him to the floor. I threw myself down next to him and tried to hide us both behind a completely useless grassy tussock. Then I grabbed at my mother’s leather bracelet as I tried to will us both into invisibility.
But the dragon had changed direction. It was heading straight towards us. As it drew closer, I could see that the rider was Quaro-Deryn, the Amendraig.
Then Psion was back in my head… but this time my discomfort was overwhelmed by my fascination as he began to spin an illusion around us. He built on the bracelet’s protection, weaving together strands of pure will to form an impenetrable wall. In spite of the danger, I was just amazed at how beautiful the thing was.
Then the Amendraig’s dragon was straight above us. I held my breath as it started to circle directly overhead. It seemed impossible that he wouldn’t see us but I could feel Psion’s confidence. As we waited, he casually pointed out the featherlike touches as the Amendraig’s probe brushed against our illusion.
After circling around for what felt like forever, the dragon broke off and climbed up towards the House. Shaking with relief, I jumped to my feet and hustled Jenko up to the top of the slope. As we hurried through the Mist Gate, I could hear the Amendraig talking to Zalibar through the open door of the mews. I let Jenko collapse against the wall and, grabbing a broom, I jumped over the gate into Lippit’s stall. I barely had time to avoid a casual snap from the greyish-green nag and get a grip on him before Zalibar appeared.
“Has anyone been out through the Mist gate?” he demanded. “The Amendraig thought he saw somebody messing about round the back of the house.”
“Only us,” I answered. He stared at me as his will wrapped about the surface of my cloud, probing for the least hint of deceit. I had to struggle to keep my innermost thoughts blocked without losing my grip on Lippit but my shields held fast.
“What are you doing here anyway?” he demanded, easing his grip from around my mind. “You won your duel this morning.”
“Carodoc asked me to come and give Jenko a hand,” I answered, nodding across at the boy who was still slumped against the wall. “He’s not really recovered from this morning.”
“Well, if he’s not sorted himself out by Monday morning he’s out of here,” Zalibar growled. “You’d better send him back to bed,” he added. “He’s neither use nor ornament down here like that.” I mean… his voice was as gruff as ever but he’d not yet completely broken our mind link… and, even though his shields were solid, they were heavy duty things designed for combat and nothing like as subtle as the ones that Psion had taught me.
And I could feel the slightest hint of sympathy leaking out from behind them!
“And don’t forget to lock up and put the key away when you’re done,” he said. “If there’s anyone out there, they can come in through the main gate or stay outside, I don’t care which.”
With that, he turned sharply around and strode out of the mews.
“Yes, Sir,” I replied, fighting to keep the shock out of my voice and mind. So… it turns out that heartless Zalibar does have a heart after all!