Chapter Twenty Nine - Recovery
The next thing I knew, I was sort of floating, mid-way between the cerebral and base domains… and I was looking up into the face of a beautiful young woman. And I was sure I knew that face… as if I’d seen it in a dream or something. That was it; I was a baby… and my mother was holding me in her arms… and she was showing me to a dragon… and not just any dragon… she was showing me to Psion… but Psion as I’d never known him. He was a brilliant silver white colour and almost as long as Rhiannas… but much sleeker. His scales sparkled in the sunlight, radiating vigour and strength, and the bubbling blue of his mind was vibrant.
But the most striking thing was the look he was giving my mother and me. Both his face and his mind were shining with utter devotion… and with love.
Then wisps of cloud started to appear and it was if I was being pulled away from the scene. I mean… the baby, who I knew was me, was still there but somehow I was drifting away. I didn’t want to go but I was powerless to resist and, as I drifted further away, the mists closed in, shutting me off from that perfect scene… and I pretty much wanted to cry.
But then the mists began to drift away again and my whole body was wracked by these terrible fever pains. Someone was holding my mouth open and Zalibar was pouring mug after mug of water down my throat. I’d never seen him so angry. His ugly face was scarlet and he was repeating a string of swear words like a mantra or something.
I tried to beg him to stop but he either didn’t hear me or just ignored me as he continued to pour the water into me.
After what seemed like years, he stopped the swearing and the water. “Six mugs of water an hour for the next ten hours!” he barked. “After that you can go down to three an hour. Her life and health depend on it. Is that clear?”
I heard Carodoc agreeing before I slipped back into the blessèd relief of unconsciousness.
When I came back to my senses, it was Carodoc who was forcing me to drink. Every bone in my body still ached but it wasn’t quite as bad as before. “What’s going on?” I managed to ask between gulps.
“Keep drinking and I’ll tell you,” he answered.
So I shut my eyes and didn’t resist as he kept pouring the water down my throat.
“It looks like you’ve been poisoned,” he explained. “You were on your way out when we got you back here and we didn’t know what to do until Jenko appeared and said ‘gorat’. When he heard that, Zalibar started swearing and pouring water down your throat.”
“So the knife was poisoned? I knew it looked a bit funny - like rainbows.”
“You probably shouldn’t go round saying stuff like that because accusing people of violating the Precepts without evidence is the sort of thing that brings the wrath of the Edifice down on your head.”
I had to think about that.
“Keep drinking,” he added.
“I’ve had enough.”
“Listen! You can either drink it or I’m going to get Zalibar. I’m sure he’ll manage to persuade you.”
“In case you didn’t hear, he told us that, ‘Your life and health depend on it,’ so you can be quite sure I will.”
“Okay then… but tell me what happened at the end there.”
“Rhiannas stepped in and stopped Kiernonda from killing you. Of course he had to swallow his pride a bit to get involved on behalf of a mere ’doc in a trivial honour duel like that…” Carodoc paused and thought for a moment. “But I don’t suppose it was too bad for him because the end of the fight was so odd… and because you’d done so well up until that point. Nobody was expecting you to last ten seconds.”
“I knew you’d do better than most people thought but I wasn’t quite as confident as I was trying to make out!” he admitted.
He forced another couple of mugs of water down my throat then asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Terrible,” I answered. “Have you got a bucket?”
“That’s why I’m here,” Olwen called from across the room. She was the only other girl tyro. “Get out of it, boys. Give the lady some privacy.”
The rest of the day passed in a haze of fevered dreams, mugs of water and frequent use of the bucket. Towards evening, Zalibar appeared. The rest of the tyros stood and I tried to get up too but he told me to stay put.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, taking my pulse and looking into the whites of my eyes.
“Much better, thank you, sir.”
“Good, keep drinking the water and we should avoid any lasting damage.”
He looked around the room. “Are you all listening?” he asked. “I just said a couple of things at dinner and I’m going to repeat them now so everyone is completely clear.
“Firstly, the conflict between Kiernonda and Rhianadoc is now closed. Rhiannas has declared it so and I will not tolerate it being reopened. Is that clear?”
He fixed me with his piercing blue eyes until I acknowledged his words with a mental nod. Then he did the same with each of the others.
“Secondly, there are ugly rumours of a breach of the Precepts amongst my students. Let there be no doubt, if it turns out that it’s true, I’ve no intention of shielding the guilty parties… indeed my hand’ll be one of the first to be raised against’em but…”
He let it hang for a moment then went on.
“On the other hand, you can’t just go around accusing someone of breaching the Precepts without evidence. And, just to eliminate any doubt, Young Lady, the state of health of some non-entity tyro is not evidence of anything. I now consider this complete regrettable incident history.”
“By the way,” he added, using some sort of private mind link that only let me and Carodoc hear, “the two of you did really well. If he hadn’t resorted to gorat…” he spat it out as if the word itself was poisonous, “you’d have sliced his liver out, Young Lady. Well done.”
“Good night!” he said out loud as he glided smoothly out of the room.
For two days, I could hardly stir from my bed… apart from frequent visits to the bucket… but by the third day, I’d recovered enough strength to make it up to Rhiannas’s lair in the Edifice.
“I have come to thank you for saving my life in the duel,” I said formally, as I stood before him. I was still swaying a bit after the climb up.
Rhiannas reclined in front of me on his dais, gesturing casually with his tail. “As I said at the time, I had no desire to see my property further damaged. Your own admirable performance, coupled with the questionable conclusion of the encounter, allowed me to intervene without significant personal cost.”
I nodded formally.
“The reports I have since received of your subsequent indisposition serve only to confirm that my intervention was not only acceptable but absolutely imperative,” he went on. He pulled himself into an upright pose and started waving his tail round emphatically. “The loss of a valued servant in an honourably fought duel, though regrettable, would be tolerable. However, to have you taken from me in crass disregard for the ancient Precepts of the Edifice would have been utterly insufferable.” As his temper rose, the red colouring of his neck and face became more intense.
“You, too, believe he used gorat.”
“Of that there can be no doubt, though…” He calmed his growing rage with an obvious struggle and lay back down. “We must, nonetheless, show a measure of discretion here, for to make the charge openly could escalate the antagonism between Rhian and Quaro into open inter-House warfare.”
“Perhaps that’s what they want?”
He went quiet for a bit as he thought about that. “A perceptive suggestion, young tyro,” he said at last, “though I am minded otherwise. Whilst the House of Quaro has stood ever as a rival to Rhian, I would not contend that their conduct has lain, without exception, rigorously within the Precepts and Customs of the Edifice. I suspect there are other agents at work here of which I am not yet aware. But when I have identified the miscreants, the vengeance of the House of Rhian will be swift and terrible.” He emphasised his words with vicious stabs with the tip of his tail.
“I hope, Sir,” I replied without really thinking, “that when the time for vengeance comes, I may play my part in extracting it.”
“That desire sits well upon you, young tyro, and puts me in mind of another young lady who once wore that torque.”
I smiled at him. “I should return Rhian-Ceridwen’s sword, Sir,” I said, drawing it from its sheath and offering it to him, hilt first.
“Pray retain it,” he replied. “You will have need of a worthy blade when the time for vengeance comes.”
OK… he had a bit of the twinkly cloud humour thing going on but I still gave him my most formal bow and then resheathed the sword.
On the way back down, I managed to meet up with Psion. He asked for my permission and then I had the strange experience of seeing the duel for a second time as he extracted the memories straight from my head.
He was delighted with my performance but the use of the poison both astonished and appalled him. “Significant parties would be sorely aggrieved, were the use of gorat to be proven,” he explained. “Its very possession is utterly prescribed in the Precepts and, were Kiernonda’s use of it in an honour duel proven, he would be declared Anathema and his entire Family line would be eliminated without mercy. You know, better than most, the effects that it can have on humans. Its consequences for dragons are even more extreme. The slightest trace of the vile substance can block the use of our cerebral powers and we dragons are reliant on our will for such minor functions as thought and even breath. The trivial wound Kiernonda inflicted on you would suffice to dispatch any dragon in the Edifice, even your mighty Rhiannas!” He was getting really worked up about it… I’d never seen him like this before.
He paused for a moment. “I suppose it would be possible to simulate the effect of gorat using a mind on mind attack,” he said at last. “Did you discern anything of that nature… or any noteworthy features of the blade?”
“You mean that it looked like rainbows?”
Psion gave a mental nod. “At close quarters, the vile substance gives a characteristic sheen to a blade,” he told me. “If it were not gorat, somebody was deliberately attempting to give the impression that it was.”
“I guess it was you who told Jenko what was going on.”
He gave a mental nod. “When I saw them carrying you back to Zalibar’s compound, I felt obliged to borrow his eyes. That young man leaves himself unbelievably wide open,” he added as an aside. “It was evident to me that you had been poisoned and, of course, I had no difficulty in implanting the idea in Jenko’s mind.”
He thought for a moment. “The only outstanding question is, why they would take such an appalling risk in a matter so trivial as a student’s honour duel? The very recklessness of the act is all that saved them. By the time the symptoms were apparent, the offending weapon had, doubtless, been removed and cleaned.”
“Thinking back, Kiernonda did look across to Quaro-Deryn before doing that clumsy blade switch.”
“But that’s even worse,” Psion replied. “Kier is simply a middle ranking Family with little to lose. Quaro is one of the four Great Houses…” He went quiet for a moment. “It would seem to defy comprehension… and I mislike matters which defy my comprehension.”
I didn’t say anything but I guess I must have given him a puzzled look.
“Because it usually means I’ve missed something,” he admitted.