Chapter Thirty One - Night Patrol
As Rhiannas swept along through the black of the night, high above the waves, I tried to keep my mind on business.
We’d been flying together for hours, with my will coupled in with his. I mean… it wasn’t exactly hard work but, as the hours dragged on by, the steady drain got a bit wearing. The air was cold and the overcast sky threatened rain so I was glad I’d thought to bring the warm cloak that Iola had given me that first afternoon.
He’d made it quite clear from the start of the flight that he had no interest in casual conversation so I swept the horizon once more using his eyes. They were much better than mine, particularly in the intense, pre-dawn darkness. I could make out the lights from a few scattered farms and villages away to the east on the mainland and from a couple of fishing boats, far off to the north.
Once I was happy that there was nothing out there that was going to cause us trouble, I slipped out of the cloud world for a moment. I quietly stretched my aching muscles then settled back into the half kneeling stance that Zalibar was so determined to teach us.
Then I sank back down into Rhiannas’s mind, enjoying the casual expertise of his flight.
I found myself thinking back to the first day…. was it only ten weeks ago? Everything had changed so much since then and, even though there was constant struggle and danger here, I knew I’d never go back to my old way of life. Here, at least, I felt alive. This was where I belonged.
But Rhiannas must have noticed that my attention was wandering because he gave me a nasty, stingy little mental slap before swinging round to the east where a slightly paler shadow on the horizon told us that dawn was not too far away.
It was mid-morning when Rhiannas flew in, low over the compound, and landed on the platform by the house. By that time, it was raining heavily and I was totally soaked.
“I shall require your presence at the same time next week,” he informed me. He didn’t bother waiting for an answer. He just gave Zalibar a formal sort of a nod then flew off.
“Good. You’re back,” Zalibar said as I walked across the quad towards him. “I need somebody to take a couple of noviates up.”
“Yes, Sir!” I replied with just the faintest of sighs. I’d hoped to get at least a couple of minutes to dry off.
“Can you manage on Taloon?” he asked. “She’s been needing a really firm grip since that idiot let Nero get too close to her. They’re always like that if you let ’em get a taste of fresh blood.”
“We’ll be fine,” I answered steadily. “I’ll let her know who’s boss.”
“I’m sure you will,” he replied. I mean… there was no sign on his face but, just on the surface of his cloud, there was the hint of a smile.
I set off towards the mews but Carodoc hurried across. “You’re going to catch your death if you go up like that,” he told me. “There’s a trick.”
We flipped into the cloud world together and he quickly showed me how to use my will to drive the water out of my soaking clothes and to warm myself up. As we flipped back into the quad, I saw that Zalibar was watching us. The look he gave us made it clear that he didn’t exactly approve but he didn’t say anything.
“He doesn’t really like people wasting their cerebral capacity on their own comfort,” Carodoc explained. “But he’ll let us off this time because it means you don’t have to go and get changed before you go up.”
Zalibar had been right about Taloon. When I arrived at her stall in the mews, I tried to take a grip on her mind but she chucked me out. The green female’s mind was a morass of seething truculence.
“Listen, Young Lady,” I said to Taloon, taking a much firmer grip on the nag’s mind, completely enfolding her will for a few moments. “There are two ways we can play this. Either you’re going to be half-way cooperative, or you’re going to need my permission to breathe. Which is it going to be?”
I released my grip a bit and was pleased to see that, even though her resentment was still churning deep down inside, she wasn’t really fighting against my bind any more.
As I led Taloon out of the mews, I looked up to see Zalibar was standing in the doorway… and he was giving me a funny look.
I could feel him inspecting me for a bit… kind of inside my head and out. “We’ve got a new wild dragon coming in next week,” he said at last, “and I’d like you to come along and give me a hand when we break him in.”
“Yes, sir!” I answered enthusiastically. That sounded like it might be exciting. In fact anything that got me out of trying to train the rude and surly nonda had to be a good thing.
I moved Taloon over to join the four noviates and noticed that Doranonda and Bryn didn’t have particularly convincing mind grips. “Come on, you two,” I told them with a bit of a sigh. “Get those grips sorted out. If Wast-Bethan can manage it, you two have no excuses.”
As planned, I went off on the meat run after lunch. Jenko came with me and, as we were making our way back along the cliff-top path, I was astonished to see him casually take one of the lumps of meat off his cart and lob it over the edge. I was about to shout at him but managed to contain myself and instead slipped gently into his mind… as Psion had said, he left himself unbelievably open.
I wasn’t really all that surprised to find he’d already managed to forget the whole meat throwing thing that had happened only seconds before and immediately knew who was to blame. Caught between outrage and amusement, I reached down for the characteristic hole in the cloud world that marked the guilty party’s presence and found him snoozing in the sunshine on one of the beaches far below.
I woke him with a sudden prod. “Oi you! What have you been doing with Jenko’s mind?” I demanded.
“Ah yes, that!” the little dragon replied in a slightly embarrassed tone. “Whilst I was, in any case, performing those minor adjustments in there, I deemed it appropriate to extract payment from him at the same time.”
“Psion!” I exploded, caught between outrage and amusement. “You can’t do things like that!
“That is self-evidently not the case,” the incorrigible little dragon replied. “I already have.” He was trying not to show it but I could see the little golden sparkly things going off just inside his cloud!
“Incidentally, you may discover that the young man is slightly more… loyal and defensive… towards you than might otherwise be the case.”
I shook my head, not really sure of what to make of that. I’d already had my suspicions before but, now he’d confirmed it, it felt… well… wrong…
But it certainly might come in handy.
“I take it this means you won’t be wanting any more meat from me from now on!” I managed to say at last. I tried to do the sparkly thing in my own cloud.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” he replied hurriedly. “After years of deprivation, one is not minded to ever refuse supplementary tidbits!”
“Incoming then!” I called down to him as I threw a piece over the edge. “Wasn’t that quite tricky to do?” I asked. “I mean… aren’t those nodes supposed to lock in unswerving loyalty to your master?”
“Weaker minds are frequently drawn towards the more powerful,” he explained. The effect is even to be seen amongst the more powerful latents. All I had to do was build upon that.”
I was quiet for a bit. “Do you think that was why Megan put up with me?” I asked at last. Looking back, there had been plenty of hints that Megan had had some sort of latent thing going on. “I was pretty horrible to her… even before…” I trailed off, eyes misting up at the thought of what I’d had to do to my friend.
Psion gave me a couple of seconds to work through the painful memories and then he decided to distract me. “Incidentally, there was already a nugget of something in that young man’s head,” he told me. “I suspect that, even without my intervention, he would be showing a certain degree of… should we say… loyalty and affection… towards you!” His cloud did the funny golden sparkly amused thing again.
I had to think about what he could possibly mean by that but then I sort of noticed the hunched shoulders in front of me. ‘Oh!’ I thought. ‘Psion can’t possibly mean… Jenko can’t possibly…’
I wanted to challenge the flippant dragon on this stunning idea but he had slipped out of my mind and turned his attention to the meat, doing his, ‘leaving nothing behind but a grin,’ thing.
That evening, at the end of dinner, Zalibar announced that he was promoting Olwen to transitor so, afterwards, the tyros had a bit of a party to celebrate.
“Well done, love,” Cookie said to her, walking over to us with a huge steaming pudding. “Jenko, go and get the custard jug, would you?”
He did this funny little dance as he made his way across the kitchen. “Don’t you dare spill any!” Carodoc called after him.
Suddenly Cookie looked at me. “You never got your celebration pudding, did you, love?” she said.
“Cookie always does a special pudding whenever one of us tyros gets promoted,” Jenko explained as he returned, carefully carrying the custard jug.
“Somehow it didn’t feel much like a celebration that time,” Cookie explained. “I must say, I’ve never known the like. Challenged as soon as you’re promoted… and you just a tyro…”
When every scrap of the pudding had been eaten and Carodoc had scraped the custard jug clean, Jenko honoured us by reciting one of the great Battle Sagas, ‘The Fall of the Cursèd House’. It was this epic sort of a poem that went on for about twenty minutes involving a great deal of treachery, backstabbing and dirty great heaps of ‘Glorious Flame’. Jenko knew the thing off by heart.
“One thing I’m still not quite clear about,” I said when he’d finished the tale. “How does the whole House and Family thing work?”
“There are a couple of hundred families living up in the Edifice,” Jenko explained, “ranging from low status ones like my Family of Jane,” he gave a wry grin, “to big ones which might have over thirty members, human and dragon, family members, retainers and servants. The number of Families keeps varying as they get wiped out and new families are created.
“But there are only ever twelve Houses - well, eleven now, since the fall of the Cursèd House of Dai - and they’re occupied by one of the Families.”
“You can think of them as rival barons battling for the English crown in the Middle Ages,” Geraint explained, “but without the good manners and with more eating of losers.”
When the laughter had died down, Cookie sat back from the table. “I hate to break up the party,” she said,” but I’ve got to be up in the morning and so do you lot.”
Because she’d just got promoted, Olwyn got the rest of the evening off as Caradoc handed out the last chores. He asked Bryn and me to help Cookie.
“What do you want us to do?” I asked her as I climbed stiffly to my feet.
“Do you think you can go and finish off the washing up?” she answered. “I mean… I don’t like to ask when it’s raining, what with the scullery roof and all, but it needs doing. At least I’ve put some hot water on.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I laughed. “Come on, you lazy lump!” I said to Bryn as he pulled himself slowly to his feet. “The sooner we get on with it, the sooner we can get off to bed.”