Chapter Thirty Eight - A Simple Lair but Mine Own
As I gripped my mother’s bracelet, the wall in front of me simply melted away and I found myself gazing into the silent, empty lair. The simple lintel was marked by a pattern of waves which I had known all my life… it was the same one that decorated my mother’s bracelet… the permanent wave insignia of the Family Psion
I stepped up onto the veranda that had sprung into existence with the lair and then, holding my breath, I walked inside. I fumbled in the dark with my candle and matches and then the room sprang into light.
And I knew I would never look at Psion in the same way again.
The room was alive with colour. ‘A simple lair but mine own’, I laughed as my eye dashed around the place, falling on bright tapestries and delicately coloured glass statues. This wasn’t people showing off their wealth and power, like you saw in the Rhian lair. Instead, the place just gave off this feeling of simple elegance.
It was the size of a couple of tennis courts and crystals within the wall sparkled in the candlelight giving a feeling of warmth. The wall to my left was lined with bookcases, reaching from floor to ceiling. They were full of books, neatly arranged according to their size, together with scrolls, maps and parchments.
I could see straight away that something wasn’t right with them but it took me a while to work out what it was… some of the books had brightly coloured covers… they would have had to have come from the Outside.
There was a low platform at the back of the lair with a simple stone pedestal in the middle of it and, set on the pedestal, kind of at the focal point of the lair, was a small pot.
I don’t know why but it gave me a really funny feeling. I froze for a moment then, stepping onto the dais, I moved towards it to have a closer look.
It was a simple wooden pot with no decoration apart from the Psion Family’s permanent wave mark round the edge of the lid. It was small enough to comfortably hold in your hand but, as I reached out to pick it up, it just felt wrong. Its place in the room told me how important it was.
So I left it alone and got my mind back on business.
The tall, glass fronted cabinet was off to the right. It was made from polished, red-coloured wood. Even after all this time, the glass gleamed and the wood seemed to glow with an inner warmth without a hint of dust. The shelves were made of glass too.
In the middle of the top shelf, more striking because it so obviously came from Outside, was a framed photograph. It showed a tiny baby about, I guessed, a week old. There was even a lock of hair in the corner of the frame. I stared at it through the glass and suddenly realised that the baby in the picture was me.
“So,” I said with a smile, “when Psion gave me a lump of his skin, he got a bit of my hair in return!”
There was a simple silver necklace, set with a red jewel, on the shelf next to the photo and, on the other side, a set of silver goblets.
On the bottom shelf, there was a cuirass… a set of armour, consisting of simple yet elegant breast and back plates. On the other side of the shelf was a magnificent helmet, all smooth curves and flowing lines. Between them was a fine but simple leather case, on top of which was a pair of spurs, their hooks gleaming in the dancing candlelight.
But my eye was drawn to the shelf in the middle where there was a pair of crossed blades, both bearing the familiar Family motif. There was a long, fine dagger…
And a sword…
And what a sword!
As soon as I saw it, I realised that, if I ever got it in my hand… and in my mind… I’d never want to touch another blade again. Here was a graceful, nimble weapon that would let me use my speed and my agility. It had a finely crafted hand guard, shaped a bit like a basket, and was obviously so light that it didn’t need a pommel. Compared to this, even the magnificent broadsword that Rhiannas had lent me was just a clumsy iron club that could only ever be used to bludgeon your adversary into submission.
But, still, I had to break into the cabinet so, sadly, I took my dagger out, ready to force the door. As I did, my left hand moved to stroke the wood, sort of apologising, I guess, for what I had to do to the lovely thing.
But, as my hand brushed over the beautiful wood, the door sprang open with a loud click. I jumped back and looked around, startled at the noise in the long-silent lair.
Of course everything was fine.
I carefully took the spurs, popped them into their leather case and slipped them onto my belt. I sort of found my hand stretching out towards that wonderful sword too but I had to tell myself to stop being so stupid. There was no way I’d ever be able to control my mind if I got the thing in my hand… and I’d never be able to explain where I’d managed to find such a magnificent weapon.
But I couldn’t resist the temptation to take the dagger so I fastened it onto my belt too, covering it with my cloak. I’d just have to hope nobody noticed it.
I gently closed the cabinet and went back to the entrance. Then, with a final look around that magnificent ‘simple lair’, I blew out the candle.
Now my feet knew that there really was a path there, my mind could gradually ease its way past the illusion. It was as if I could see both the real path and Psion’s illusionary nothingness stuck on top of one another. Probing forwards with my will and my eyes, I retraced my steps.
By the time I got back to the long stairway leading up to the Quaro portway, I was starting to relax. That pretty much led to a disaster because, as I was stepping out onto the terrace at the top, I heard voices and footsteps from just inside the tunnel. They were horribly close.
I just threw myself back down that decrepit stairway until I was hidden by the lip of the overhanging terrace. I crouched there, trying to get a grip on my breathing and I grabbed at my mother’s bracelet… desperately hoping that, if anyone looked over the edge, they wouldn’t notice me.
I strained to hear what they were saying… trying to work out which way they were going to go, I guess. But I was so startled to hear a familiar laugh that I almost let out a gasp.
It was Quaro-Deryn. I’d recognise that arrogant, mocking laugh anywhere. He’d paused, just inside the mouth of the portway. He was talking to someone… but they were just too quiet for me to make out what they were saying.
So, ignoring the risk, I crept to the top of the stairway. But it was all still too quiet. So I flipped into the cerebral domain and listened in on their whispered conversation with my mind.
“I think I’ve managed to convince him that I’ll let him win,” Quaro-Deryn was saying, “as long as he helps me deal with the bitch.” I knew that had to be me but their minds didn’t give any hints about who their helper was.
“That’s really generous of you!” came the reply. The other mind was familiar too; it was Kiernonda.
“Yes, it would be, wouldn’t it?” he said with a laugh. “Come on! After I worked so hard to persuade old Caronas to make that terminal bet. Do you really think I’d have gone to all that trouble if I didn’t expect to get something out of it?”
He paused for a moment as understanding crept across Kiernonda’s mind. “Look at it from my point of view, won’t you?” he went on, “I win the gates race, getting rid of Rhiannas’s neck guard in the process. Then, when I’ve got him at a disadvantage, I can challenge Rhiannas, himself, and take the House of Rhian.” Images of the triumph flashed across his cloud. “Not even my father will be able to refuse me the nonda coronet then. I might even be able to bully the old bat into abdicating in my favour. I’ll certainly make sure he lets everyone know that he’s just keeping the seat warm for me.”
“Couldn’t you just take out your sister when the time comes?”
“I really don’t want it to come to that. I mean… I’d have her guts wrapped round my knife in a heartbeat if I thought it would do any good. But you couldn’t just kill her… you’d have to take out all her placemen too… and that sort of thing just weakens a House.
“Then couldn’t you just take the House of Rhian for yourself?” Kiernonda suggested.
“Oh no, I want Quaro,” he said. “I’m going to put one of my loyal lieutenants into Rhian. Someone I know I can trust.”
Kiernonda didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. It was obvious what he was thinking… exactly what Quaro-Deryn wanted him to think!
“Are we done?” Quaro-Deryn asked, interrupting Kiernonda’s thoughts.
“Let’s get to bed then. And remember, not a word of this stuff when we’re inside the Edifice.”
I scrambled back down the steps as they stepped out onto the terrace but I needn’t have worried. The two had turned right, one going upwards, the other going along the level ring pathway.
I waited for a bit to let them get well clear before making my way cautiously back down the portway tunnel to where Psion was perched, waiting nervously, his tongue flicking from side to side.
“Ah, there you are,” he said, putting on a casual tone. “I am relieved to see you. You managed to avoid your bosom buddy. When I saw the two of them, I cannot deny that I had certain concerns as to your continued wellbeing.”
“I even considered following them to see whether I could be of any assistance.”
“It’s a good job you didn’t. They were hanging around at the far end of the portway, talking.”
“That could, indeed, have proved a trifle embarrassing. It is, in any event, not the most dignified of…”
“Just shut up, would you,” I exploded. “I’ve got something important to tell you.”
“Charmed,” Psion muttered by way of verbal punctuation but he was immediately quiet and attentive.
“Let’s get going,” I said, hopping up onto his shoulders.
Psion’s reaction, when he heard my news, was not what I had expected.
His cloud just exploded with his bubbling blue laughter thing.
“So, this is all part of a power struggle within Quaro,” he said when he could talk again. “Quaro-Deryn is trying to take control of the House of Rhian. If he succeeds in that particular venture, he intends to use the prestige he garners to promote himself past his much more talented sister.
“Mind you, he has, at least, recognised your potential to invigorate Rhian,” he said thoughtfully. “That explains why he was so enthusiastic about getting your innards smeared across the sands of the Henge… even to the extent of gambling with the use of gorat in an honour duel.”
He went quiet for a few moments then chuckled.
“I have the strongest of suspicions that Quaronas has not been appraised as to his son’s intentions. I venture to suggest that he would be less than delighted to learn that Quaro-Deryn casually risked the obliteration of his line as part of a minor power struggle with his sister. Furthermore, were he cognisant of this… ambitious scheme… he would have informed the young idiot that, were he to confront Rhiannas, even on Quarodu, he would be reduced to cinders within thirty seconds.”
“D’you think it means we have to change our plans?” I asked, as we flew on round the mountain.
He thought about this for a bit. “I see no reason to do so,” he replied at last. “You must still win the race. You should, however, be alert to the hazard of further competitors colluding with Quaro-Deryn to your disadvantage. That aside, our plans remain unaltered.”
“So, nice and easy, then!”
“Your task, beyond doubt, enjoys a certain elegant simplicity. Incidentally, in all the excitement, I omitted to enquire as to the success of your mission.”
“I found the spurs with no real problems,” I answered. “And what did you mean by, ‘A simple lair’? The place is, by a considerable margin, the most beautiful place I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
I felt a little glow across our mind link. “I am delighted that you appreciate it,” he replied, “and greatly relieved to learn that it remains undisturbed.”
“And you managed all that lovely colour stuff… even though you can only see in black and white.”
“I believe I have already told you that your dear departed mother was so kind, on occasion, to lend me the use of her eyes…” He went quiet for a bit, thinking back to those happy times, I guess.
“If you’d like to borrow mine any time, all you have to do is ask,” I told him.
The glow of warmth and friendship was almost overwhelming.
“And were you obliged to damage the cabinet?” he asked after a bit.
“No. The thing seemed to know me. All I had to do was touch it and it popped open.”
“I had rather hoped that might be the case.” Psion’s answer was simple but I could feel waves of emotion crashing around behind it. We flew on in silence for a bit.
“By the way, I took the dagger that was in there too. I know it’s a bit risky but I just couldn’t resist.”
“Your mother’s poignard – it is a beautiful weapon. She would have been delighted to know that you were to inherit it. Leave it and the spurs with me and I will work on them overnight. You will then be able to make use of them without their being observed. I take it that you do not have the rapier concealed beneath your cloak, by the way?” he added with amused flashes sparkling across his cloud.
“Don’t think I wasn’t tempted!” I answered with a laugh. “That’s my weapon!”
“But naturally it is your weapon,” he replied, a bit confused. “Almost everything in there belongs to you. Whilst there are a couple of mementoes which are quite precious to me, everything of any real value is simply being held in trust for you.”
“No… that’s not what I meant. I mean that is the weapon I want to use. Those broadswords do a job but they’re terribly cumbersome. That rapier will let me use my skill and speed… with that in my hands, I could deal with raw muscle power every time.”
“You would be well advised to seek appropriate instruction from Zalibar for, in combat, such a blade demands constant protection and support from the mind. However, once you have returned victorious from the gates race, he is unlikely to refuse you anything.”
The mention of the upcoming race sort of put the dampers on my mood and I stared thoughtfully out into the darkness as Psion flew on round the mountain.
“To bed!” he told me as he landed by the Dom portway. “For what I have planned for you tomorrow, you will have need of all your strength!”