Chapter Fourty Six - Katie, Daughter of Psionon
“If there is nothing else to discuss then you should change your clothes,” Psion said after a few moments.
“I should do what?”
“You need to change that smock. You can hardly stand against Rhiannas whilst wearing the slashed sunrise insignia of the House of Rhian.”
“He does have a point,” Jenko said cautiously from across the lair. “It would look really odd.”
“Right, fine! I can go and hack lumps off him, as long as I’m wearing the right clothes! What do you suggest I wear instead? And before you say it, no, I’m not going to go out there stark naked!”
I secured a selection of your mother’s garments,” Psion told me patiently, “They are in that wooden chest. Beyond doubt, something… fitting… may be found within.”
Jenko went over to the chest and, after rummaging around, held up a plain linen smock that was marked at the cuffs and collar with the Psion Family permanent wave mark. “This’ll do fine,” he said, bringing it across to me.
“If you insist!” I said with a bit of a sigh. “Could you turn your backs, please, while I change.”
“Why?” Psion asked. “I’m a dragon… I have no interest whatsoever in your naked form… and, furthermore, had I the least desire to inspect you, I could do so effortlessly by means of my will.”
“Just do it,” Jenko said with a laugh. “It’s a human female thing. There are some things in this world it’s best not to understand!”
I mean… they did turn their backs but Jenko carried on sniggering as I changed. It was such an uncomfortable situation that it took me a while to work out that I was putting on my mother’s clothes. I didn’t quite know how I felt about that.
I walked over to the glass-fronted cabinet to collect the cuirass. “How does this thing work?” I asked as I gently laid my hand on the lustrous red wood.
“I don’t know,” Psion answered absently as the cabinet clicked open. “All I do know is that it responds to all true members of the Family of Psion.”
“It’s probably some sort of illusion,” Jenko said casually. “I mean, that’s what the Psion Family does, isn’t it?”
“You are, of course, correct, young man,” he said thoughtfully. “The main strength of the Family has, for generations, lain in the domain of illusion. My very lack of curiosity would point in that direction.” He started to mumble as he tried to get his brain round what was going on with the cabinet. “It would, of course, explain why there is no dust…”
I ignored him and took the cuirass out. I uncoupled the shoulder clips and Jenko came across to help.
He picked up the breast and back plates and we lowered the leather harness over my shoulders. Then he tightened up the straps for me.
“Thanks,” I said. We both knew what a struggle it was to put your armour on by yourself. “He’s not going to be much use for a while.” I nodded towards Psion who was still deep in thought and mumbling to himself about illusion vectors. “Do you think that I should be worried that, five minutes before we go into a duel to the death with one of the most powerful dragons in the Edifice, my trusty steed and companion is busy contemplating the workings of a possibly illusionary cabinet?” I fastened the clips at my hips and did up the belt which took most of the weight on my waist.
Jenko smiled and stood back to inspect me. “It looks good!” he said. “How does it feel?”
“It feels okay,” I replied, doing a couple of experimental turns and stretches. “In fact…” I added, easing off the belt a notch to better balance the weight, “it feels really good. Much better than Zalibar’s tatty old stuff.” I stretched round to adjust the seating of the plates on the harness.
“Could you do one more thing for me,” I asked Jenko as I belted my mother’s poignard to my right hip.
“Could you strap on my mother’s rapier for me? You know what my mind’s like when I get my hands on even a normal sword… I’ve no idea how it’s going to react when it meets that one.”
He buckled the rapier to my left hip then stood back to admire me. “You’ll do!” he said with a smile. Then he leaned awkwardly forward and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “Good luck,” he said.
I smiled back and turned to Psion. I called his name but he just didn’t notice.
“Psion!” I said, a bit louder. “Do you think you could possibly give the mechanics of the cabinet a rest and get your mind back on our duel?”
“Oh, do forgive me!” he said, shaking his head and looking a bit sheepish.
“Is there anything else we need to think about?” I asked.
“You should, perhaps, consider which name to use when you present your challenge?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. Katie, I suppose”
“Of course you could use that name,” he said. “And Rhianadoc is also possible though utterly inappropriate. I would, however, recommend that you use the title Psionon.”
“As I am the only conceivable contender… and I have already sworn fealty to you… no one could reasonably challenge your use of the title.”
“It just wouldn’t feel right,” I tried to explain. “I mean… I’ve started thinking of it as my mother’s name.”
“I appreciate that. Nonetheless, I would strongly advise you to draw attention to your heritage. You are the daughter of the Family of Psion… and Rhian failed Psion in its hour of need.”
“What about, ’Katie, daughter of Psionon’?” Jenko suggested.
“That sounds OK to me.” I thought about the name for a moment then nodded. “Yes, I’d be proud to call myself that. Is there anything else?”
“Not that I can think of,” Psion answered, his crenels rising and falling nervously.
I turned to Jenko. “Do what we’ve said and you should survive,” I told him firmly.
He nodded rather formally then, impulsively, hurried across and embraced me fiercely, in spite of my armour. “Come back safe!” he said. Then he stood back.
I didn’t reply but smiled at him.
“Okay! Let’s go!” I said to Psion and hopped up onto his shoulders. He launched himself off the veranda and glided down through the Edifice towards the Henge.
I realised I was already breathing heavily so I closed my eyes and tried to relax as I got myself ready for what was to come.
But, before we reached halfway, I felt Psion tensing up. “We have a slight problem!” he said.
I looked up to see a powerful looking dragon swooping down in our direction. He was obviously planning on intercepting us. Psion slowed down a bit but I noticed he was keeping the new arrival in a position which would let us make a dart towards the stones of the Henge, if we had to.
As the dragon approached, I saw it was Pennas from the duel, a few weeks before.
“Well, well, well,” Pennas said, with an arrogant toss of his head. “I was given to understand that you had been killed years ago. Contrariwise, you are alive and well. It appears the rumours of your being seen around the peasant villages were true. I see that you are carrying fresh meat for me.”
I bristled at this and my hand crept towards the hilt of my mother’s sword.
“Might I be allowed to deal with this, Young Mistress?” Psion pushed the suggestion firmly into my mind. “An unscheduled skirmish at this juncture would not be entirely beneficial.”
“Greetings, Pennas!” he responded to the other dragon without even waiting for my answer. “You interrupt us in a matter of some significance. We are on our way to the Henge to challenge Rhiannas.”
He paused briefly to let that idea hit home before continuing, “Doubtless you would not wish to interrupt an undertaking of such import and I am, consequently, certain that you will see fit to make way.”
The dragon considered this information briefly. “That is a… fascinating purpose,” he responded, with an astonished flick of his wings, “and not one to be contemplated by many with ambitions to see the sun rise on the morrow. I can but wish you well in this extraordinary venture…” he paused for a moment. “Furthermore, were you to meet with success, I would be interested in discussions pursuant to resolving certain ancient disagreements between our two Families.”
“Such discussions,” Psion replied carefully, “should properly be pursued with my young mistress, Katie, daughter of Psionon, the head of the Family of Psion and soon to be head of the House of Rhian.”
“That is also…” Pennas paused briefly once more, “an unanticipated revelation. I greet thee, Katie, daughter of Psionon!”
I acknowledged his greeting with a cautious nod.
“Moreover,” Psion continued, “should an opportunity arise whereby the Family of Penn could offer service to a reconstituted House of Rhian, I will recommend that my mistress attends your petition most assiduously.”
“I had forgotten what a skilled operator you are,” Pennas responded with an amused flick of the tail. “I shall look forward to further sparring with you…” he delayed, pointedly, “should the opportunity arise… verbal sparring, of course!” he added as an afterthought.
Psion performed a half mocking bow. “Now, if you would excuse us,” he said, “we have an appointment of some import. It would be prejudicial in the extreme, were Rhiannas to learn of our intentions prior to the issuance of our formal challenge.”
Pennas invited us to pass with a similar half mocking bow.
“Wasn’t that a bit rude?” I asked as we carried on gliding down towards the Henge. “I mean, we’ll need all the allies we can get.”
“You should not trust Pennas any further than you could comfortably spit a rat,” Psion replied pointedly. “It was vital to make clear from the outset the form that our future relationship is to take.”
I guess Pennas must have put word around about what we were up to because, by the time we reached the base of the Edifice, we were leading a loosely formed wing of about a dozen dragons of all sizes and colours. As Psion and I crossed the boundary of the Henge, this flight broke away and the dragons moved to take their appropriate places in one of the rapidly swelling spectator rings.
“Well, young mistress,” Psion said as we approached the Great Gong, “even if we are to die today, I am proud to have had the opportunity of making your acquaintance.”
“That’s quite enough of that!” I snapped at him angrily. “I’ll have no more of that sort of talk. I have no intention of dying today. We are going to win… and our victory will be carved into the stones of the Edifice.”
As we skimmed past the Great Gong, I leaned across and struck it with the pommel of my mother’s poignard. The sound was astonishingly loud, echoing round the Edifice.
“You are truly your mother’s daughter,” Psion said quietly as we circled around. “If she could have seen you today, she would have been proud beyond measure.”
“Thank you, my friend,” I replied. Before the ringing from the first blow had died away, Psion swooped down again and I struck a second blow.
“There will be time for reminiscing later,” I said with determination, pulling us both out of our thoughts. “For now, we have a job to do.”
“I can imagine her saying those selfsame words!” Psion responded with a chuckle.
The resonance of the gong built as we swung around again, filling us both with this overwhelming sense of excitement and anticipation. Throughout the Edifice, everyone fell silent as they turned to look at us.
As I struck for a third time, the Edifice was completely filled with its sound. And, as the echo began to fade, Psion landed on the Rhian gate… a carefully judged insult. That alone would have been enough to summon Rhiannas to a duel.
I waited until the ringing had completely died away before I issued the ancient words of challenge. “Rhiannas!” I didn’t even have to raise my voice because the Great Gong resonated for me as I spoke, filling the whole Edifice with my words. “In accordance with the ancient rites and precepts of the Edifice, I demand that you attend me at the Henge.”
There were a few moments of silence and every neck craned towards the Rhian lair.
“Why?” I distinctly heard a roar of flame as Rhiannas’s rage took incandescent form. “Why should I attend you at the Henge?”
“Years ago, shortly after my birth, the House of Rhian abandoned its ally, Psion, in its moment of greatest need,” I replied. “For this sorry betrayal I demand reparation. I will take the House of Rhian.”
“But you are nothing but an insubordinate servant.” The bellowing roar of contempt came from the Rhian lair high above us, “A servant, furthermore, who is to be exquisitely punished for this mutinous display. For what reason do you take up common purpose with this nonentity?”
“I am Katie, daughter of Psionon,” I paused for a moment to still the tremble that was rising in my throat. “Here, in the company of my trusty steed and companion, Psion, I stand unflinching before you and, in accordance with the ancient rites and precepts of the Edifice, I demand that you either relinquish the House of Rhian to me or defend it with your life against my mother’s blade.”
With these words, I drew my mother’s rapier.
It sprang into my hand and my mind reached out to embrace it as if it had always been a part of me. I mean… Zalibar had been encouraging me to muffle my mind whenever I got to draw a new blade but, this time, I did the exact opposite. I fed my passions into the Great Gong instead and my excitement and anticipation filled the Edifice, proclaiming who I was and rejoicing as I finally got to claim my birthright. Nobody who saw me wielding that blade could question that I was Psionon’s daughter… and her heir.
“Very well!” came Rhiannas’s defiant roar as the echoes of my announcement began to fade. “If you and this dead-beat has-been dare to stand against me then you will pay the ultimate price for your temerity!” Across the silent Edifice, you could hear the whistle of the wind in Rhiannas’s wings as he dived down towards us. He crossed the boundary of the Henge, braking hard, and contemptuously flicked the Great Gong with his tail to show that he accepted our challenge. Then he landed on the Hendon gate, directly opposite us.
“A plus for us,” Psion whispered as I resheathed my sword. “In his arrogance and rage, he has chosen not to avail himself of a neck guard.”
“All being well, that’s a mistake he’ll not live to regret,” I replied.
“Never forget, petty human,” Rhiannas bellowed, still spouting small gouts of flame in his incandescent fury, “no matter whose daughter you are, I own you! You have presumed to challenge me. Now prepare to satisfy my hunger!”
“As for you,” he roared, turning his attention to Psion, “you will soon learn that you would have done better to remain in hiding amongst the dregs and low-lives where you belong.”
For a moment, Rhiannas perched lightly on the gate, staring at us in utter contempt.
“Remember, he is the challenged party,” Psion hissed urgently. “He must put to wing first! We must wait…”