She felt their deaths, too—deaths in agony and horror. She recalled enough of her demon sensibilities to recognize that.
Seven hundred, she thought, first blank, then burning with an all-consuming rage. SEVEN HUNDRED …
She sat down between the two baskets in the dark, feeling as if she could not breathe.
“Any who wish to rid themselves of old folks, or cripples, or the simpleminded,” the innkeeper at Eldsbouch had said to her not so long ago, “can earn good silver by giving them over to the brother Kings …” And as the northern winds had whipped and screamed at the walls of that old stone inn, Jenny and her son Ian had looked at each other in bafflement, wondering why the twin Kings of the Deep of Tralchet would purchase slaves so patently useless. “I think you should let Lord John know of this,” the innkeeper had added.
Dear gods, if only I could!
Jenny’s small hands shook as she pressed the jewels between them, held them close to her lips. Your cries are heard. Your cries are heard. Be at peace. She tried to will comfort to them, but she understood that they were dead, and they could not hear. Tortured by demons, murdered by demons, the moment of death prolonged and suspended in the jewels …
What would become of their souls?
Damn them. DAMN THEM …
It was forbidden to all the ancient Lines of wizardry, to generate magic by the sacrificial death of a human being. But it was known to all of them—certainly to the demons—that it was possible to do so.
Folcalor trapped those deaths, as he trapped the souls of the wizards, and for the same purpose.
To transform into weapons. To use against the Demon Queen, or against Folcalor’s Lord Adromelech …
Those will give us power.
Jenny scrambled to her feet again, trembling, glad that she had the staff to support her shaking knees. She felt as if she had been struck over the head, understanding everything now, sickened and shocked and unable to do a thing. She looked at the jewels in her hand—rough crystals, mostly, hunks of quartz and amethyst and a few garnets, rudely hewed and most with bits of their native rock or dirt adhering to them. Wanting to do something, but not knowing what she could do.
Carry them all away with her? It wouldn’t take the demons, in their gnome or their human bodies, long to track her down if she did that. Destroy them all? It would take hours …
Hide them? There were two baskets and two pots, none very large or heavy. John had spoken of escaped slaves hiding in the worked-out galleries of the Tralchet mines, and had helped some escape. Presumably the same situation existed in Ylferdun, and the theft could be blamed on them. Jenny stooped to lift the first of the baskets, then froze, scenting, far off, the metallic whiff of demons in the moving drift of the ventilated air.
The tunnel was a cul-de-sac. She slipped the loose jewels still in her hand into her skirt pocket, caught up her staff, and fled. In the main tunnel the smell was stronger, and she flitted back along the way she had come, counting the side-shafts that were like separate abysses, darkness within dark.
Mab would know what to do, or Morkeleb … or John. Surely there had to be something that could be done.
Dear gods, she thought as she made her way back to the comfort of her own small niche, her rock womb in the great rock and darkness that seemed to constitute all the world now. Dear gods, where is John?
And she saw him again as last she’d seen him, disappearing into the blowing snow. Saw the battered grimness of his face and the bitter lines around his mouth as he helped Ian onto a horse, the long wet strands of his hair caught with flecks of sleet. His dark plaids billowed around his body as he mounted his horse, and when he moved suddenly, the thin silvery ghost-trace of the Demon Queen’s marks on his cheekbones caught the faded afternoon light.
On that bitter afternoon he’d been preoccupied with Ian, with getting him back to Alyn Hold before the storm got worse. She hoped that was the reason he hadn’t appeared to notice when she’d slipped her own horse back into the stable, and returned to the house. During the storm that followed she had sunk back into her dreams of the demons that in those days had possessed her with a ferocity that she now could barely conceive.
When the storm was over she’d gone to the Hold, hoping and fearing to see him as well as seeking to see her son. They’d said John had ridden out. Had ridden out after burning his workshop, something he never would have done, she knew, had he not conjured something there that he feared would harm whoever later entered that ramshackle, junk-crammed shed.
She had a terrible feeling that she knew what he had summoned there.
In all the weeks since—through bandit-siege and darkness, during her journey to Eldsbouch and her own disastrous conjuration of what was left of the wizard Caradoc and on until her departure with Morkeleb for the plague-haunted South—John had not been seen.
The Yellow-Haired Goddess, the Horned Goddess, Balyna of the Sea, who was called Hartemgardes in the North, was the goddess lovers prayed to, to reunite them with their loves. But Jenny prayed, as she had come more and more to pray, to the discredited God of Time, the thirteenth God whom old legends said had dreamed the other twelve; and she did not know exactly what it was that she prayed. Time come around, she thought, and make the circle whole; time come around and make the circle whole.
But only the God of Time knew what that circle was.
We have to get you out of here, Morkeleb said when he returned. The tunnels between this place and the warrens of the Arawan clan on the Ninth Level creep with demons. Jenny saw into his mind, and saw the silvery salamander shapes darting along the bases of the rock walls like unwholesome quicksilver in the blackness. She smelled the foul sharp pungence of them, felt the tingle of their dreadful magic, probing for her.
We cannot leave Miss Mab. Nor can we forsake those whose deaths are suspended within the crystals, without trying at least to get them away. The Master of Halnath may know what to do to release them.
The gates of Halnath are shut. Through Morkeleb’s mind she saw from far off the black rings of the university fortress’s walls, adamantine on their black knee of mountain rock. The smoke of cook fires fingered into the gray overcast. The Master is not there. Rumor has it that he is in hiding in Bel, either to traffick with demons and further spread the plague, or to attempt to murder the King or the King’s Heir …
That’s absurd, said Jenny. It was Polycarp who sent me here to the Deep, to learn of the demons from Miss Mab.
The patent absurdity of any rumor, replied the dragon drily, has never yet halted its spread, and I have observed such matters for many lives of men. I look to the palace of the King of Men and I see only the glamours of the demons about it, like shining clouds. Moreover, as I lay on the glaciers above the mines and cast my mind down into the city, rumor came to me that the Dreamweaver of whom you are so fond was taken by the King, and would have been put to death—
John? Jenny’s breath stopped, and she stared disbelieving into the diamond infinities of the dragon’s eyes, which were all of him that were visible in the cave’s dark. How came he …?
That I know not. Had they not been friends, and after long acquaintance used to passing thought back and forth like sisters trading hair ribbons, he would have closed his mind against her, to shut out her awareness of his regret. But she knew the regret was there, and the sadness, that she had chosen mortality and the loves of mortality: even the love of one who had cursed her in silence over the body of their dying son.
The names of dragons are music, threnodies embodying all that they truly are. She heard the regret woven in his name and his soul, at the way her heart skipped just then, hearing John’s name.
Regret and amusement, at himself and at her.
It was he: I heard his name. They say in the town that the demons sent a dragon to carry him off to safety; many in the marketplaces accuse ME of the deed.
He is safe?
This I know not. The dragon may have been a minion of the Queen behind the mirror. Or it may have had a score of his own to settle with your husband, or wanted to discuss with him the Analects of Polyborus or the breeding of pigs. I listened long for him, scrying the winds of heaven. I saw him not.
Jenny sat silent in her blankets, the hothwais of warmth cupped between her frozen hands. Even had she unwrapped the hothwais of light it would have done her little good, for Morkeleb was probably invisible. Still, she saw him clearly in her mind, spined and dark and serpentine, with his antenna-bobs glowing in the blackness, coiled in the small space of her little cave. The dragons she had saved from Folcalor and his demons all owed her fealty, though she had released them of any debt to her. One of them might have saved John—he had drawn out the spikes of quicksilver and adamant from their skulls, where the demons had dwelled. Nymr and Centhwevir, Hagginarshildim and Enismirdal …
But in that case why could Morkeleb not find him? He had said that from the glacier where he lay, on the Wall’s high crest, he could scry vast distances. He knew John well, having come down with him from the Skerries of Light in the summer, dragging John’s sagging and battered flying machine by its ropes. The dragon’s mind saw clear, like a hawk that can identify a rabbit from hundreds of feet in the air. John must be far off indeed if the dragon could not detect the beating of his heart.
And Miss Mab? she said again, and Morkeleb sighed. She put her palm on his narrow, bony forehead, and his thought enfolded her; she felt him cast his mind along the dark of the corridors, seeking for Miss Mab.
But the gnome-wife, when she came at length to what appeared to be a saucer of water on a table in her lamplit room—Jenny saw this only distantly, like a half-recalled dream—refused again to flee from the Deep. “None do I trust here, and none do I let come near,” she said, and she glanced around her, as if at shadows Jenny could not see. “My uncle the Howeth-Arawan, Patriarch of the Ninth Deep, and my cousins and brothers hold too much power for King Sevacandrozardus to send any here, against my will. In fleeing I will lose what I have here—a position in which I might yet do good.”
“Folcalor will be here in two days,” said Jenny. “I think he must be traveling in the train of your Master Goffyer of Tralchet. Miss Mab, it is not inconceivable that Folcalor has taken over the body and the soul of Goffyer himself, for Goffyer is a mage and this would be the demon’s goal. Could you stand against Goffyer, if you had to?”
Mab was silent. Jenny saw, through Morkeleb’s eyes and Morkeleb’s mind, the flicker of refusal in the gnome-wife’s wrinkled-apple face as she pushed the thought from her that her old master would be enslaved as others had been enslaved. Then she said, “If this be so, all the more reason for me to remain. To help him if I can. To help others here, if I cannot. My clan will protect me, as well as any can. I would not have thee, child, nor you, Dragonshadow, put yourselves in danger trying to reach me here, or to rescue me if I encountered demons in the mines in my attempt at flight. So long as I remain here in the warrens among my family, I will be safe. Goffyer …”
Her golden eyes grew sad. “Goffyer was a gnome of great age, a master of lore and a mage of tremendous power. If they could take him …”
Their strength is the strength of the one who fights them, said Morkeleb. It is like shining a light into a mirror. Do not think, gnome-wife, that you can stand against him by strength alone.
And she said, “I will do what I can.”
From that they could not move her. Nor, to tell the truth, could Jenny imagine how they would get to her to take her out of the warrens on the Ninth Deep, for when she listened into the darkness, she could hear the scritching of demon claws on the rock in the silence, in every passageway and tunnel in that direction.
As Mab must hear it, she thought. She wondered how much of the gnome-wife’s refusal to be rescued was due to awareness of that danger to the rescuers, and to herself if she tried now to leave.
After that, Jenny listened long into the darkness of the mines, casting her thoughts to the mains of played-out rock that surrounded them, focusing her attention on the sigh of the vent shafts, on the drip of water from underground springs. Lying on the floor beside her bed like a dog, Morkeleb listened, too, his dragon senses reaching farther and his mind following those senses, like tendrils of smoke through the air. Hear you aught of the Hellspawn, Jenny? murmured his voice in her mind, and she murmured back,
Not north of us in the mine. In the Deep, yes, everywhere.