Skimaskall cooed as she settled her thickly scaled coils on the gold . . .
Raesan, this is the same as you showed me before.
Yeh, cos last time, Lady, we left before the happenings.
What ‘happenings’? And if you remember I wanted to stay. It was you, wanting to show me that battle. For all that had meant to her. A mêlée of men – but which were Alan’s and which the archbishop’s, she couldn’t tell. The bone-deep metallic clanging of axes and swords, the grunts and throat-straining shouts, the blood spraying. She didn’t like seeing it, graphic, in movies, she certainly didn’t like it when real. And she couldn’t turn away nor close her eyes. Then had come Huat’s call.
The wild-haired shaman had raised his staff. “Look yon!”
Overarching the scene had appeared a rainbow. Yet of the oddest of form – as if rivers flowed through it, dragging the colours.
“You know what that is, don’t you,” Huat had said. “Best forget the fight, and get away now. Our Lady needs warning, doesn’t she, more urgent than any victory here.” Neve didn’t know to whom he called, yet with a shout of “Away!” Zrone organised an immediate retreat.
Raesan’s retreat had been yet faster. And with a sickening jolt, here she was, back at Haggleland.
Jiar was teasing Ypsi – because, apparently, Skimaskall was in love with the flame-haired beanpole of an Asar. All were laughing, all except Guy. Neve again locked to his thoughts.
He wanted the deed done before Sheriff Bigod arrived. Then, dragon buried, the folk again safe, he would . . . he didn’t know what he would do. Lie low until Bigod had forgotten him, that much was certain. And that meant he couldn’t return to his lord, Rauf Rainald. Maybe Count Alan would take him? He chuckled softly to himself. The very deed that he’d prayed would win him Adele, now had ensured he’d lost her forever. Yet there appeared in his thoughts the dark-haired Blide. His heart quickened at the thought of her. Now there was a woman to bear him sons. And what other woman would believe his adventures. He’d already told her briefly of Kerrid “I have not the words to describe her, yet . . . she is like water, the essence of life.” Blide had smiled, and understood. She hadn’t mocked him, and told him he was dreaming.
He looked again at the storm-clouded horizon. Was that a rainbow? It seemed oddly formed. But then, hadn’t all weather an odd quality this summer. He returned to shoveling the sand. It was a huge hole, it would take some filling even with the dragon in it. The sooner that was done, the better: he didn’t like being this close to the beast.
A movement among Regin-yorl’s Stoats drew Neve’s interest there. Standing high on the mounded sand, they were there to stand guard. Yet they, too, laughed at Ypsi and his dragon-lover. All but one. Razimer – unmistakable with his multicoloured halo – had of a sudden turned back to the sea. Something out there had caught his attention. Was it a part of Raesan’s ‘happenings’?
The dragon’s head came up. Cue the entrance of Zrone and Count Alan.
“We come from Huat, with warning,” Zrone said in casual manner, as if there were no crisis.
“Oh, and with what does my brother concern himself now? Ah!” Jiar answered himself with a chuckle. “He’s worried that Ypsi will succumb to Skimaskall’s charms.”
“No, you’re wrong, enormously wrong. That archbishop, the magnificently uninformed rat, has only exorcised Saint Keldred’s well.” Now Neve knew what this was about, Zrone’s wide-armed flourish seemed at odds with his news.
“My brother fears they’ve released Neka?’ Jiar glanced to Kerrid, her face gone white.
“A dastardly demon, what other reaction when divine water is sprinkled upon him?” Zrone said. “And, cheerless this, they were there, significantly arching over that well. I could all but hear them calling.”
“They’re here!” Lirabien shouted and looked into the air. The rainbow had broken to a thousand pieces, and no longer distant, but closing, near.
What happened next was confusion. Neve found the order only later when, not wanting to remember the horror yet unable to forget it, she played, in her memory, the scene repeatedly over, now in slow motion, now accompanied by freeze frame, her jaws locked the while against the potential ill-heave of her belly.
It began when the worm reached out with its tentacles. Not that it seemed that at the time. What were these things from out of nowhere, that hung over the Stoats and sent her to panic. Water sluiced from the boneless puce limbs; tiny rainbows wove around them. But tentacles, limbs, these were the wrong words once she saw the creature that grew them. They were cirri, the long slender gripping appendages that certain worms used for feeding. Terrifyingly long, they grew from around the monstrous worm’s maw.
At that moment there still was startlement, and conflicting reactions – heads turning, hands swift to weapons — but feet upon sand were awkwardly slipping, the grass entangling toes was hampering, and no one yet seemed to know what was happening. Neve, too, couldn’t see what the worm was about – not that she’d yet knew it a worm. But with replaying the memory she clearly could see it. Jiar, fast acting, had grabbed hold of Kerrid and flung her aside. It was she, the worm’s target.
Yet Skima didn’t know that. From her view, from the pit, it must have seemed that the worm’s target was Ypsi. By mere chance, he was standing in front of Kerrid. Jaws open and dripping, eyes on the sea-worm, Skimaskall launched counterattack – and all else that happened was due to that.
The sea-worm’s aim deflected by the lovelorn dragon, its tentacles snapped around the nearest body. Guy. Toli screamed. The worm reared up, revealing its long segmented body. Then, still winding Guy into its feeders, it flicked him high in an arc over the heads of the startled Stoats.
Shock stilled the spectators. Unable to help, they watched in mute horror as the worm dropped the still-thrashing Guy into its gummy mouth.
Raesan? Neve scarcely could speak. Raesan, I don’t understand. Is that, is that Neka?
A creature Neka possessed. Even he wasn’t his garrulous self.
And those rainbows? A myriad of the diminutive bowed colours wreathed around the monster.
Angels, yeh. They were up by the well.
They—they called forth the demon!
Na. They only called forth that worm. Big demon, he needs a big creature to possess. They provided.
But it’s unnatural. Sea-worms don’t grow so big.
Now they don’t, yeh. But like Skimaskall, that was the last of its kind.
She couldn’t believe she was talking like this. Discussing it as if it all were some scene in movie, the angels, the dragon and worm, all special effects, cgi’d. How she wished.
But the scene wasn’t yet over. Skima now had seen the worm. And though she was losing her pearlescence, her ‘skimaskall’ colour, her time for mating soon to be over, her under-body was suddenly flushed with pinks, lavender and purple. She unfurled her wings, wide silken things held high above her. Her body arching, her tail uncoiled and shed the last of the sand. Then up, up, she rose in the air.
But how? Neve wanted to ask. There’d been no flapping of wings, no launching high off a cliff and then gliding. Just an unstoppable upward motion – like a diver, surfacing.
Clear of the heads of the mortals, the Bellinn and Asars, Skima realigned her body. Then off she flew westward, following where the Stoats said the worm was leaving a wake.
To the Wash, Raesan said.
“Well?” Hawk shouted at the stunned Stoats and Asars. “Are you to leave it like that?”
“No, of course . . .” His anger had awakened Kerrid, she had seemed lost in a trance.
“We’ll need more horses,” Jiar said, meaning Zrone’s.
“No,” Lirabien cut in. “We have my boat. It’ll be faster, and the Wash is awash with water.”
The Lady of the Lake wants to take a break now? Raesan asked her.
It gets worse?
I’ve noticed, yeh, you don’t like horror movies.
Is Guy still alive? Inside that worm? But he must be. He’d not yet spoken on behalf of the Asars, he’d not yet effected the Reconciliation. No, let’s do this in one sitting. She couldn’t have slept or eaten, not without first seeing this through to completion.
. _____ .
Next episode, 27th August: The Waters of Life