Read Lyonesse II - The Green Pear and Madouc Online

Authors: Jack Vance

Tags: #Fantasy, #Masterwork, #Fiction, #Fantasy Fiction, #General

Lyonesse II - The Green Pear and Madouc (8 page)

BOOK: Lyonesse II - The Green Pear and Madouc
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In the case of Glyneth, Aillas had fixed upon her a pretty little estate in a valley not far from Domreis, but she showed no great interest in the property and much preferred Watershade. Now fifteen years old, Glyneth, for the grace and charm of her own life, and the enlivenment of her friends, used a mingling of limpid simplicity and sunny optimism, together with a joyous awareness of the world’s absurdities. During the previous year she had grown taller by an inch, and though she liked to wear a boy’s trousers and blouse, only a person blind to beauty could mistake her for a boy.

Dame Flora, however, considered not only her garments but her conduct unconventional. “My dear, what will folk think? When does a princess sail out on the lake in a cockboat? When does one find her climbing trees and perching among the owls? Or wandering the Wild Woods alone like a hoyden?”

“I wish I might meet such a princess,” said Glyneth. “She would make me a fine companion; our tastes would be exactly alike!”

“I doubt if two like her exist!” declared Dame Flora. “It is time that this present princess learns the uses of propriety, so that she will not disgrace herself at court.”

“Dame Flora, have pity! Would you cast me out, perhaps into the cold and rain, merely because I cannot sew a fine seam?”

“Never, my darling! But we must observe, we must learn, and we must practice the dictates of etiquette! You have reached the age and come into certain attributes of the body which make trousers altogether unsuitable, and we must plan for you a wardrobe of pretty frocks.”

“Still, we must be practical! How can I jump a fence in a pretty frock? Ask yourself that!”

“It is not necessary that you jump fences! I jump no fences. Lady Vaudris of Hanch Hall jumps no fences. Before long suitors of high degree will be trooping out here by the score to ask your hand in marriage. When they arrive and wish to pay their respects, and when they ask, I must say: ‘You will find her somewhere about the estate, either here or there.’ So off they go to look, and what will they think when they find you dangling in a tree, or catching frogs in the moat?”

“They will think that they do not want to marry me, which is exactly to my taste.”

At this, Dame Flora aimed a spank at Glyneth’s bottom, but Glyneth dodged nimbly aside. “That is the art of agility.”

“Shameless little hussy, you will come to a bad end!” Flora spoke without heat, and indeed she was grinning to herself. A moment later, for a special treat, she gave Glyneth a dish of lemon cakes.

Glyneth wore her curling golden hair loose, or tied with a black ribbon. While apparently artless, she sometimes indulged in games of mild flirtation, which she played as a kitten pretends the predacity of the jungle. Often she used Aillas as the subject of her experiments, until Aillas, gritting his teeth and turning his eyes to the sky, by main force of will drew back lest he take the game into an area where relationships might forever be altered.

Sometimes, lying abed of nights, he wondered what went on in Glyneth’s mind, and how serious she was in her play. Always at these times other images came to disturb him.

These were no longer dreary recollections of the secret garden at Haidion. Suldrun had long become a misty shape lost and gone across the gulfs of time. Another more vital figure marched through Aillas’ mind. Her name was Tatzel; she was Ska, and she lived at Castle Sank in North Ulfland. Tatzel’s style was unique. She was slim as a wand, with dark hair hanging loose past her ears; her complexion, like that of all the Ska, was pale olive; her eyes glowed with intelligence. Aillas had seen her most usually striding along the main gallery of the castle, looking neither right nor left. She took no notice of Aillas; as a slave, he was of less concern to her than a chair.

Aillas could not easily define his feelings toward Tatzel. There was resentment and challenge, generated by his abraded self-esteem, but other more subtle yearnings had brought him queer little pangs whenever she walked past unseeing; he wanted to step forward to where she must stop to notice him, to look into his eyes and take heed of his own prideful being. Never could he have dared to touch her; she would have instantly cried out for the guards and Aillas would have been dragged away in disgrace, perhaps even to the gelding-board and a future too awful to contemplate, with both his manhood and all hope of Tatzel’s good opinion forever lost and gone.

When finally Aillas had escaped Castle Sank in company with Cargus and Yane, he had turned at one point, and, looking back, had muttered: “Tatzel, take heed! Someday we shall meet again, and on different terms, so it may be!” And such was the phantom haunting Aillas’ mind.

II

AFTER PASSING THE NIGHT AT HAG HARBOUR, and at noon crossing over Green Man’s Gap, Aillas and Tristano late in the afternoon rode clattering across the drawbridge and into the stable-yard at Watershade. Dhrun and Glyneth ran out to greet them, followed by Weare, Flora and others of the household, while Shimrod
4
waited in the shadow of the arched passage leading out upon the terrace.

The travelers retired to their chambers to refresh themselves, then came down to the terrace, where Weare served the best supper his larders could afford, and the company sat long while the afterglow faded and dusk became night.

Tristano told of the green pearl and its sinister infection. “I am baffled by the power of the object! It seemed a true pearl, except for its colour, which was the green of sea-water! Shimrod, what do you make of it?”

“I am ashamed to admit that, for me, in the realm of magic there is far more unknown than known. The green pearl is beyond my conjecture.”

“It might have been the brain-stone of a demon,” mused Glyneth. “Or perhaps a goblin’s egg.”

“Or a basilisk’s eye,” suggested Dhrun.

Glyneth said thoughtfully: “There is a valuable lesson here, say, for a youth in his formative years, like Dhrun. Never steal or rob objects of value, especially if they are green!”

“Good advice!” declared Tristano. “In cases of this sort, honesty is the best policy.”

“You have frightened and daunted me,” said Dhrun. “I will stop stealing at once.”

“Unless, of course, it is something nice for me,” said Glyneth. Tonight, perhaps to please Dame Flora, she wore a white frock and a silver fillet enameled with white daisies to contain her hair; she made a charming picture, to which Tristano was by no means oblivious.

Tristano said modestly: “My conduct at least was exemplary. I took the pearl only as a public service and I gave it up willingly to one less fortunate in his birth than myself.”

Dhrun said: “Here, evidently, you refer to the dog, since we have no knowledge of the robber’s lineage.”

Glyneth spoke severely: “Your treatment of the dog was truly rather heartless! You should have brought the pearl to Shimrod.”

“So that he might feed it to me in a sausage?” demanded Shimrod. “I prefer it otherwise.”

“Poor Shimrod!” murmured Aillas. “Foaming at the mouth, running down the road at full speed, halting only to bite passersby!”

Glyneth said with dignity: “Shimrod could properly dispose of the thing, whatever its nature. The dog lacks this competence.”

“I now understand my mistake,” said Tristano. “When this dog came to snap at my horse’s heels, I admit that I lacked kindly feeling for the beast. I therefore acted on an impulse which almost instantly I regretted, and more when I saw the disreputable quality of the beast.”

“I do not quite understand,” said Glyneth. “You almost instantly regretted your cruelty?”

“Well, not altogether. Remember that I indemnified the dog with a sausage for his risk.”

“Why, then?”

Tristano gave a fastidious flutter of the fingers. “Since you press me, I will explain, and as delicately as possible. On the previous midnight the pearl was returned to me in an uncanny fashion. As I considered the dead dog, I thought at first to depart at full speed and to leave the dog behind. Then I began to ponder on the night ahead: specifically, on the hour of midnight while I lay asleep. At this time the pearl would have progressed well on its way along the dog’s digestive tract-”

Glyneth clapped her hands over her ears. “That is enough. Already you have told me more than I want to hear.”

“The subject would seem to lack any further interest,” said Aillas.

“Just so,” said Tristano. “I only wanted to excite Glyneth’s compassion for the travail to which I was subjected.”

“You have done so,” said Glyneth.

There was a moment of quiet, and Glyneth looked up the table to Aillas. “Tonight you are quiet! What troubles you? Affairs of state?”

Aillas looked off across the dark water. “Miraldra seems a thousand miles away. I wish that I need never go back.”

“Perhaps you take too much responsibility upon yourself.”

“With my counselors and ministers all older men, watching to catch me out in mistakes, I have no choice except to go carefully. There is a chaos in South Ulfland which I must organize, and perhaps come to grips with the Ska, unless they mend their ways. And all the while, even as we sit here, Casmir hatches new plots.”

“Then why not work plots upon Casmir, until he desists?”

“If only it were so easy! Clever plots are Casmir’s specialty; I can never beat him at intrigue. His spies are everywhere; they would know my clever plots before I know them myself!”

Dhrun made a sound of outrage. “Can we not identify the spies and drown them all in the Lir?”

“Nothing is ever simple. Naturally, I want to identify them, but thereafter I prefer to make their life easy and befuddle them with false information. If I drowned them all, Casmir would merely send over a group of strangers. So I make do with the lot I have and try not to cause them anxiety.”

“This ‘befuddling’ seems a clever plot in itself,” said Glyneth. “Is it effective?”

“I will know better after I identify the spies.”

Glyneth asked: “Certainly our own spies keep watch on Casmir?”

“Not as carefully as he watches us. Still, we are not utterly overmatched.”

“In some ways, it seems an interesting business,” said Glyneth. “I wonder if I would do well as a spy.”

“Beyond a doubt,” said Aillas. “Beautiful girls make excellent spies! Still, they must be dedicated to their work, and take the good with the bad, since the choicest items are usually told to them in the dark.”

Glyneth made a scornful sound. “And these are the spies you befuddle all night long, and make their lives easy, rather than hanging them on the gibbet!”

“Ha! No such luck! Casmir is not so considerate! He subverts one of my close counselors instead. Needless to say, impart this knowledge to no one!”

Dhrun said: “It must be a strange feeling to look from face to face and wonder which conceals the spy.”

“It is just that, indeed.”

Tristano asked: “How many are the suspects?”

“They are my six august and irreproachable ministers: Maloof, Langlark, Sion-Tansifer, Pirmence, Foirry and Witherwood. Each is a lord of the realm! In all logic each should be as faithful to me as the moon to the sun. Nevertheless, one of the lot is a traitor. I say this with embarrassment, since it grinds at my self-esteem.”

“And how will you find him out?”

“I wish I knew.” For a period, while the stars moved across the sky, the party discussed schemes for exposing the traitor. At last, when candles guttered low, they rose yawning to their feet and took themselves off to bed.

III

THE VISITORS MADE READY to return to Domreis. Glyneth and Dhrun, as they watched the preparations, became ever more restless; Watershade would seem quiet and lonely when the company had gone. Also, both had become intrigued by the mystery of the highly-placed spy. At the last minute, the two decided to join the group returning to Domreis, and hastily made their own preparations.

Across the Ceald rode the party, now five: up to Green Man’s Gap where, as was the custom, all turned for a final glimpse of Watershade, then down Rundle River Valley to Hag Harbour and a night at the Sea Coral Inn. Then: an early departure, with harness jingling loud in the pre-dawn chill and up over Cape Haze with the first red rays of day shining wan on their backs, and, early in the afternoon, arrival at Domreis.

Aillas was not deceived as to the purposes of Dhrun and Glyneth. He took them aside and cautioned them to the most extreme discretion. “This is far from a game of quick wits and good-fellowship! There are lives at stake and Casmir cares nothing of how he spends them!”

“He must be a strange, harsh man!” said Dhrun.

“He is indeed, and one of his spies watches us at close range, as we might watch chickens going about their affairs in the barnyard.”

Glyneth asked in perplexity: “This spy of course is a traitor, but what could be his purpose? Where is his gain?”

Aillas shrugged. “Perhaps he spies from caprice, from the thrill of playing a dangerous game. Certainly he will be the most suspicious of men, alert to every glance and whisper, so be subtle!”

“I think that you can trust us,” said Dhrun with dignity. “We are not absolute fools; we do not intend to glance and nudge each other, or peek quickly, then whisper together.”

“I know this very well,” said Aillas. “In fact, I am curious to learn your opinions!” And Aillas thought to himself: Who knows? One or the other might perceive discords or inconsistencies overlooked by others.

For such reasons Aillas arranged a banquet to which he invited his ministers and a few others. The event took place on a cheerless afternoon, with the wind veering down from a hard blue sky. With garments flapping and hands to hats, the dignitaries rode out along the causeway to Miraldra. In the foyer they were met by Sir Este the Seneschal, who conducted them to the smallest of the banquet halls. Here, Aillas with Dhrun and Glyneth awaited the company.

On this informal occasion the six ministers were seated in order of their arrival, three to each side of the table, without reference to precedence. Beyond were placed Sir Tristano and two noblemen of foreign parts. The first of these was a gentleman tall and spare, with a wry long-jawed face, who called himself Sir Catraul of Catalonia. He wore strange and lavish garments and powdered his face in the style of the Aquitanian court. Dhrun and Glyneth could barely restrain their merriment to see Shimrod bedizened in such gorgeous fashion.

BOOK: Lyonesse II - The Green Pear and Madouc
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