Curses, Inside-Out: Part Five
also by Dreagoddess
Darigan looked up at the sound of Galgarrath's
voice. Then he blinked. Galgarrath had never, at any point in his life, been
blue. Especially not with sparkles. Darigan shook his head violently and looked
again -- there. Better.
"Lord Darigan?" The Grarrl's voice shifted from
flat to concerned.
"I'm fine, general. I had only been looking at
spells too long."
"I quite agree, your highness," Galgarrath rumbled.
Darigan shot him a suspicious look as he continued blandly, "I actually came
to you with a request."
"Make it, please." Darigan rose from his desk.
It was a relief, even if he'd have to get back to work soon.
Galgarrath bowed. "I should like to visit the
Meridell markets, and perhaps Marra and Zelin."
Darigan eyed him narrowly. "Any number of flyers
would be willing to take you."
"But I was hoping you would."
"You're trying to get me out of my study without
proposing to throw me out the window, aren't you?"
Galgarrath broke into a toothy grin. "Perhaps,
"Galgarrath... I need to study these spells.
The magic up here is... incredibly toxic, and I wasn't even aware most of it
was still active. Or here."
Galgarrath sighed and came over to place his
hands on the desk. "Lord Darigan, I know exactly how many flyers are willing
to take people down to Meridell. I am not the only one. It's common knowledge
which ones are willing and which ones are able, by name, to carry a given
amount of weight down and back up. I asked you for a reason. If the magical
atmosphere up here is so toxic, should our best magician be the only one who
never leaves it? Go take Sally a clockwork toy or something, your highness.
I believe they've made some that look like you."
Darigan snorted, but a smile pulled at his mouth.
"That sounds remarkably egotistical. Which reminds me. I realize you've always
been inclined to formality, but I am no longer power-crazed -- and I will not
lose my temper if you don't come out with an honorific every other sentence."
"Yes, your highness. Shall we go?"
They had gone. Galgarrath was, as far as Darigan
knew, still discussing the price of radishes with Marra and Zelin. The brother
and sister pair of yellow Zafaras had found the Grarrl general in the Rubbish
Dump after Kass, enraged at his defiance, had bound him and thrown him off the
Darigan had left them to it. He had even visited
Sally's family briefly, but they were busy, and neither side had been quite
sure how to suggest that he join them in their work instead of interfering.
Her Karren seemed to like the wind-up Drackonack, though.
The visit had been cheering, if a little
awkward, but everything else about Meridell seemed to have him brooding. It
was not a wealthy land by most standards, but it was prosperous enough -- and
it was green.
Although part of it was blue, and moving towards
him. No sparkles this time, Darigan thought wryly, and lifted a hand to wave
at Jeran. The Lupe waved back and made his way towards him, nodding and waving
occasionally to acknowledge greetings and well-wishings to Meridell's Champion.
"You look gloomy," Jeran greeted Darigan at last.
"Galgarrath threaten to throw you out the window again?"
"No, this time he coaxed me to bring him down
for shopping and social visits," Darigan said dryly. "Apparently he determined
that I was the only one who hadn't been off the Citadel in the past fortnight.
And how are you today?"
"Well enough. How are things getting along
at the Citadel now that, ah, new things have come to light? I've barely spoken
to any of your people since then."
"You had to ask...." Darigan sighed and looked
up at the Citadel in its wreath of clouds. "Better than they could be, though
I'd have expected you to have seen more of us -- the increased visits, I'd imagine,
are partly in response to finding out." He couldn't blame them, either. "They
wouldn't have landed near the castle, though, so perhaps that's why you missed
them. I think most people found the continued presence of the curses more discouraging
than surprising, though naturally no one is particularly pleased that I missed
it. Their source... that was a surprise, though it makes a sickening sort of
sense." Darigan paused. "I've been assuming from your question that Lisha told
you what we found, but did she? You knew she had spotted spells I couldn't see,
but I wasn't in a state to explain, myself, when you came to take her home."
"She told me eventually, when I finally pinned
her down about it. I've seen even less of her than I have of your people since
this all came out. She's apparently determined to find the solution all on her
own." Jeran sighed and started walking idly toward the edge of the marketplace.
Darigan kept pace beside him. "She told me she saw curses that were actually
inverted spells your ancestors had placed using the orb's powers. It makes a
disturbing amount of sense, unfortunately."
"Yes, that's what I -- wait, she's doing what?"
"She's trying to find the solution in the castle
library. One of her friends or I bring food every now and then to make sure
she eats, but otherwise she's obsessed." Jeran tilted his head toward Darigan
and lifted an eyebrow. "I was under the impression you'd asked for her help."
"I did," Darigan said,
bewildered, "but I asked her to show me as best she could what she was seeing,
and she already did. Not to offend, but I somehow doubt the solution
is in Meridell Castle's library."
"It has books on magic. Perhaps not so many as
Brightvale, but they are there. The solution will probably come from several
different sources combined, so why not look as many places as possible?"
"She mentioned that she had been studying magic
there, yes. She also mentioned that most of the material seemed to assume the
reader had considerably more background knowledge than she does. I'm... grateful
for her help, but I wasn't expecting...."
"Could you please tell her that, then?
She never leaves the library anymore. I'm starting to think she got stuck to
one of the books and just doesn't want to admit it!"
Darigan shot Jeran a worried look. "Are you joking
or do you consider that a serious possibility? There are books that will
do that, although judging from previous experience Lisha might find some unexpected
way around the problem."
"...Well, I WAS joking until you said that was
a serious possibility!"
"Let me try again. Have you seen her in contact
with the same book for longer than it should have taken to read it?"
"All of the books look alike to me!"
Darigan supposed that this would probably make
it a bit difficult to tell. "Hmm. Next time you see her, ask if she can set
down whichever one she's holding and step about six feet away from it. Blame
it on me if you like." He shook his head. "I truly didn't expect this. It isn't
her problem. I'm grateful to her for discovering it -- I've given myself a raging
headache three times in the past week trying to find a way to see the spells
she's described for myself, and still am only getting loose ends -- but I wouldn't
have asked this. She needs a teacher, not a mission -- she's very powerful,
picks things up quickly, and seems to have some instinct for adapting spells,
if not for gauging how much energy they take -- but she'd get a great deal more
out of her books with better grounding in the basics."
"She's going to blame me even if I try
to blame you," Jeran replied direly. "Thank you, though. I'm still not used
to the idea of my little sister being a powerful sorceress. I'd just as soon
give her a chance to learn what she's doing first, but she ignores me every
time I suggest she go to Brightvale."
"She brought that up as well. I don't think she
wants to leave you. I can see why she might not want to take the time to seek
out a tutor, as long as she seems to be able to accomplish what she wants without...."
"All the brightest children in Meridell go to
Brightvale to study. It's not as if it's far, and she'll be much better
prepared to face whatever comes her way if she's trained first. I was quick
to learn when I was a cub, but I've only survived this long by training long
and hard at it!" Jeran growled quietly in the back of his throat, then smiled
slightly and shook his head. "Sorry. Unrelated rant of an older brother. It
slips out sometimes."
"I can understand that too." Darigan smiled ruefully.
"She is learning, if not as efficiently as she might."
"I don't know why she's so resistant to studying
properly. She's eager to learn, that much is plain."
Darigan shrugged. "I really don't know." He shifted
his wings, spreading them to the sun. It did feel good.... "Though she did say
something about practicing with her wand when no one was watching -- I thought
at the time that it was an odd concern, but perhaps after the impression she
made to begin with she finds it embarrassing to admit that she was working much
of it out as she went along. She shouldn't," he added with a grin, "considering
she was remarkably successful at it."
"Too successful for her big brother's peace of
mind, though I greatly appreciated her as a simple knight!"
"No doubt. I suppose I should really speak to
her again. I didn't mean to give you cause for alarm over her...." Darigan hesitated,
then smiled wryly. "And yet, on the other hand, if she has found anything
I'd like to know about it."
Jeran returned the smile. "You're just encouraging
her, you know."
"...If you prefer that I not speak with her,
"If she has found anything out, you need
to know about it. I'm not going to condemn your people because I'm overprotective."
"We've survived this long," Darigan muttered.
"I'm not trying to take advantage of Lisha. I might never have learned of this
without her help, but I will find a way to change it."
"I didn't think you were trying to take advantage
of her. She wants to help. If she can -- and it won't hurt her, of course
-- you might as well let her."
Darigan hesitated for the space of several steps.
"I'll ask her," he said at last. "The fact that she can perceive the
spells is immeasurably valuable in itself. But I will also ask her to look after
herself better." He glanced back over his shoulder, then, smiling faintly. "Or
perhaps you and Galgarrath should exchange tips...."
"Thank you, but I don't think I'll be threatening
to throw my sister out the castle windows," Jeran said dryly.
"He only suggested that once. It was one of many
Jeran laughed. "But you've claimed he's
suggested it many more times!"
"I was referring to the same incident," Darigan
said with dignity. "It was memorable."
"A likely story. I don't believe a word of it.
Poor Galgarrath, maligned by his lord."
"He hasn't actually had to try it yet. I think
he really would, though."
"I have no doubt he really would." Jeran grinned.
"That doesn't mean you're not maligning him by saying he keeps threatening to."
"It's a standing threat."
Jeran laughed easily. "As you say. I'll continue
feeling sorry for him, but grateful for the visits nonetheless."
"I think he's rather pleased with himself today,
"Oh? Any particular reason?"
"He was very smug about having gotten me out
of my study." Darigan glanced back again. "And I think it's more likely that
he's having a pleasant conversation than that he's actually spent over an hour
disputing the price of root vegetables."
"The price of a potato is very important in Meridell,"
Jeran said solemnly, then grinned. "But I think you're quite right. Good. Closer
ties between Meridell and Darigan are always important."
"We're working on it." And being welcomed was...
very welcome. Comparing the two lands for too long might be dispiriting, and
envy and other old resentments might be hard to kill -- but the Citadel had
crossed over a number of lands en route that had been less willing to talk or
trade than Meridell was even after two wars. There were worse outcomes. Darigan
smiled to himself and repeated softly, "We're working on it."
To be continued...