Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 4, Part 2.4

Posted by harmony0stars on September 20, 2009

Glory hung back as Tesni darted from the cover of the bush and into the arms of her boyfriend. He was at least a foot taller than her, and much broader in the shoulders than Gwythyr. Glory heard him chuckle and say something teasingly, probably asking if Tesni had forgotten something or already missed him, but the girl shook her head, nervously hushing him. Escaping his embrace, she grabbed him by the arm and practically dragged him back to the tunnel. He pulled up short as he caught sight of Glory among the branches and gave Tesni a half questioning, half reproachful look.

“Please, please Deryn. Do not be angry!” Tesni whispered desperately. “I-we need your help.”

“Gwythyr is in trouble.” Glory announced, forgoing a lengthy explanation.

That got his attention. His expression instantly changed from irritable to anxious. “What trouble? His mother would never let any harm come to him here.”

“He isn’t here. He left hours ago after a fight with his cousin.”

Deryn muttered something nasty about nobles under his breath. He glanced back at the woods, then to Glory. “What do you know?”

“Next to nothing,” Glory replied, spreading her hands helplessly. “But I heard the Fomorians laughing about something they had done, and they mentioned Gwythyr, Aonghas, and Neirin.“ Each name seemed to make him angrier. He grumbled a curse, his lips compressed in a grim line  “If nothing else, Aonghas could be trying to start a war by implicating Neirin in some way. Maybe the Fomorians are responsible for all the disappearances.”

Deryn turned back towards the woods but paused indecisively. Turning, he quickly kissed Tesni on the cheek and made an attempt to shoo her back down into the tunnel. “Back down you go love, you and your friend both.”

“I’m going with you,” Glory insisted, which brought him up short.

“Don‘t be daft!” Deryn growled loudly, then more quietly said, “I have no time to see to your safety and discover what the damn Fomorians have done with Gwythyr. At least the prince should be safe at home.”

“You don’t have to keep me safe. I can take care of myself, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Your friends will have gone home by now.”

He heaved a sigh of frustration. “I can send a bird to Lord Arawn to tell him what is happening here, but you are right. I am alone.” He eyed Glory as if trying to guess what good she would be in a fight. By his expression, he wasn’t too impressed by the tiny dagger strapped to her belt.

“I doubt anyone will be able to get here in time to help, but Tesni can go down and tell Lady Muireann what’s going on.”

“I can?” the girl squeaked fearfully, her eyes round.

“You can,” Glory assured her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “However Lady Muireann may feel about Aonghas, I doubt she’s going to be too pleased to find out her Fomorian kin have been plotting against her son. And maybe if they are united in their concern for Gwythyr, Lord Arawn and Lady Muireann can finally put aside their hostility towards one another. Don‘t you think that might make it easier for Deryn to ask for permission to marry you later on?” Tesni blushed and looked at Deryn out of the corner of her eye. He was turned away towards the woods, but Glory could just make out a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. A sleepy-eyed little sparrow sat on one of his fingers. He spoke to it softly, and it puffed out its feathers before leaping into the air.

“Wh-what should I say?” Tesni asked hopefully, then less brightly, “She will be so angry with me.”

“Just tell her the truth,” Glory said gently. Tesni nodded, though she didn’t look at all eager to go back into the tunnel. She stepped closer to Deryn and gave him a fierce hug before scootching back into the hole, feet first.

Deryn glanced at Glory. “If you are coming, then come. It will be difficult enough to find their trail in the dark without you slowing me down.”

“I can probably help with that once we get further away from the caves.”

Deryn grunted, and set off into the underbrush. He set a brisk pace and Glory was hard pressed to keep up. The trees and undergrowth still did not seem to like her much, though hopefully that was just her imagination. It was too easy to imagine spectral hands grabbing at her ankles as she struggled to stay close to Deryn in the dark. Every snapped twig or bush she blundered into in the dark seemed loud enough to bring down the wrath of any guards in the vicinity.

They slowly worked their way around to the front entrance where Gwythyr would have set off for home. Deryn knelt close to the ground every few feet in search of tracks, which was probably the only reason Glory managed to keep him in sight. It was amazing how dark the night could be when there was no ambient light from a city. Even the park had never been so dark, despite the fact that there were only scattered lights along the bike paths.

After several fruitless searches, Deryn sat on his haunches and rubbed his eyes in frustration. “Are we far enough away from the entrance?” Glory asked after a moment. “I can make a light, but I don’t want anyone to notice.”

Deryn looked up at her, then glanced back in the direction of the caves. “If you keep your body between the caves and the light, no one should notice. If they do, they will likely think it is only a will-o-the-wisp.”

He looked on in interest as she cupped her hands, summoning the tiniest glow into her palms. She kept her hands pointed outwards and down, so the light hit the ground like the beam of a flashlight. He only grunted “Handy,” before going back to scanning the ground.

It was weird and a little amusing to be in a place where feats of magic were so unremarkable. Back home, most people would have been shocked by her ability to make light in the palm of her hand. A few would have wondered how it was done and tried to figure it out, assuming she was hiding a glowstick or an LED in her sleeve. Her sword would have made most of them run for their lives. But here, no one did more than raise an eyebrow before getting on with their lives. It should have been a relief to have talents so commonplace that she blended into their society seamlessly. Instead, she felt perversely homesick. At home, she had a purpose. Here, she felt adrift and close to useless. It might have simply been that she couldn’t abandon her responsibilities for the sake of a chance at a ‘normal’ life, but something inside her told her that she couldn’t stay here, not if there was a chance that she could get home. She’d never been one to take the easy way out.

Within moments, Deryn found Gwythyr’s path and set off into the woods. Once again Glory was hard pressed to keep up. He slowed down only when he lost the trail and needed her light to find it again. An hour into their trek, Deryn stopped, casting his eyes around a slight clearing in dismay.

“What is it?” Glory asked with a frown. He might see something, but the trees and brush looked pretty much the same to her as the rest of the wood.

“He was attacked here. You were right.” It was clear that he had hoped she was wrong. Now that he had physical confirmation, he seemed at a loss as to how to proceed. He paced around the clearing, touching a broken branch here, some invisible track there. Stopping near the center of the space, he knelt and cursed under his breath.

“What is it?” she queried, unable to see anything to make him so angry.

“Blood,” he grunted, brushing at the ground with his fingertips. As if realizing how absolutely clueless Glory was about what he was seeing, he began explaining the signs. “They knocked him off his horse as he came through those trees there, then beat him once he was on the ground here. They probably trussed him up before putting him back on his horse. Then they went east” He stood and purposefully strode across the clearing, then paused at its border indecisively. “Lord Arawn will never get here in time to help us. They‘ve probably taken him to the sea, intending to make him a slave in Eire.”

“Maybe Lady Muireann will…”

Deryn glanced back the way they had come and shrugged. It was clear that he didn’t have much faith in the ability of his lord’s rivals.

“Well, you’re not just giving up, are you?” Glory demanded.

“How much help can we expect from her?” he sneered. “Half her fighting men are Fomorian.”

to Book 4, part 2, page 5

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