Friday, December 29, 2023

Fire Serpent and Water Mountain V

Beginning -- Previous.

The Tavern was full of gods, more than Tera had known in her entire life, and the blizzard of ever-shifting possibilities that came from all of them being together took her breath away. None of them even glanced their way, beyond venturing an occasional greeting for Amaethon, but she felt that when they entered, the entire disposition of the room had changed. Nobody was looking at them, but everybody was paying attention to them.

As for Uncle Llew, being in the presence of so many gods seemed to change him physically. All of the gods seemed preternaturally real, but Llew in their presence was almost overwhelming; the rapid shifting of possibilities that she always sensed around him accelerated to the point of being almost dizzying, so that the gods, so well rounded compared to the occasional Vilim servants who flitted around the room, seemed flat next to him.

They made their way to an empty table in the back and Amaethon ordered small beer from a Vilim barmaid. Then he turned to Llew. "It is good to have you back in The City of the Gods. You have been away far too long."

Llew's demeanor, already cold, became icier still. "I did not leave willingly, if you recall. We were banished."

"You were asked to leave for a hundred years," said Amaethon, "until things could settle down. Here it is, almost a millenium later, and you only now return. You should not have denied the clan your talents."

Llew's face grew darker. "What obligations do I have to people who betrayed me and my sister?"

Amaethon's mouth set in a firm line, and it seemed to Tera like all of the tables around them tensed. "We only sought peace in a feud that was quickly growing worse. And even if it were not so, your obligations to your clan are still your obligations."

"No law binds the gods," said Uncle Llew mockingly. "Is this not the saying? There is no obligation. To support one's clan is a courtesy, in exchange for benefits received from the clan."

"You are as haughty and obstinate now as you ever were. Your clan supported both you and your sister," said Amaethon.

"Yes," said Llew, "until you betrayed us. You deserve no trust, and the loyalty you will have will be commensurate with the good you do us."

Amaethon clearly bit back something he was tempted to say. Then, after looking off into the corner of the room a moment, he said, "Very well, then. Have it your way. But you are also here. And your clan is still your clan, however the past may tangle that. We are still here for you." He looked deliberately at Tera and then significantly at Llew. "Both of you."

The small beers came at this point.

"In any case," said Llew, "I am here not for anything to do with myself, but for my niece, so that she might know something of her clan and The City before she is Enrolled."

Amaethon visibly relaxed. "We are glad of it." He smiled at Tera. "You are from a family of extraordinary ability. I have no doubt that you will be the pride of the Embiadwe."

"I doubt that I am so extraordinary," said Tera, "but I am excited to be here."

They all finished their small beers in silence punctuated only by the most inoffensively bland comments. Then Amaethon said, "The Platform at Brickanbreck has been prepared, if you wish to use the public Platform here."

"No," said Llew, "I think we will take a wagon up; this is Tera's first time, and a wagon will let her see more of The City."

"Of course," said Amaethon, "I considered that possibility, so there is one ready for you." He smiled ingratiatingly at Llew, but any charm the smile might have been throwing at him bounced off Llew's impervious armor. He thanked Amaethon and they both left the Tavern.

Outside, they find the wagon waiting. Uncle Llew immediately set about examining it closely.

"That was uncomfortable," said Tera to Llew.

Llew, engrossed in his examination of the wagon, did not look up as he replied, "Oh, Amaethon is harmless; he is not intelligent enough to be a threat." He suddenly stopped, and a smile of almost mischievous delight broke over his face. He put his finger to his lips then pointed at a portion of a beam on the under side of the wagon. 

Tera did not immediately see what Uncle Llew meant, but then she caught it. It was a wooden pin or dowel set into the wood. It was in many ways entirely ordinary. It looked like a wooden pin. It was helping to hold a board in  place. But the possibilities associated with it were subtly off. Because it was actually functioning as a pin should, those possibilities were more obvious and immediate; but there were possibilities available to the pin that would not have been available to a mere wooden pin. They were the possibilities of something with a memory, something that could record what was said around it; the pin was in fact an artificial ear, set there as a spy. She would have missed it entirely if Uncle Llew had not pointed it out, but now that she saw it, it was very obvious.

"Yes," said Uncle Llew gleefully, and very loudly and deliberately. "I've always said that Amaethon is a talentless hack who has spent his entire life failing upward. One might as well feel threatened by a monkey." He climbed into one of the seats of the wagon, and tapped the seat next to him. "Let's be off. Whatever may be said of The City, it is a beautiful place, and I want you to see it while the light is still good."

to be continued