Dragon wizard, p.9
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       Dragon Wizard, p.9

           S. Andrew Swann
 
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  Hallucinations . . .

  The word reverberated in my head as I strained my attention at her through Lucille’s wrongly pointed eyes. I watched her take another sip of the cup.

  The cup made of an herbal mixture prepared by our barbarian herbalist, Brock.

  What are you drinking?

  What? Rabbit seemed startled by the question.

  In the cup, what is it?

  What does that have to do— She bent her head, and looked down into the liquid.

  Yes?

  The scars in my mouth, they still hurt. I winced a little inside, hearing that from her. Brock made me these herbs, they help with the pain. The tea, leaves I can chew . . .

  Sometimes Brock’s preparations had some side effects—the kind of side effects that can send shamans on unscheduled vision quests.

  I’m not going crazy, she thought to me.

  No you’re not, I agreed.

  You’re just the tea talking. I heard her sigh of relief in my head as well as the real world.

  I’m not the tea!

  I only hear you when I’ve taken it, or chewed the leaves. What else could you be?

  I sighed. I wanted to argue with her but I couldn’t think of a convincing line of reasoning.

  I felt the universe laughing at my expense.

  F-Frank? Her voice was suddenly small and scared.

  I’m still here.

  I didn’t mean to insult you—

  Don’t worry about it . . . Hey, why you worried about my feelings? I’m just a hallucination, right?

  Doesn’t mean I want you to leave.

  I’m not going anywhere.

  Good.

  You know, just because the medicine lets you see or hear something doesn’t mean it’s not really there.

  Doesn’t mean it is.

  I mentally grumbled in frustration.

  Frank? I’m happy you’re here, even if you aren’t really here.

  Thanks. But it’s frustrating not to be able to talk to anyone else.

  Tell me about it.

  Sorry.

  Don’t worry about it. She echoed my earlier thought.

  You’ve been mute all the time Grace and the other girls have known you?

  I saw her head nod out of the corner of Lucille’s eye.

  They named you Rabbit.

  Yes.

  So, what’s your real name?

  What?

  What name were you born with?

  It’s been so long . . . She paused a long time, as if she didn’t quite remember. Then her mind snapped excitedly, Rose. My name used to be Rose. I haven’t thought about it for years.

  Rose is your real name? It’s pretty.

  No.

  It isn’t pretty?

  No. It’s not my real name. My real name is Rabbit. That’s the name I earned. Rose is someone else.

  She sipped the last of her tea and looked into the empty cup.

  I wonder how long it will last, she thought at me.

  So did I. Rabbit, will you help me?

  Help a voice in my head?

  Yes.

  I can’t convince anyone I really hear you. I don’t believe it myself.

  I know.

  What then?

  Do you think you can convince Krys to have some of your tea?

  CHAPTER 11

  Lucille wasn’t in a position to see what happened between Rabbit and Krys. I desperately wanted some form of muscular control so I could pace, or at least fidget a little while I waited for the outcome of the discussion between the two girls. Lucille continued ignoring them, focusing on Robin, our half-elven prisoner. That offered a small bit of distraction, so I settled in—mentally speaking—and returned my attention to that conversation.

  “May I ask you something, Princess Frank?”

  “What?”

  “Why are you traveling to Fell Green? If you truly wish to halt the oncoming storm, would it not make more sense to accede to my uncle’s demands? He would be bound by his words—”

  Lucille snorted.

  “And now you find me amusing?”

  “Only a fool would place their faith in an elven promise.”

  “Oh? You know that he does not lie.”

  “Truth is not the same thing as honesty,” Lucille said.

  “Wise words,” Robin said. “But wisdom is not the same thing as intelligence.”

  “Now let me ask you something.”

  “You haven’t answered my question.”

  “Tell me why. Why would Timoras go to war over something the prince himself instigated?”

  Robin chuckled. “You have little dealing with elves, I presume.”

  “As little as possible.”

  “They take hospitality very seriously. They grant some leeway to the mortal realms, being uncivilized as they are—”

  “Hey—”

  “But murdering a guest is beyond the pale, even for a liberal interpretation of your obligations.”

  “It wasn’t murder. He was—”

  “Is the prince dead?”

  “Yes.”

  “At someone’s hand?”

  “That isn’t—”

  “In your house?”

  “He attacked m—the prince.” Robin arched an eyebrow, noticing the shift in the middle of Lucille’s statement. “And why,” she continued, “declare war on everyone?”

  “Who was present?”

  “What does that have to do with anything?”

  “They share culpability.”

  “They . . .” She shook her head slowly. “I see.”

  If the elf-king thought all the attendees shared responsibility, he probably did want to go to war with literally everyone. At least the majority of this continent. The fact that Robin talked about “an immortal army that hasn’t tasted blood in millennia” did not make me feel any better about the situation.

  “What’s the point of this then?” Lucille held up the pendant. “If he wants war, why bother to give us an ultimatum at all?”

  Robin chuckled. “Who said anything about what my dear uncle wants?”

  “Pardon?”

  “If King Timoras does not extract a full measure of compensation for the death of his only heir, he is likely to join him.” At this point I couldn’t count that outcome as a bad thing. “The intrigue of the Winter and Summer Courts . . . it makes mortal battles of succession look like toddlers squabbling over a plate of sweets.” Actually I had always thought it was the nature of aristocracy that gave that appearance. “His position is incalculably weakened by the loss of the prince.”

  “Really?”

  “A potential survivor with the means and the patience to plot a revenge has long been a deterrent to any direct act against the king. And relations between the courts are ever strained at best.”

  Lucille spoke my thought as I was thinking it. “If that’s the case, why wouldn’t a plotter kill the prince first? In fact, maybe that is what this is. Maybe he was under some sort of geas?”

  Robin chuckled again, and I began to realize that I really didn’t like him.

  “What?” Lucille asked.

  “Poor planning indeed.”

  “Why?”

  “What fate do you think awaits the king’s rivals?”

  “I suppose he won’t kill them all like a sensible tyrant.”

  “Direct, but prone to ally his enemies together. Not to mention many serve the queen, who might object. No, I suspect that his chief rivals will have the honor of leading the troops in their first battle in a thousand years.”

  “What do you—”

  It may have felt as if my own mouth spoke the words, but I missed what Lucille said because my whole mind was suddenly hammered with the
sound of a young man’s voice saying, BLECH!

  In the real world I heard coughing from somewhere outside Lucille’s field of vision, followed by Krys’s voice, “Why? Why would you have me drink—” The words broke off with more spitting and coughing.

  Horrid . . . Ick . . . To the Seven Hells with her practical jokes!

  Krys? I thought at the vaguely familiar voice.

  The coughing, spitting, and cursing halted abruptly.

  In my head I heard the new voice say tentatively, Frank?

  I gave a mental cheer.

  Rabbit heard you . . .

  Yes! Yes! You can hear me! I mentally screamed at the heavens. I’m here, Krys! I’m still here!

  I hear you all right. I heard a mental shush.

  Sorry, I thought quietly. I’m just excited.

  I’m sure, Krys thought. But, Frank?

  What?

  Why do you have to taste so nasty?

  • • •

  I didn’t realize exactly how frayed my sanity had been until I was able to communicate. It did untold good for my state of mind, despite still being trapped as a passenger in Lucille’s body. When Rabbit had questioned my existence, I had come pretty close to doubting it myself. But now that I could communicate with Krys, I had external confirmation that I wasn’t a figment of anyone’s imagination.

  What laid all the doubts to rest was telling Krys Rabbit’s given name. It was something no one else was in a position to know. The joyous yelp Rabbit gave at the news was enough to interrupt Lucille’s conversation with our guest to glance over at the two girls hugging and crying just at the edge of the light from the campfire.

  “What’s going on over there?” Lucille asked them.

  Krys and Rabbit disentangled themselves and faced us as if they’d been caught raiding the royal pantry. “Nothing, Your Highness,” Krys said, with a subtle glance at Robin the Highwayman.

  I felt Lucille arch an eyebrow. “Really?”

  “Please forgive the interruption,” Krys said, bowing slightly.

  “Uh-huh.” Lucille turned back to face Robin.

  “They make a handsome couple,” Robin volunteered.

  “Uh, sure. Let’s get back to the elf-king’s court . . .”

  I let Lucille continue the conversation without me while I consulted with my personal retainers. I found Robin’s assumption about Krys and Rabbit amusing, not because of Krys’s rather impressive attempt at crafting a male persona—I’d be the last one to look askance at anyone’s gender issues—but because I knew the two girls could annoy each other as much as any two blood siblings I’d ever seen.

  What now? Krys’s voice spoke in my head.

  First things first, I thought back. How many of those herb packets does Rabbit still have with her?

  Krys whispered at Rabbit since the other girl’s presence in my mind had faded. I guessed that our communications had lasted maybe half an hour. Not very long in the scheme of things.

  Three more packets.

  I thought something unkind. All right. One has to be for Lucille—hopefully that will last longer since I’m in her head. You’re going to have to talk to her after she’s done with tall, dark, and elvish here.

  Sure. We should get some more of this stuff.

  Do either of you know what’s in it?

  Even though she wasn’t in Lucille’s field of vision, I could sense her shrug. No clue.

  And Brock’s in no shape for sharing recipes, even if he was here.

  It was one more thing we were going to have to track down in Fell Green.

  • • •

  “You’re kidding,” Lucille said when they finally freed her from her elf interrogation. Krys walked her away from the campfire while Rabbit watched the prisoner.

  “No,” Krys told her, her voice barely above a whisper. “Rabbit did hear Frank. This stuff Brock gave her for pain allowed us to talk.”

  “Uh-huh,” Lucille said slowly.

  “He said he’s still in your head.” Krys tapped a finger on her own forehead for emphasis.

  Lucille shuddered, and I felt a little insulted by her reaction.

  “Rabbit was trying to tell us earlier,” Krys said.

  Lucille closed her eyes and shook her head. “How is that possible?”

  “I guess when you left the dragon, he didn’t have anywhere else to go?”

  “I guess not.” She swallowed and opened her eyes. “Tea, you said?”

  Krys nodded.

  “I suppose I need to have some then.” I heard the doubt in her voice. If Krys noticed it, she gave no sign.

  Krys already had a tin cup of the concoction prepared and handed it to Lucille. Lucille glanced back at the campfire, where our prisoner was busy chatting up Rabbit. They were out of earshot, so we didn’t hear exactly what the elf was saying. However, the occasional syllable made its way to us, ringing a little higher than I expected.

  He’s singing?

  I was occupied with the incongruity of it, so I was caught off guard by one of the foulest-tasting liquids to ever pass my lips, in my mouth or anyone else’s. The sensation was nearly indescribable, combining the worst elements of pond scum, swamp gas, and the kind of fungus that grew on dead things. Fermented slime mold came to mind.

  Then I smelled it.

  Once it was slithering down our throat, the odor of the stuff struck us from the inside. Once that hit, I realized that I had unfairly disparaged slime molds and fungus. The smell clawed its way through our sinuses like a rabid goblin tearing its way through a burlap sack filled with carrion and feces.

  The only reason Lucille wasn’t choking against the assault on our senses was the anesthetic properties of the unwholesome concoction. The brew had completely paralyzed our gag reflex. Our mouth and throat had gone largely numb, but that did little to reduce the awful tastes and smells tearing through our skull.

  Oh gods!

  Holy Crap!

  Frank?

  Her mental voice tore through my thoughts like dragon fire through a scribe convention. Ahhhh. Too loud.

  Frank? Her stentorian internal monologue lowered from the apocalyptic to the merely catastrophic.

  Yes. I’m here. I gave a mental sigh.

  You sound different. A puzzled note leaked into the demonic chorus of her thoughts.

  I wasn’t born with a princess’s contralto, you know.

  It’s strange . . .

  Stranger than your mental voice? You couldn’t scream “dragon” louder if you spit brimstone at me.

  I am a dragon!

  The thought came reflexively quick at me and I doubted she knew what she said/thought until after we had both heard it.

  I . . . I . . . Frank?

  I’m sorry. It makes perfect sense. I didn’t want to upset you.

  I suddenly found out what uncontrolled draconic laughter sounded like inside the dragon’s head. I had a brief worry about Lucille’s sanity.

  Lucille?

  Upset me? You’re worried that you upset me?

  Well. . .

  You’re alive! she screamed in my mental ears. You’re alive! You’re alive!

  My entire consciousness vibrated with the words, my soul ringing like church bells on a high holy day. I was stunned, and from more than the sound. My natural attitude, especially as things go wrong around me, tended to float somewhere between a critical remorse for my own bad decisions and a reflexive self-pity over those things for which I couldn’t claim responsibility. I knew that it was a bad habit of mine, and I usually made sure to include it on the list of things I berated myself for.

  Having my skull—our skull—shaking from a dragon leaping and shouting for joy at the mere fact of my existence, it didn’t quite track with the kind of depressive nihilism I was comfortable with. It made me consider th
at, just maybe, something good had happened to me.

  Yes, I’m alive. I said to myself as much as Lucille.

  Good thing, because my mental companion still danced around me singing, You’re alive!

  Lucille . . .

  You’re alive!

  We’ve established that . . .

  You’re alive!

  Lucille! I snapped.

  She finally stopped. After half a beat she said Yay, very quietly.

  I couldn’t keep from a mental chuckle.

  I thought you were gone, really gone.

  I gathered that. But I’ve been here since that debacle at the banquet.

  Here?

  I’m still in your head—my head—

  Our head?

  I don’t think there was anywhere for me to go when you left the dragon.

  I felt our head nod, and she froze a moment, hand halfway to her chin. And I was planning to use the Tear—

  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that would be a bad idea.

  “Damn it!” she said aloud and in my mind at the same time. Next to us, Krys winced as if she heard the dragon’s voice speaking through Lucille.

  I’m sorry; it made sense if you didn’t know—

  That was my backup plan. It was all I had in reserve. Damn!

  It was the only way we knew to return her to the dragon. The nature of the artifact was to swap the wearer’s identity to the nearest compatible body—for definitions of “compatible” forged within Nâtlac’s evil jewel. However, we knew from experience that if Lucille wore it, she would end up in the dragon’s skull. It made sense. If I had been in the dragon, however demented, it would return me to the princess’s body. If it wasn’t me, it would be easier to detain a hostile princess than a hostile dragon.

  But, since I was in Lucille’s skull, not the dragon’s, there was no telling how the Tear of Nâtlac might react.

  I understood how that must feel, having that one option close for her. I felt more than heard the tumble of random confused thoughts that followed her outburst, rage and guilt the primary emotions.

  Oh Frank, I don’t mean . . . I’m so happy you’re . . . but . . .

  You don’t have to explain.

  We need to get you a body.

 
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