"You can stop pretending to be asleep now, Conny, they
finished with doping your medicine two days ago."
She recognised that voice... Did he say Conny? She rolled to face him. "Uncle Giqus!"
Roween glanced at the frail old man standing in the doorway, then back at Conley. "Giqus? Wasn't he chancellor before your father?" They both ignored her.
"You've grown, Conny, but you're every bit as beautiful as I remember."
She was on her feet. "Is it really you? I thought you were dead!"
Giqus shook his head. "Dead? Is that what your father told you?" A slight cough. "I was banished; in a way, however, perhaps he wasn't altogether wrong."
"But what are you doing here? Have you come to rescue us?"
She saw the sadness in his eyes. "I'm afraid not, Conny: I serve another master now. I'm here to take you to Lon's Grace, Elbienau as it once was."
Conley shrank back, mouth open.
"He's with them, Con," Roween stated, blankly. "The star- priest must have summoned him."
Giqus turned his watery eyes towards her. "I am high star- priest, young woman. I am the Messenger's prime adviser. And you, you have caused me a great deal of inconvenience. What is your name?"
"Loneskh," she ventured, uncertainly.
He laughed. "You'll have to be more convincing than that before the Messenger!" His beard rippled as he nodded, once. "Listen, both you and I know that the Message is a complete fabrication, a reworked old myth wrinkled to give hope to peasants and promises to lordlings. It is merely a temporary unifying force that binds together a scattering of tribal nations, nothing more. The Messenger may have a certain unique ability with regard to magic, but it is not in the least bit godly. So please, have the good manners not to insult me with your ridiculous pretensions."
Conley looked to Roween. She was silent.
"In time, you'll pay dearly for your remarks, I assure you. The Messenger has diverted me from a battle, so that I might bring you to him. My absence from the field may be at considerable cost to him. You will be the one who bears the price."
"Don't fret, R - " Conley stopped short as Roween raised her hand.
"Don't say it, he'll have to call me Loneskh."
Giqus spoke slowly, measured. "Tell me, Conny, what's your friend's real name? I'll find out eventually, and I don't want to hurt you."
Conley threw a glance at Roween. "No, Giqus, sorry."
He stroked his beard, then held his hand out to the right, behind the wall, out of sight. When he brought it back, he was holding a pack of Evergreen Deeps. "You want one?" he asked, disinterestedly.
Conley's eyes opened wide, she shook her head, quickly.
"They're not illusory, they're the real thing. I understood you had a fondness for them." He opened the pack, took one out.
"Roween Sage," said Roween, sharply.
He returned the shot. "Roween, yes, I see; how singularly appropriate. So that's why you didn't want me to know. The Messenger will be pleased."
Conley felt she'd missed something, looked over to Ro. Her expression was one of naked grimness.
Two saddlebags were thrown into the room. "Ready yourselves for travel, we leave in an hour. Oh, and Conny, I hear you're something of a fast caster these days. Lest you be tempted to try duelling magic with an old man, let me show you something." He rolled up his sleeves, began.
It was like a chopping motion at first, both hands flicking at once. Conley watched the right a moment, then realised with dismay what he was cutting: a single spell, interleaved on two hands. As one of them completed a gesture, the other was into the next, alternating. Double speed! It was stupendous, she couldn't even follow his flicks visually, let alone match their rate. Fingers, palm, point, or was it a, no, he'd lost her.
He looked surprised when Roween grabbed his wrist. "I think she understands, Giqus. No need to blind us." She released him.
He leaned his head to one side, peered into her eyes, rubbed his forearm. "Perhaps, young woman, you are more special than I thought." He stepped back. "One hour." The door slammed shut.
Conley waited a few moments. "What was that all about? What did he mean about your name?"
"I don't know. It's Old Davian for `inspiration'."
21st January 1999: isif40.htm