Tam . . . . Ashren part 2

‘It seems we have a spy, my lord.’
Greyfall stared down in angry amazement, ‘We can dispose of him soon enough, whoever he is,’ he snarled. ‘Guard!’
A man-at-arms came running from the nearest tower, ‘Yes, my lord,’ he said, and then registered the form crouching between the two men. ‘Tam?’ he gasped in surprise, then recovered himself and stood still and silent awaiting his orders.
‘You know this child?’ snapped Lord Greyfall.
‘Yes, my lord. He’s poor, dumb Tam. He works in the kitchens, but he likes to come and sit in that corner when he can and watch the world go by. He’s simple, my lord, and quite harmless.’
‘Harmless he may be,’ Lord Greyfall muttered, ‘but he’s seen what he shouldn’t have seen, and that has sealed his doom. Take him to. . .’
‘Wait!’ Kern cried, and pulling Tam to his feet turned him towards the moonlight and put a hand under his chin to lift his face and consider him carefully. Tam looked up at him in grave curiosity and then smiled.
‘You’re serious when you say he’s dumb?’ Kern asked.
‘Yes, your grace. We think he’s about eight years old, but no one’s quite sure, and we’ve never heard him speak. He laughs sometimes,’ he added, and then, risking Lord Greyfall’s wrath, continued, ‘please, don’t. . .’ and stammered to a stop.
‘What are you about Kern?’ Lord Greyfall asked, growing impatient, and annoyed at having his wishes frustrated, ‘You know we can’t risk. . .’
‘I know, my lord. But I’ve long been in need of an assistant and couldn’t find one who wouldn’t blab. This boy could work around my tower, cook and clean, fetch and carry for me, mind my potions, and all without risk.’ He wrinkled his nose, ‘He’ll need a bath and some clean clothes first. He stinks.’
‘Most of them do,’ commented Greyfall, sourly. ‘Alright – you may have him. Guard, get him clean and put some decent clothes on him. Not livery, mind you, he mustn’t be connected with me in any way. Then bring him to the Solar.’ He began to walk away with Kern, but suddenly stopped and returned, ‘Does he have any family?’ he asked.
‘I’m not sure, my lord, I don’t think so.’
‘If anyone asks about him, he climbed carelessly and slipped to his death on the rocks. I trust you understand me!’
‘Yes, my lord,’ he quavered. Then, putting one hand protectively on Tam’s shoulder he guided him along the wall and into his quarters.
It wasn’t easy to get him washed and clothed without attracting attention, but somehow it was achieved, even his hair was roughly trimmed, and an hour later an almost unrecognisable Tam was led towards the Great Tower by the man-at-arms whose name he’d told the boy was Marton.
‘I don’t know how much you understand,’ he muttered as they walked along the curtain wall, ‘but you’re heading for a dangerous life with Magician Kern. Be careful!’ Then, after a pause, ‘You must be dumb. Understand? You must be dumb!’ Suddenly he stopped, knelt down and pulled the boy into his arms. ‘We’ll miss you, lad. You and your smile.’
Tam gazed gravely into his eyes, then smiling widely, put his arms round his neck and chuckled quietly into his ear. When Marton had risen and blinked away his unmanly tears he led him to the door of the Solar, where they were announced by the servant standing outside. They entered, stepping carefully across the furs on the floor until they stood before the two men sitting in high-backed chairs on either side of the wide hearth.

Wintren, unlike the previous three Greyfall Lords, was taller than most Domainsmen and by nature very pale; his skin was almost white, with no hint of a healthy colour to it, not even when he was angered. Indeed, when he was enraged it turned a terrifying grey-blue. His hair was the colour of a louring winter sky, and his piercing, light grey eyes missed very little. He was dressed in a fur-trimmed tunic of silver-grey with a white over-robe. In any crowd he stood out as totally different from the common people as well as from the other Domain Lords, all of whom had golden skin with brown hair, and either blue or brown eyes. He always insisted that the original, lost line of Ruling Kings, destroyed in the Great Rebellion, had been pale, and that he was distantly connected to them. No one believed it, but equally no one dared comment on it or express their disbelief aloud.

In contrast Kern was considerably shorter than Greyfall, and his complexion was a red-brown. He had long black hair which he tied at the back of his neck, and his eyes were a startling hazel, which in certain lights appeared to glint with gold. He was clothed in a full length tunic and over-robe of dark brown with black fastenings.

Greyfall, after a dismissive glance, muttered, ‘You’ve managed to make him look almost human.’ Then his attention was caught by Tam’s deep, dark eyes, and he looked at him more closely. ‘What did you say his name was?’
‘We call him Tam, my lord, though truth to tell, we don’t know if it’s his proper name. It’s just what we’ve called him ever since he first appeared on the wall.’
Irritated by this reminder of where he’d been found, Lord Greyfall snarled, ‘Things have clearly become far too lax. We’ll have no more rag-tag children on the walls. They’re to be kept away, do you hear me?’
‘Yes, my lord. I’m sorry. . .’
‘Well, don’t just stand there. Get back to your duties, man. Get out!’
Marton squeezed Tam’s shoulder, turned and left, his heart suddenly heavy and full of fear for the innocent child and the uncertain future now facing him.
‘Stop looking at me!’ Lord Greyfall shouted at Tam, suddenly filled with more than anger at the fearless gaze of those dark eyes. It was as if a shadow from the past had touched him, and his face changed to a ghastly colour at their look. ‘Kern, if you really must have this child, get him out of my sight!’
‘What, my lord, afeared of an innocent infant?’ Kern answered mockingly. ‘Come here, Tam. Let’s have a good look at you. . .Yes, I see what you mean, my lord. He has remarkable eyes, and they do seem to look right through you.’
‘Of course they don’t! Enough of your nonsense! Remove him and yourself at once. We’ll do our work tomorrow night.’

Rising as gracefully as he had flown, Kern led Tam out of the room, along a hallway and finally up a long spiral stair until they reached his room at the top of the Moon Tower.

‘Here we are, Tam,’ he said, locking and barring the door behind him. ‘Home from home, at least for now.’ He slipped off his over-robe, sat down in a chair and considered him again. ‘I wonder if you’re hungry. Would you like some food?’ Tam nodded, and when a tray with a substantial cold supper was put on a small table near his stool he demolished it with no difficulty, after which he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and nodded his thanks.

Kern, who’d sipped at a goblet of wine while Tam ate, laughed. ‘You’re welcome, child.’ He removed the tray and resuming his seat, looked at him for a while. ‘You’re very small for your age, Tam. If I’m right in my calculations you must be ten years old. Did you know that?’
The boy, looking worried, shook his head. ‘Well, I’m fairly sure that’s right. You know, Tam won’t do as a name, it really won’t. I wonder if I can find your proper name for you?’ He put his hand into his pouch and brought out a tiny glass phial filled with a glittering green liquid. Rising and walking over to a bowl of water on the table against the wall, he let three drops fall into it and stared at the shapes they made as they constantly formed and reformed.
‘Ah, I see. Yes, it’s as I thought. . .’ He looked up with a crooked smile. ‘I think I must remove you from here right away.’
He gathered up his robe and putting it on again, went to open the window which led onto a narrow balcony. Then, taking the silver collar from his pouch he laid it round his neck, picked up Tam as easily as if he were a baby, and instructing him to put one arm round his neck and with the other to hold tight to one of the feathers, he stepped out into the night and floated off towards the distant mountains.

They were a good distance away when, through the still night, he heard the shouts summoning Greyfall’s chosen guards – known by everyone as his ‘Hounds’ – and knew they would soon be hurrying up the stairs to his room. ‘Only just in time, Tam,’ he murmured, ‘but it’ll take them quite a while to get the door open.’
~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  To Be Continued.

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