Chapter Fifteen: Finding the wyrms’ lair
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
When Geoff and Ursula entered into Calpurnia’s flat together, they walked into the kitchen and placed the boxes they were carrying on the floor. Ursula turned to her mother, who had escorted them into her flat, pointed at the boxes, and said, “Fleeces.”
Geoff gave Calpurnia a more searching glance. “Looked like someone broke down your door, and then fixed it with magic. Everything okay?”
Jacintha, who was sitting at the kitchen table, spoke up. “Ah, that was me. Misunderstanding.” She blushed.
Geoff was happy to hear it was something he could ignore. He had been afraid Marcus had been up to mischief. But Marcus was sitting there on the couch, awake and looking for all the world as if he was on good terms with everybody. So Geoff decided to test the waters. “Hello, Marcus.”
Deep down, Marcus still wanted to kill Geoff. But Katherine Swynford’s spell afflicted him with uncontrollable fear any time he even thought about not helping Geoff and the others. That’s why he had been such a wreck when he arrived at Calpurnia’s. It had been too much for him to endure, and Marcus could no longer fight Swynford’s spell. So he simply replied, “Hello, MacAlpine. I’m here to help.”
This cooperative attitude surprised everyone in the room, even Calpurnia. But while the others maintained some suspicion, Calpurnia was pleased by Marcus’s changed attitude. So she decided to reveal her great discovery at that moment. “Guess what, everyone? I think I know where the wyrms have their lair.”
All eyes turned on Calpurnia. Ursula cheered her on. “Way to go, MUM!”
Heartened by her daughter’s support, Calpurnia leaped into an explanation. “I kept reading Thomas the Cuckold over and over again, looking for some idea of where the wyrm had been laid in 1397. But there was just nothing in the chronicle that gave any geographic reference whatsoever, save that it was not in Gorelach.
“And then I was thinking about you, Geoff, and the fleeces, and Sheba, my daughter Bathsheba, called to ask when we would be taking our hike. And somehow what the two of you had said connected, and I knew where the wyrms probably are.”
Calpurnia paused for dramatic effect. Geoff, Jackie, Marcus, all three waited to hear what Calpurnia had discovered. But Ursula was of a more impatient sort, and besides felt as Calpurnia’s daughter that she had a right to make demands of her mother. “So where is it, mum?”
Calpurnia looked over at Geoff. “Remember you said something about how the creatures like fortifications, and how you were afraid they’d inhabit Edinburgh Castle?”
“Well, there’s an old Roman fort along the south shore of Breydon Water. Wouldn’t that be a likely place for the wyrm to hang out? I mean, it’s been there since Roman times.”
Marcus knew about the fort, so he was nodding along with Calpurnia’s speech. Jackie and Geoff did not, so to them it was a revelation. But all three were thrilled to have a lead, and smiled upon Calpurnia and congratulated her for it.
The one person who didn’t share in this joy was Ursula. She knew about the fort as well, having once joined her mother and sister in a walk out to it. Indeed, that was where she had gone to cut loose with her sexual energies earlier in the day. It occurred to her that if her mother was right, she might have somehow affected the wyrms.
Ursula debated telling the others about what she’d done. But they looked so happy, putting together a plan to confront the wyrms that evening. So she decided she’d take her mother aside and tell her privately. Minutes passed, everyone was caught up in the plans, and Ursula’s resolve weakened. Within half an hour, she had convinced herself that she couldn’t possibly have affected the wyrms. And so she said nothing.
That evening, Marcus led the way as he, Jackie, Ursula, and Geoff planned to track down the wyrms and if possible send them into hibernation that night. (Calpurnia’s foot was in its last day in a cast, so she remained behind at her apartment.) They were an impressive expedition. Jackie was armed both with the magic rifle and her camera. Marcus carried one box of fleeces that Cal and Jackie had sewed together, and had his blasting rod tucked in a coat pocket. Geoff carried the other box, and a sophisticated version of a dowsing rod, the latter to try to locate the wyrms once they arrived at the fort.
Ursula? She carried her own sweet self. Normally, she’d have been uninterested in such a battle, being more of a lover. But Katherine Swynford had manipulated her as effectively as she’d treated Marcus, and Ursula was full of fight. The lingering doubts she had about what had happened earlier that day she dismissed anytime they arose.
When they arrived at the fort, the party of magicians realized they had a problem. The old fort itself was a tourist attraction, and now sat some distance from the water, both of which features made it a less than desirable location to set up in. On the other hand, Marcus knew the lay of the land well enough not to want to set up in the marshes. Geoff was averse to getting his feet wet, too. Jacintha, in contrast, was so used to wading through the Everglades that she looked upon her colleagues as being sissies over getting their feet wet.
In the end they compromised, setting up camp just outside the old fort, while planning to regularly venture into the marshes. Marcus called up a bit of magic to make their camp invisible and a place other people would avoid without thinking about it.
Geoff was quite prepared to use his dowsing rod to check for the wyrms from their camp. But Jacintha shamed him into venturing into the marshes, where she had to listen to him continually complaining about how this was even worse than peat bogs. At least he kept his voice down. He really didn’t want to disturb the wyrms while actually in the marshes — hard to get out of their way when every step required extracting one’s foot out of the mud.
Jacintha didn’t go along just to hear Geoff complain, though she was entertained by the range of Geoff’s colloquial swear words. No, she wanted to get a good close-up picture of the wyrms as they emerged out of Breydon Water. She made the mistake of mentioning this to Geoff, who responded by pointing out that if the wyrms caught them in the marshes, at least they’d die with dry feet when the fireball killed them. The observation put a bit of a damper on Jacintha’s enthusiasm, but not for long.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, Marcus and Ursula quietly waited, completely unwilling to talk to each other, or even look at each other, except when they absolutely had to. Marcus regarded Ursula as less than human. In his eyes, she was just an ineffective demon who didn’t understand that the proper role for a demon was to make people suffer. Having sex with them wasn’t usually a way to make them suffer. Though no doubt Ursula would have replied to that thought by saying having sex with Marcus was enough to make any woman suffer. Marcus was one of the few people Ursula actually hated. Still, neither one was willing to risk the wrath of Katherine Swynford, so they knew they had to cooperate. Didn’t make them any happier.
Wyrms are magical creatures. As is well known, magicians can sense the presence of other magicians as a matter of course by detecting their magical fields. Geoff used the same principle to detect the wyrms and verify that they were indeed offshore, and at no considerable distance.
Wyrms are magical creatures. And so it works the other way, too. Wyrms can detect human magicians. Normally, they don’t much care. What’s one human to a 60-foot wyrm except a between-meal snack? But an encampment of four of them? (True, Ursula was a cambion, not a magician, but the distinction was apparently lost on the wyrms.) That was a threat.
“Are you sure the wyrms are still out there?” Jacintha asked Geoff for the fourth time in half an hour.
It was getting close to midnight. The wyrms hadn’t shown. Geoff had gone out into the marshes every hour, Jacintha accompanying him. It had not made him happy. It had not made him happy with Jacintha. Still, he was a patient man. One has to be when teaching magic to students, or one ends up with dead students. And Geoff had been a professor for decades now. He was very patient when he had to be. In response to Jacintha’s question, he merely sighed and said to her, “Jackie, either the wyrms are out there, or a giant cyclops had been holding his breath underwater for half a day. Mind you, a giant cyclops could probably do that. But either way, we need to deal with whatever’s out there.”
Jacintha huffed and settled back on her sleeping bag. Just because she asked a question was no reason for Geoff to get sarcastic on her! Why did the man have to be such a trial?
Marcus was sleeping. He was a light sleeper. No wyrm was going to emerge out of Breydon Water without waking him up.
Ursula had managed to spend the early part of the evening being angry at Marcus. But with him asleep, her anxieties took another turn, and she began worrying again about how she had affected the wyrms. She had a pretty good idea of why the wyrms hadn’t emerged out of their lair so far this evening. They were exhausted from wyrm sex.
And then they weren’t. Ursula sat up from her sleeping bag with a start. Something had changed.
Geoff sat up at almost the same moment. He picked up his dowsing rod and dropped it almost immediately. With an anatomically impossible curse about John Balliol on his lips, he jumped up and darted out of the tent.
Marcus was right behind him. He looked out to the water and was shocked. One of the wyrms was out there, beating its wings, two-thirds out of the water. With a roar that might have been heard in Norwich, the creature exhaled a fireball into the sky that made the moon appear a pitiful light.
But Marcus was tough. He quickly recovered and quietly said to Geoff, “Any idea how we’re going to toss a fleece on its head? It doesn’t look like it wants to cooperate.”
Geoff hardly heard. He was too busy trying to figure out which one of the two wyrms it was. Once he could see the head, he knew. There was no comb. It had to be the female wyrm from the Faroes.
Ursula could have told him that without even looking. But she had come out of the tent right after Marcus, and could now see the wyrm at it emitted a second fireball.
With another roar, the wyrm dropped down so only the upper third of its body was above water. And then it began to move to shore, picking up speed with ever step. Ursula realized with horror that it was heading right for them.
Jacintha stepped out of the tent. She was ready and able for combat. Night goggles on, rifle in her arms, she stepped forward past the other three, knelt on the ground, and took careful aim at the creature. It was not difficult, the wyrm was coming straight at them. Get in closer, she thought. You’re coming to your death, wyrm. Another few yards, and I can’t miss.
The wyrm closed the distance between them with amazing speed. Its jaws opened to show it was building up another fireball. That was the moment Jacintha had been waiting for.
With a scream of panic, Ursula lunged at Jacintha just as she was making her shot. Jacintha’s yelp as she was knocked down mixed with the sound of rifle fire.
Did Jacintha hit the wyrm? Why did Ursula try to stop her? Is she attracted to the wyrm? And what will Geoff and Marcus do? Lives hang in the balance, and we’ll not know how it comes out until the next chapter!