The sorcerer gave his staff a vicious twirl and pointed it at Fenn’s chest, clearly ready to destroy an army. Fenn gritted his teeth against whatever hideous hex was about to kill him. How much would it hurt? How unnatural would it be? He ought to run, but he could barely move. He hunched, eyes closing of their own accord, and clutched the horse’s sacking mane as if the coarse twine could help him keep a grip on life.
At least he’d die astride a horse.
But nothing happened. The rain pattered cool on his head and hands. He opened one eye, then the other, and risked a glance at Morgrim. A shadow of doubt passed over the sorcerer’s narrow face. It was almost confusion, if a hunting hawk can ever be said to look confused.
“Well?” Morgrim said.
His tone said “and how dare you keep me waiting”. It was clear Fenn was expected to make the next move.
“Er, evening, sir. My lord.” Fenn ducked his head. “I’m right sorry for the intrusion.”
There was such vicious scorn in the sorcerer’s voice that Fenn flinched. Morgrim cocked his head to one side, raptorlike. He hadn’t lowered his staff. “Who are you?”
“Fenn Todd. Er…your grace. Sir.” Gods, what were you supposed to call a court sorcerer? “Um…your honour.”
“Fenn Todd.” Morgrim sounded as if he were sizing it up to put in a spell.
Fenn shivered. Should have given a false name. Why hadn’t he thought to give a false one? Now Morgrim would be able to find out that Fenn had a criminal record and all. Oh Gods, this was going to be bad.
“And what is your purpose here?” Morgrim snapped.
“There ain’t one, your worship. It was a mistake. The horse brought me. I didn’t mean to trespass. I’ll go, eh? Quick as you like.”
Morgrim frowned as if Fenn’s answer hadn’t made sense.
“Who sent you?”
“No one. Honest. I came by the horse sort of…accidental. Tried riding it, only it took off in the air and…well, then it came down here.” Fenn had never felt more stupid or incompetent in his life. The whole thing was a ludicrous humiliating nightmare. “But I don’t want no trouble. I’ll be off, eh? Sorry to disturb you…er…sir.”
“You came to the Unket Tower by accident? You expect me to believe that?”
The name made Fenn shiver. He’d heard of it, of course, because court sorcerers had lived here for over a thousand years. The name was synonymous with magic. The place was reputed to be haunted. It was a giant trap.
He glanced about the courtyard again. There were several doors but they were all closed fast. The stone walls were five yards high and slimy with wet that flickered red in the torchlight. And there was that young bloke with the sword to think of, let alone the angry sorcerer. If the horse wouldn’t fly there’d be no escape. Why in blazes had the creature brought him here?
“Aye, by accident. Gods’ truth,” Fenn said grimly.
“And what magic did you use?” Morgrim still hadn’t moved from the top step. The tower door stood open to the dark behind him.
“Magic?” Fenn shook his head. “No. No, no. I know what it looks like, but I ain’t a magician.”
“You’re lying. Worple horses can’t fly. Don’t antagonise me, Mr. Todd. You’ll regret it.” Morgrim’s glare intensified. “I repeat: What magic did you use?”
“A worple horse?” It was Fenn’s turn to frown. “Wait. Is that a thing? What is that?”
“I’m asking the questions.”
There was an edge to the sorcerer’s tone, like anger and yet not quite. Fenn found he’d raised his hand in a reassuring gesture.
“All right, sir. I meant no disrespect.”
“What. Magic. Did. You. Use?” Morgrim demanded.
“None. Honest. I know the horse has a rune on its chest but that weren’t me. That just appeared. I can’t do magic.”
“You think I’d come here if I could?”
“You are trespassing in my courtyard in the middle of the night. Are you now also being insolent?” Morgrim sounded as if he couldn’t believe his ears, but he lowered his staff.
Some of the tension went out of Fenn. It seemed Morgrim wasn’t going to do anything unnatural to him just yet.
“No, sir. It was an honest question. If I could do magic, why would I come here? Wouldn’t I be lying on silk sheets somewhere with a glass of wine and a valet peeling me a grape?”
Morgrim gave him one of those quelling looks that folks who liked to be in charge often gave. Fenn had weathered plenty in his time, though never one from the most powerful sorcerer in living memory. It made his blood run cold, but he kept his face plain. It didn’t do to be too easily cowed. It could make these domineering types worse. No, Fenn must strike the right balance between deference and dignity, and never mind that he felt too rattled to be up to the task.
It wasn’t helping that it was still raining. Even though the moon was right there, clearly visible over the yard wall to the east. It was raining only on the tower. Fenn shivered.
That was right uncanny. It certainly looked as though Morgrim had stolen all the rain clouds like people said.
This whole situation was unimaginable. Perhaps Fenn was dead after all.
There was a change in the solid body of the horse beneath him. It was sinking, deflating like a pricked balloon. Its legs bowed and then slid outwards. Its body grew thin and its head nodded towards the ground. Fenn jumped off with a muttered curse and it sank into a sad pool of sacking on the wet cobbles at his feet.
Fenn scratched his beard. “Blame thing.”
There’d be no flying out of here on it now. Not that it had seemed inclined previously, but now he was definitely stuck. Perhaps that quelling look of Morgrim’s had been more than just a look. Perhaps it had been some sort of evil eye.
Fenn glanced up. “You do that? Sir.”
Morgrim made a scoffing noise that said, “of course I did, but your question is beneath me”. He was glaring at the horse with a sort of outraged curiosity. He looked like a bloke who did a lot of glaring. His eyebrows were two perfect curves, positively made for the job.
Fenn nudged the horse with the toe of his boot and it gave a plaintive whinny. So, it hadn’t gone lifeless. It just wasn’t standing up any more.
In a way, Fenn sympathised. His knees felt right shaky. But Morgrim didn’t seem about to strike him down with a bolt of lightning just yet. And if Fenn was flung in a dungeon for a few nights, well, it wouldn’t be pleasant, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Who knew what would happen to the horse, but he himself would at least be fed and watered. Probably. Regular prisons had to feed you these days, though it was quite possible that Morgrim was a law unto himself.
“Well. I know it’s an ugly great thing to have littering up your courtyard,” Fenn said, wiping a raindrop off the end of his nose. “And I’m right sorry to have bothered you, and I hope you’ll be a gentleman and forgive the nuisance. I’ll be off now, eh? I won’t trouble you again. I promise.”
“All in good time.”
Morgrim came down the stairs in a ripple of black silk. He moved like a snake and in spite of himself Fenn was impressed. The man’s grace was mesmerising. It was hard to look away. And not just because Morgrim was so bloody terrifying.
“I have questions for you, Fenn Todd.”
Fenn was hardly in a position to refuse. “Aye, sir. Ask away.”