A Picnic on Dead Mountain

Just what happened to the city of Old Eagleholm after the events of the Cymrian Saga? For that matter, what happened to Idun Village? Centuries later, Idun’s most famous son returns home – with a few new friends…

It was a nice sunny day in Idun Village, and a cool breeze blew over the waters of Eagle Lake, where plenty of people were out boating or swimming. On the shore the village itself was reasonably busy – tourists roamed here and there, exploring the gift shops and the little museum, or buying fishing tackle. Sandy looked out through the window of the hired jeep, and thought it looked like a nice place. It didn’t, however, look remotely like what she had expected.

That’s where you were born?’ said Ando, as the vehicle came to a halt.

Arenadd switched off the engine and opened the door. ‘That bastard, stealing my parking space… what’s that, Ando?’

They got out of the jeep, and Sandy and the others clustered together, taking it all in. There were a few crows about, but that was the only remotely sinister or dramatic thing Sandy could see. Colourful flags fluttered on the eaves of the buildings, children were playing in the sand by the lake, and someone was flying a kite.

‘This is it?’ said Fellan. ‘This is seriously where you were born?’

Arenadd opened the back of the jeep and lifted out a large backpack. ‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ he said. ‘I was mortified the first time I saw it like this. My old village is a tourist trap.’ He slung the backpack on, then retrieved a large wide-brimmed hat and a wooden crate from the boot.

‘At least people are having a nice time,’ said Sandy, though she couldn’t hide her disappointment.

‘What a dump,’ Chessi muttered. ‘I hate places like this.’

‘Why in the gods’ names would you ever have even seen one, rich girl?’ said Fellan. Chessi thumped him on the arm.

‘All right, enough of that,’ Arenadd said loudly. ‘If you want to see something dramatic, then look up.’ He pointed.

Sandy looked up, and for the first time she saw it properly. A massive stone plateau, rising up behind the village. It was even bigger than she had thought it would be; a rugged pillar jutting into the sky, its sides rough with vegetation. Crows flew around it, as if it were a rotting corpse or a battlefield.

‘Woah,’ Ando said in an undertone. ‘Dead Mountain…’

‘Why in the gods’ names would anyone build a city on that thing?’ said Fellan, rubbing his arm.

Arenadd put his hat on, and tucked the crate under one arm. ‘Oh, anything’s possible with a large enough slave force,’ he said.

‘Yeah, but why?’

‘In ancient times they believed it was a special place,’ said Arenadd. ‘And that living on top of it would bring a city closer to Gryphus.’ He paused. ‘People in ancient times were rather stupid sometimes. Anyway, shall we?’

Sandy and the others tagged along after him as he left the carpark and headed into the village.

‘What’s with the crate, Arenadd?’ Chessi asked.

‘You’ll see,’ said Arenadd. ‘There’s something I want to show you before we go up to the mountain itself.’

Sandy looked around as they went into Idun, but still couldn’t see anything special or interesting about it. It could have been any one of the little run-down holiday resorts she had been to with her parents. But when they got to the centre of it, she finally saw something that did make it stand out.

In the middle of the paved village square, a statue stood. It was life-sized, carved out of black marble, and it was of a man who looked very familiar indeed: tall and lean, wearing a flowing robe, with long curly hair and a pointed chin-beard. The man was holding a sickle, and striking the inevitable dramatic pose. On the plinth beneath the statue was a carved inscription.

‘“King Arenadd Taranisäii, Born On This Site in the Year 2511”,’ Sandy read aloud. ‘“I Was Once A Slave, But Now I Roam Free”.’

‘I never actually said that,’ said Arenadd. He sniffed. ‘I can come up with much more interesting clichés, thankyou very much. But it’s quite a good likeness, wouldn’t you say?’

‘It’s amazing!’ said Ando. ‘Hey, you should go and stand next to it!’

‘Oh, I’ll do rather more than that,’ said Arenadd. He went over to the statue, and put the crate down beside it – it was the same size as the plinth. He took off his backpack and set it aside with his hat on top of it, then stepped up onto the crate. From there he examined the statue for a moment, then adopted the exact same pose – one arm by his side, the other folded against his upper chest with the elbow sticking out.

All four teenagers broke down in peals of helpless laughter.

‘Perfect!’ Ando wheezed. ‘Absolutely perfect!’

Sandy leaned on Chessi’s thick arm, forcing herself not to look up again – she didn’t think she could contain herself. ‘If only you had your sickle with you – then it’d be perfect.’

Passing tourists were looking curiously at them, and especially at Arenadd. He jumped down off the crate and picked up his bag. ‘Actually, I did bring it.’

The sickle emerged with a flash of polished metal. It wasn’t the original, of course, but it was an excellent replica. Arenadd flourished it. ‘Ahah! Now then, why don’t we all pose for a photo? I’m sure someone here would be happy to help us with that.’

‘Oh hell yes,’ said Ando.

Arenadd got back onto the crate, and beckoned to a woman who was gawping at them. ‘Excuse me? Yes, you – young lady, would you be prepared to take a picture of myself and my young friends here?’

‘Sure!’ said the woman. ‘Holy Griffus, you look exactly like him!’

Arenadd handed his phone to her. ‘I know – uncanny, isn’t it?’

‘And you even came in the right outfit,’ the woman added. She paused. ‘This isn’t a publicity stunt for a movie or something, is it?’

‘Yeah, totally,’ Fellan snickered.

‘Well, I have heard rumours of an Arenadd biopic being in development at the moment,’ said Arenadd. ‘But no – my friends and I are merely enjoying a day out in the countryside. Now – would you mind?’

Arenadd struck the pose again, and Sandy and the others grouped themselves in front of him and the statue, hiding the crate from view.

‘Oh, and by the way?’ Arenadd said from above them. ‘Anybody who pulls a face or makes a humorous gesture will not be getting an icecream – is that clear?’

Sandy, trying very hard not to lose it again, managed to say; ‘Okay.’

‘Excellent,’ said Arenadd. ‘Now everybody say “murder!”’

‘Murder!’ the four of them chorused – though it wasn’t really necessary to say anything to make them smile by this point. The tourist, who was laughing herself, took several pictures while the onlookers pointed and nudged each other, all very amused.

The woman came over and offered Arenadd his phone back. ‘Are these okay?’

Arenadd flicked through the pictures, and then showed them to Sandy and the others. ‘What do you think?’

‘I look fat,’ Chessi complained.

‘And I look brain-damaged,’ said Fellan.

‘That’s because you are, you smokehead,’ said Ando. He grinned. ‘I’m having this one framed.’

‘I take it that means you’re all satisfied?’ said Arenadd.

‘Yeah, it’s a great picture, Aren- er, it’s a great picture,’ said Sandy.

‘Excellent.’ Arenadd put the phone back in his pocket. ‘Thankyou, lass.’

‘You’re welcome.’ The tourist went back to join her friends.

‘Now then.’ Arenadd put the sickle away, and put his hat back on. ‘Shall we go and buy ourselves a frozen treat?’

‘You bet – I’m starving,’ said Ando.

Sandy couldn’t stop grinning as they left the statue behind. ‘So where were you actually born? Where was your house?’

‘Up that way,’ said Arenadd. ‘Over by the ice-cream stall, conveniently enough.’

They went up the slope of the hill by the lake, where there was indeed an ice cream vendor. There was no sign that anything else had ever been there.

‘Nobody ever bothered to excavate the site,’ Arenadd told them while they waited in line. ‘There was nothing worth destroying this grubby little resort to unearth. But my parents’ house is somewhere under our feet right now. I imagine it’s still full of boots.’

‘Your dad was a bootmaker, right?’ said Ando.

‘That’s correct. Cardock the bootmaker, son of Skandar Taranisäii. I was his only child.’ Arenadd paused. ‘Well, no, that’s not strictly true. I had two sisters, but both of them were stillborn. Very common in those days. Now, what does everyone want?’

Sandy picked a double scoop of caramel swirl – her favourite. Arenadd paid for the four of them, and they strolled on up the hill to enjoy the view while they ate them.

Arenadd, who hadn’t bought anything for himself, walked ahead as he generally did – not many people could keep pace with him, and it wasn’t just because of his long legs. ‘This is Snake Hill,’ he said. ‘I used to play up here when I was a little boy.’

‘It’s pretty,’ said Sandy.

It was – there were no buildings up here, and the only thing at the top of the hill was a lookout bench. Fellan and Chessi promptly claimed it for themselves, but Sandy didn’t mind. It was good to stretch her legs after the long drive to get here. The wind was stronger up here on the hilltop, and the brown grass stirred and rippled. Somewhere a bird was chirping.

The only blot on any of this was Dead Mountain. She looked up at it again, and thought that there was something menacing about it – something gloomy and grim, warning her away.

She shivered and went back to her icecream, which was very good.

‘So how are we going to get up there, Arenadd?’ said Ando, hastily catching a dribble from his own icecream.

‘Easily enough,’ said Arenadd. ‘There’s a ski lift that can take us directly to the top.’

‘Um, why?’ said Chessi. ‘It doesn’t snow here, does it?’

‘Very rarely,’ said Arenadd. ‘Nor would Dead Mountain work as a ski slope – too steep. But, you see, at one point people were allowed to go up there; it’s the whole reason Idun Village was turned into a holiday park. But in the end the Simran Historical Society – of which I was a member, by the way – managed to have it declared an important historical site and therefore off-limits to the public.’

‘So we’ll be trespassing,’ said Fellan.

‘In a manner of speaking,’ said Arenadd. He adjusted his hat. ‘However, as an important historical figure, I’m giving you a special dispensation to go up there.’

‘Well that’s a relief,’ said Fellan. ‘We wouldn’t want to break the law. You know, again.’

‘At least this time we won’t have anyone shooting at us,’ Ando pointed out.

Sandy grimaced at the memory. ‘Yeah, thank gods.’

They finished their ice creams while Arenadd regarded the mountain, and once everyone was ready he led them off toward it. They hiked over the rough grassland, the wind tugging at their hair, and Sandy thought she could hear it as well – a low, desolate moaning. She shivered again.

Sure enough, as they got closer she could see the thin line of the ski-lift’s wires running up the mountainside. At its base there was a small collection of buildings, all of them now boarded up.

Arenadd regarded them as they headed for the ski-lift dock. ‘Ironic, really,’ he said. ‘Now this place has been abandoned twice. And I had a hand in it both times.’

The doors to the dock were boarded shut, but Arenadd gave them a good solid kick and they promptly caved in. Inside everything was dark and dusty. Faded posters hung on the walls, advertising package holidays, and old leaflets lay scattered over the concrete floor. There was a ski-lift capsule docked by the ticket booth, swinging gently in the wind.

Sandy eyed it balefully. ‘How are we going to make it work? Won’t they have cut off the electricity?’

Arenadd took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and wiped some of the dust off the capsule’s windows. ‘They have, but there’s an emergency backup generator,’ he said. ‘Nobody wants to risk being stranded on Dead Mountain. It happened to me once, you know. Nothing but myself, a corpse, and a dead griffin. I wound up having to eat griffin steaks to survive.’

Fellan pulled a face. ‘Seriously?’

‘Yes – they’re surprisingly good eating once you take all the feathers off. Now then…’ Arenadd went to the edge of the platform, looked underneath it, and then hopped through the gap and disappeared.

Sandy went over to see what he was doing, and saw he’d gone under the platform and was now opening his backpack.

‘You just wait by the capsule,’ he called up to her. ‘I should be able to get this thing running in a minute.’

Sandy and the others wandered idly around the dock, while faint clangings and the odd irritable muttering came from under their feet. Sandy caught the sharp smell of petrol, and then a rumbling as the generator wheezed into life. Arenadd reappeared a moment later, wiping his hands on an oily rag. ‘There!’ he said, as the lights suddenly flickered on. One of the bulbs exploded in a shower of sparks, but the lift capsule lit up as well, and a humming came from the motor.

‘Hey, I didn’t know you were a mechanic!’ said Ando.

‘I’m not,’ said Arenadd. ‘But I did help to repair a generator back in my army days. I knew it would come in handy one day.’ He opened the capsule door, which creaked loudly in protest. ‘Let’s go.’

Sandy got in – it was gloomy and smelled stale. Chessi followed, and plonked herself down on one of the padded seats, which gave up a puff of dust. Ando stayed standing, trying to look out through the grim-encrusted windows.

Fellan hesitated. ‘Are you sure it’s safe?’

‘It won’t fall off the wire, no,’ said Arenadd. ‘And if the engine breaks down, well… I suppose we shall be forced to call for someone to come and rescue us. But the odds of actually being hurt are extremely low.’

‘Well, okay.’ Fellan got in.

Arenadd pressed a button set into the side of the ticket booth, then hopped in after him. The capsule lurched, and then started to move. Arenadd closed the door and sat down with his backpack at his feet. To Sandy’s surprise, her ancestor looked grim.

‘Is everything all right?’ she asked him.

Arenadd glanced at her. ‘I’m fine. I’m just not going to enjoy this very much.’

‘Why not?’ said Ando. The dirt was falling away from the windows as they climbed higher, and he had already pressed his face up against the nearest one. ‘The view’s already amazing!’

Arenadd, however, was very pointedly not looking at it. ‘Yes, I’m sure it is.’

Sandy nudged him. ‘What’s the matter, Arenadd?’

Arenadd rubbed his forehead. ‘Very well, if you must know… I suffer from a crippling fear of heights. Have done since I was a boy.’

Ando turned. ‘What? But you’re a griffiner! I’ve seen you fly!’

‘Yes – it was difficult to overcome my phobia well enough to fly on griffinback without throwing up,’ said Arenadd. ‘But cliffs and mountains and so forth still bother me, and frankly I think I can be excused for that. I did, after all, fall to my death from the top of his very mountain. I hope you can forgive me if I’m a little edgy while we’re up there.’

Sandy gave him a hug. ‘It’s okay. I understand. Are you sure you want to go up there now?’

Arenadd patted her on the shoulder, somewhat awkwardly. ‘It’s a little late for second thoughts. I’ll be fine. And you should see this.’

The view was indeed spectacular, and became more so as the lift climbed higher. Sandy could see Idun Village, and Eagle Lake – if anything it looked even bigger now she could see the whole thing. And she could see the plains that spread out beyond it, all grey and brown. The sky seemed vast, with so little between itself and the land. And this was where her family had begun. Here, where the city of Old Eagleholm had once stood.

Ando saw her expression as she stood beside him at the window. ‘It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?’ he said in a low voice.

‘Yeah,’ said Sandy. ‘It is.’ She couldn’t think of anything else to say.

‘If it’s any comfort to you, you’re not alone,’ Arenadd said from behind her.

Sandy looked back at him. He was still sitting down, apparently contemplating his own long-fingered hands. ‘I know I’m not alone,’ said Sandy. ‘You’re here, and so are-,’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ Arenadd interrupted. ‘You still feel unworthy to be my descendent.’

‘Sort of,’ Sandy admitted.

‘But as I said, you’re not alone,’ said Arenadd. ‘Your ancestor Cadfael Taranisäii never felt worthy to be a Taranisäii at all, not even in his later years when he had accomplished a great deal. As a boy he ran away from home and tried to start a new life under a false identity, purely because he thought he was too worthless to deserve his family name. And me – I feel the same way sometimes. Unworthy of being what I am.’ The hint of a smile showed in his black eyes. ‘Whenever I revealed myself to someone, once they’d calmed down they would start to look a little, well, disappointed. I could just about hear what they were thinking – “I found the great Arenadd, and he’s… a grumpy alcoholic jerk”.’

‘“I found the great Arenadd and all I got was this stupid t-shirt”,’ said Fellan.

Even Arenadd laughed. ‘Yes, that would fit too.’

‘Well I think you’re the coolest person I’ve ever met,’ Ando said loudly.

‘Me too,’ said Sandy.

The lift lurched to a sudden halt, ending the conversation there, and Arenadd quickly got up and opened the door. It opened onto a second dock, and he jumped out onto the concrete. The others hastily followed before the lift could move away again, but Arenadd kicked open the ticket booth and smacked a large button marked EMERGENCY STOP, and the whole thing juddered into silence.

‘There,’ said Arenadd. ‘That should stop the generator from wasting too much fuel while we’re up here.’

‘I hope no-one saw the lift moving,’ said Chessi.

‘But who cares if they did?’ said Fellan. ‘What’re they gonna do, call the guard?’

‘I doubt they would do even that,’ said Arenadd. ‘The tendency of people to insist upon minding their own business saves a lot of trouble.’

‘That’s true,’ said Sandy.

There was another locked door here, but Arenadd kicked that down as well, and they stepped out onto rough grass and stone.

Sandy looked around, blinking in the light. It was chilly up here, and there was very little vegetation around. Much of the ground was bare rock, with only the odd tuft of grass growing in the cracks. It was too high up here for trees. With nothing to hold it back, the wind blew harder than ever – howling among the ruins.

And there were ruins here – Sandy saw them at once. There were no buildings left standing, but she could see the rubble where they had once been. The streets still existed – pathways cut into the rock of the plateau, with gutters at their edges. With them, it was much easier to guess at the layout of the city.

Arenadd stood by the dock, his hair and robe blowing in the wind, and heaved a slow and weary sigh. ‘Home sweet home,’ he said. ‘Welcome to Old Eagleholm.’

‘It’s so quiet here,’ Ando said in a hushed voice. ‘I mean… too quiet. It feels like there’s something watching us.’

‘It is,’ said Arenadd, as solemn as Sandy had ever seen him. ‘This place is full of ghosts. I’m glad they made it off-limits. Dead Mountain is cursed.’

‘You believe in that stuff?’ said Chessi, with surprise.


‘Really?’ said Chessi. ‘I couldn’t have guessed that. You’re the most cynical person I know. You’re even more cynical than Fellan.’

‘Yeah, you are,’ said Fellan. ‘And you’re a huge atheist as well. But you believe in curses?’

‘Not as a general rule, but here I do,’ said Arenadd. ‘Because I was the one who cursed this place.’ He turned to look at them. ‘But come… let me show it to you.’

Sandy followed him, shivering in the wind. She wished she’d brought a thicker jacket. Arenadd walked along the streets, shoulders hunched, the four teenagers at his heels. Most of the ruins here were wood – or the remains of wood. It had fallen apart by now, crumbling into pulp, which was now halfway toward turning into dirt.

Arenadd stopped at one of the heaps, and scooped some of the pulp aside. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Look at that.’

Sandy crouched to look. There was more wood underneath, but it was better preserved. She could make out the shape of a beam.

‘You see the charcoal?’ said Arenadd. ‘This place burned down.’

‘Do you know what building it was?’ asked Sandy.

‘Not this one, no.’ Arenadd straightened up. ‘I think this might have been the artisan’s quarter. Blacksmiths and jewellers and such. But let’s see what else we can find…’

They moved on, and Arenadd began to point things out. ‘There,’ he said. ‘That was all warehouses once upon a time. I took a nasty fall from the roof of one when I was twelve. That’s how I met my dear friend Bran Redguard. He found me lying hurt and carried me back to the Eyrie. And there – that was Gern’s house. He was another friend of mine, but… ah, he died before I did.’

Sandy stayed close to him. ‘Where was your house?’

‘We should be getting close to it now,’ said Arenadd. ‘Or at least as close to it as we can ever get.’ He pointed toward the edge of the plateau. ‘As you’ve probably heard, the space up here was enlarged once upon a time. Massive wooden platforms, attached to the stone. They’ve all fallen down now, but over that way – that was where the Hatchery once was. The wreckage is somewhere at the base of the plateau by now, buried under the grass.’

‘Did anyone ever try to dig it up?’ said Chessi.

‘There was an archaeological dig here, yes,’ said Arenadd. ‘I should know; I was one of the research students who came along. It ended badly for me, I’m afraid.’

‘Why, what happened?’ said Sandy.

Arenadd sighed. ‘I shouldn’t have come in the first place – I knew it was a risk. When we dug up the remains of the Eyrie and I saw the bones being unearthed… there were so many of them. Hundreds of human skulls, all through the city, and griffin skulls as well, and rusted swords and coins, and… I couldn’t take it. It was seeing my whole life – my mortal life – laid out before me in ruins.’

A terrible sadness gnawed at Sandy’s heart. ‘So what did you do?’

‘I broke down in tears and had to leave the dig,’ said Arenadd. ‘I refused to go back afterward.’

‘This place is so depressing,’ Fellan mumbled. ‘I wish we hadn’t come.’

‘Never mind; we’ll still have a nice picnic before we go back down,’ said Arenadd. He sounded brisk, but Sandy could sense the sadness that must still be troubling him. She said nothing, but she kept close by him, silently reminding him that she was there.

A short time later they reached what Arenadd said had been the market district, which he had once managed in his old position as Master of Trade.

‘I loved the marketplace,’ he said. ‘When I was a boy living in the Eyrie, I snuck down here to buy a comb. It was the first thing I ever bought for myself.’ He smiled wistfully. ‘I really loved that comb. It was a priceless treasure as far as I was concerned… I wonder what happened to it?’

‘Wait,’ said Fellan. ‘Your favourite belonging was a comb? No way.’

Arenadd pulled a strand of immaculately groomed hair away from his eyes, and tucked it back under his hat. ‘That’s enough of your cheek, lad. Ah, now, here we are – my house was here. Or rather, out there. It was on the wooden platform too, so it’s long gone by now.’

Sandy followed his gaze, and tried to imagine what it might have looked like. ‘What was it like?’

‘Nothing special,’ said Arenadd. ‘Just a small place, with a nest attached for Eluna. My own half of it only had one room. I had a little wood stove in there, and a table, and a crate I used as a chair. I didn’t have a bed – I used to sleep in a hammock. Very easy to fall out of in the middle of the night.’ Arenadd paused, and his lightless black eyes grew even harder and colder than they already were. ‘My home was the first to burn,’ he said. ‘My enemies set it alight, and it burned to the ground on the night I was dragged off to prison. And when I came back for my revenge… well, I did to them what had been done to me. They destroyed my home, so I destroyed theirs. Come on – let me show you.’

Sandy went with him, though with some reluctance now. The others were looking as grim-faced as she must be; this had stopped being fun some time ago.

Arenadd took them to the middle of the city, where there was a huge heap of broken stone. No, not just stone – masonry. There had been a stone building here once upon a time. And Sandy could see the black stains on the fallen blocks. Fire had destroyed this building too.

‘The Eyrie,’ she breathed.

‘Indeed,’ said Arenadd. ‘The seat of the rulers of Old Eagleholm.’ He stood by the rubble, with a distant expression on his scarred face. ‘All I ever wanted was to live here in this Eyrie. It was my great ambition – to be accepted as the griffiner I was. I was prepared to do whatever it took. Instead, I destroyed the Eyrie. The fire that night completely gutted the building – hundreds of griffins and griffiners perished in the flames…’ As he spoke his voice began to change, his accent and words shifting into the archaic dialect he sometimes used. ‘And in that one night of blood and fire, the heart of Eagleholm was torn away. And though there were some who sought to replace it, from that time onward the city was doomed – cursed by the Shadow That Walks, and condemned to die, as I was condemned. The griffins fled, the people fought amongst themselves, and their neighbours came to take what they could. Their greed tore Eagleholm and its lands apart, and there was war in the South. And all the while the Dark Lord Arenadd was free to wreak havoc and destruction in the North, while his enemies were too crippled by their own vanity to have a hope of stopping him. But here…’ He kicked a chunk of stone. ‘Here is where it began – with the first kill, and the first city thrown down. This… this was my revenge…’

Silence fell.

‘That was epic,’ Ando said eventually.

‘Shut up!’ Chessi hissed at him.

Arenadd appeared to come back to himself. ‘Uh… sorry. That probably sounded rather grim.’

‘It did,’ said Sandy. ‘Are you all right, Arenadd?’

‘More or less.’ Arenadd took off his hat and lowered his head toward the remains of the Eyrie, and Sandy thought she heard him whisper, barely audibly – ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘I can’t believe you destroyed a whole city all by yourself,’ said Ando.

Arenadd put his hat back on. ‘The civil war afterward helped,’ he said. ‘And in fact… I didn’t actually think the whole Eyrie would burn down. I lit the fire to cover my escape after I murdered Lord Rannagon. But I hoped it would burn down. I was so full of rage… so full of hate… I wanted everyone in the city to die.’ He turned away from the ruins. ‘Come on,’ he said abruptly. ‘There’s something else I want to show you. And this one has a much more cheerful story behind it.’

‘I think anything else would be more cheerful than that,’ said Chessi.

‘Granted,’ Arenadd said as they moved off again. ‘I can be such a downer, can’t I?’

‘Yeah, you can,’ said Ando. ‘But Arenadd?’

‘Yes, lad?’

Ando hesitated. ‘Can you… uh… keep doing that medieval thing? It’s actually pretty cool.’

Arenadd paused, and then shrugged. ‘As you wish, young Andoral. Now, we must away, for there is a place which we must visit most urgently. There we shall enjoy our repast, and I shall favour you each with a gift.’

Ando beamed. ‘Yeah, that’s it!’

Sandy had to admit it felt appropriate. She walked by Ando’s side, glad to be leaving the Eyrie ruins behind, and as Arenadd spoke on it was easier to imagine what this place must have been like once upon a time. Everybody who lived here must have talked like this.

‘Behold, the ruins of what was once the home of my beloved Flell Kaelynsen,’ Arenadd said obligingly. ‘She was named for the butterfly, for that is what “Flell” once meant, and in her garden she raised caterpillars. Every spring that garden came alive with flells in every colour, and she and I would sit beneath a tree and speak of a future that would never come to pass. I harboured a secret plan to ask her for her hand in marriage, but alas… I did not have the courage.’

‘She dumped you,’ Chessi said helpfully.

‘As others abandoned me, so did she,’ said Arenadd, with an irritated glance at her. ‘Yet she bore my child – my sweet Laela. I miss her to this day. Now, my trusty companions – our goal lies in sight. Soon we may rest.’

They stopped again, at another heap of rubble. There was absolutely no way to tell what it might have been.

Arenadd gestured at it. ‘Here it lies,’ he said. ‘You stand above what remains of the place where I was most happy. Here my friends and I did meet and enjoy many a – do I have to keep doing this, Ando?’

‘Not if you don’t want to,’ said Ando.

‘Thankyou.’ Arenadd put his pack down. ‘Ahem. This building here was a tavern called the Sign of the Red Rat. Bran and I used to go drinking here, with some of the other guards, and Gern, and sometimes Flell would join us. I got into a rather nasty barfight here once, after some bastard decided to harass me. I would have broken a chair over his ugly head if Bran hadn’t stopped me. Anyway, I thought this would be an appropriate place for lunch.’

‘Great, my feet are killing me,’ said Fellan. He sat down cross-legged on the edge of the stone street.

Arenadd crouched down and opened his backpack. He brought out five folding camp stools which he set up on the street, and while Sandy and her friends gratefully sat down he retrieved a large stone block from the ruins of the tavern – lifting it without any apparent effort – and put it down in front of them. ‘I think this should work as a table,’ he said.

‘What, you want to eat off a piece of Old Eagleholm?’ Ando exclaimed. ‘Isn’t that a bit… I dunno, disrespectful?’

Arenadd gave the stone an affectionate pat. ‘It’s a piece of the old watering hole – I can’t think of a better use for it.’ He took a blanket out of his pack and draped it over the makeshift table, then laid out the food on top of that: bread, cheese, smoked armourfish, pickled onions, and cold rabbit pie.

‘That looks great,’ said Sandy. ‘I wish I’d had time to make some Taian fishballs, though.’

‘Never mind,’ said Arenadd. ‘I’m sure this will suffice. But what kind of meal would it be with nothing to wash it down?’ He reached into his bag again, and brought out five bottles, which he proudly presented to them. ‘Behold! After all this time, it lives again!’

Sandy took the one offered to her. It was still cold. The label bore a picture of an old-fashioned pub sign: shaped like a shield, with a picture of a red rat holding a mug of beer.

‘Rat Beer!’ Arenadd said cheerfully. ‘Made using the ancient recipe which was recovered from the records of my time. The very same beer my friends and I drank here at the Red Rat. It’s a screamingly expensive import these days, I should add, so be sure to savour it.’

‘Cool,’ said Ando. ‘Have you got a bottle opener?’

Arenadd paused. ‘Uh… no, actually. But never mind.’ He took Ando’s beer back, and effortlessly pulled the cap off.

Once hers was open, Sandy had a taste. It was pretty good – yeasty, and surprisingly thick.

Arenadd raised his own bottle. ‘Waise heil!’

Five bottles clinked together.

‘To Old Eagleholm,’ said Chessi.

‘To the friends that lived here,’ said Arenadd. ‘Bran and Flell and Gern and Danthirk, and that young fool Arren Cardockson.’

‘To Arren!’ said Sandy.

They ate, and drank, and once Arenadd had finished his beer he unearthed his own lunch: the inevitable bottle of expensive whiskey. But at some nudging from Sandy he crunched on a pickled onion as well. ‘I don’t need to eat any more, you know.’

‘And you don’t need to drink either,’ said Fellan. ‘You can quit any time you want.’

‘Naturally,’ said Arenadd. ‘Hmm, these onions are pretty good, though.’

Sandy looked out at the view. ‘So that was Dead Mountain. Did anyone ever get away from here except for you?’

‘Oh, plenty of people escaped,’ said Arenadd. ‘The downfall of the city didn’t happen overnight. Many of the survivors went to Withypool, my friend Bran included. Others who stayed behind eventually went further South under the leadership of a woman named Liantha. They founded New Eagleholm. Not that I’ve ever been there. I’ve made a point of avoiding it, in fact.’

‘Why’s that?’ asked Chessi.

‘Well, largely it’s because they still burn me there in effigy every year on the anniversary of the fire here in Old Eagleholm,’ Arenadd said evenly. ‘They’re not screaming racists any more, but I still doubt I would be welcome.’

‘Ugh,’ said Fellan. ‘Those jerks. I heard they used to lynch Northerners like us.’

‘Indeed they did,’ said Arenadd. ‘Sorry about that. I did make our race rather unpopular down in this part of the country.’

Sandy tried to imagine what it would be like to see a mob of people burning an effigy of herself. Her mind rebelled. ‘That’s what hate does,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ said Arenadd. He gestured at the desolation around them. ‘Hatred creates nothing – it knows only the way of destruction. Perhaps, at least, this was an opportunity to be reminded of that.’

‘I’m not sorry we came up here,’ said Sandy. ‘It’s depressing, but I wanted to see it. Everything began here.’

‘Indeed – and everything ended here as well,’ said Arenadd. ‘But you know how the saying goes: every ending is also a beginning. Even death may be a doorway.’

‘Look out – he’s going medieval on us again,’ said Fellan. He groped in his pocket, and unearthed his pipe and a little packet of whiteleaf.

‘No, I’m just being pretentious,’ said Arenadd. ‘There’s a difference.’

‘But not much of one,’ said Chessi.

‘No, perhaps not.’

Sandy said nothing. She looked back at the ruins of the Eyrie again, then at Arenadd, who sat sipping his whiskey and contemplating something or other – the past, most likely. It was so strange, even now, to be here with him. Once she had just been another girl, stuck in highschool with her friends. But now she was here – in the ruins of a medieval city, with the very man who had destroyed it. And it, and him, were her inheritance. This was what it meant, to be descended from Arenadd. Whether she liked it or not, Old Eagleholm was in her blood, and so was Arenadd.

She looked at him again, and he caught her eye and offered her a smile. ‘A copper for your thoughts, Sandy.’

‘I was just thinking… that I’m lucky to be here,’ said Sandy. ‘With you.’

‘Is that so?’ said Arenadd. ‘That’s a nice coincidence, because I was just thinking exactly the same thing.’

‘Really?’ said Sandy.

‘Yes, but I wasn’t only thinking of you,’ said Arenadd. ‘I was thinking of all four of you. My friends.’ He paused. ‘I… I don’t really deserve to have any friends. Not after what I’ve done. That’s why I’m lucky.’

‘Don’t be down on yourself, Arenadd,’ said Ando. ‘You’re the most awesome person I know.’

‘Other than me,’ Fellan put in.

‘Well, yeah, obviously other than you,’ said Ando, nudging him in the ribs.

‘Oh dear – we aren’t going to have another argument about who is the most awesome, are we?’ said Arenadd, with a wink at Sandy. ‘I suspect it would last all day.’

‘No, we’re not,’ said Ando. ‘You win, Arenadd. I mean, anyone who can snap a gaming controller in half automatically wins any awesome-off.’

‘And so can anyone who poses with his own statue in full medieval costume,’ Chessi put in.

‘And goes through the history textbooks and writes corrections in the margins,’ said Fellan.

‘And makes sarcastic remarks at the TV every time a documentary about medieval times comes on,’ said Ando.

‘And saved all our lives,’ said Sandy.

Arenadd was definitely smiling now – a proper smile, which wasn’t common for him. ‘All right, now it makes sense. Thankyou.’ He tipped the now-empty whiskey bottle upside-down. ‘Damn, and I’m still sober too. I should have brought another. Oh well.’

‘We can pick up some more when we get back,’ said Sandy.

Arenadd stuffed the empty bottle into his backpack. ‘Indeed we can. It’s been a rather nice day out, hasn’t it?’

‘I’m sure as sunrise not going to forget it,’ said Ando. ‘I’m having lunch in a medieval ruin with a man who’s more than six hundred years old.’

‘Yeah,’ said Chessi. ‘So much for a normal life.’

‘I wouldn’t want one,’ said Sandy.

‘That’s just as well,’ said Arenadd. ‘Because nobody who spends any time with me ever has a normal life.’

Sandy grinned at him. ‘That suits me.’


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