Tansy Rayner Roberts
1. With Snow Comes Beginnings.
Part 3 of 4
By the time Aragon was brought to the Imperial Receiving Room he had been bathed, shaved, scrubbed, garbed and scented with some peculiar perfume that a page had managed to dump into his bathwater before he could prevent it.
His new clothes came equipped with a dagger and a sword. Admittedly the sword was not a proper rapier, just an ornate knitting needle of the kind carried by courtiers. Nevertheless, it was sharp and in one piece. It was better than nothing. They had given him a dagger, too. If the new Emperor was as stupid as this suggested, things might not turn out too badly.
Aragon found himself pushed through a swinging sequined curtain into a room which had been tiled in ebony. "Aragon Silversword, former Knight of the Unmentionable Garment and Champion of the Mocklore Empire!" roared a little liveried servant with a huge voice. Aragon's eyebrow flickered in annoyance.
The chamber was empty. A huge circle of mirrored tiles lay in the centre of the floor, surrounded by the glossy ebony. Aragon moved forward. An emerald curtain at the back of the chamber slid aside to reveal a silken woman reclining upon a chaise longue of purple feathers.
"Lady Talle of Zibria, 38th Emperor of Mocklore and Holder of the Sacred Bauble of Chiantrio!" bellowed the servant.
The Lady Emperor acknowledged this with a slight movement of her half-lidded eyes. Aragon walked across the mirrored tiles, his new boots ringing sharply against the glass. Very deliberately, he looked the Lady Emperor up and down as if she were a kitchen wench.
Far from being affronted at his insolence, Lady Talle preened and stretched, enjoying his eyes on her. Then she tilted her head, and purred, "So you are the one."
"That's what they tell me," replied Aragon crisply.
"You betrayed your Emperor, throwing the Empire into chaos and confusion. Indirectly, you are responsible for the position I now hold."
"You're welcome," replied Aragon tonelessly.
She stood silently, moving around him as she spoke. "You intrigue me. I want you to be my Champion."
"I betrayed the last Emperor I championed."
"I know," said Talle with a secret smile. "You will not betray me."
His eyes lit up. "Now, there's a challenge."
Kassa stepped towards the bar. A few serious drinkers slid their stools automatically aside to make room for her. She was that sort of person. Sparky the barman was suddenly very studiously polishing a glass. "You'll be leaving us, then."
"I expect so," said Kassa, toying with a bracelet. She wore a lot of jewellery. Necklaces, anklets, rings, spangles and bangles. Lobe-rings, toe-rings, beaded buttons. Anything that glittered. She eyed the package suspiciously. It was about the size of six large fists, and an awkward shape under the thick cloth binding. "Who sent it?"
Sparky grunted, and pushed the package in her direction. "Says on the back 's from Vicious Bigbeard Daggersharp of the Dread Redhead."
Kassa's expression changed and in one swift moment she grabbed the package, swept over to the door of the tavern, kicked it open and threw the package out into the snow. There was a heavy bang as the parcel exploded. Acrid smoke poured into the tavern, and she tugged the door shut to keep out the stench. "Sorry about that, Sparky. My darling daddy discovered troll thunderdust a few years back and now he uses it for everything. He shaves with it, salts his food with it, and unfortunately he seals his letters with it. He sent a load of his laundry to me a few months ago, and it ended up plastered all over the Skullcaps."
Sparky looked sidelong at her. "You're Bigbeard's daughter?"
"Don't spread it around."
Sparky then gave her the closest thing to a grin she had ever seen on his dismal, moon-shaped face. "So that's why his ship's called the Dread Redhead."
Kassa touched a hand to her suitably heroic blood-red hair. "Something like that. See you later, Sparky. I've got a package to scrape up from the pavement." She wrenched her overdress and cloak back on over her scanty stage costume before heading out into the night of early winter. It was bitter outside, with the promise of becoming even colder as the night dragged on. The bits of parcel that were scattered across the melted snow were black and soggy now, no longer hissing with thunderdust.
Amazingly, the contents of the package were still intact. It was a statue of some sort, still warm from the explosion. Kassa turned the piece over in her hands, slowly. She took careful notice of the hideously gaping mouth, the enlarged beaky nose and the large menacing eyes beneath a craggy brow, all meticulously carved in dull grey stone. It was a short, squat, rather repulsive gargoyle. Bigbeard's taste in objets d'art had obviously not improved over the years.
Wedged into the gargoyle's mouth was a lump of parchment. Kassa prised it out and unfolded it. There, scratched happily in a childish hand which clearly stated that it had better things to do than write letters, was a message from her father.
To: Mistress Kassa Daggersharp, probly in Dreadnought, Mocklore Empire etceterer, singin' and dancin' somewhere daft.
From: Cap'n Vicious Bigbeard Daggersharp, Scourge of the Purple Seas, Master of the Dread Redhead and Winner of the Violent and Truly Orrible Sea & Sword Olympics three years running.
Wot ho, wench. If you is reading this, I am ded. Tarra then. See you in the underwurld. I'le be in the cave with the most rum in it. Enclsed is one gargole. Take care of it and DONT DROP IT YOU STUPID BINT. Doom lurks.
Now I am ded, you is the only proper Daggersharp left (except for Bloody Dangerous Pointybeard Daggersharp, Roaring Redbeard Daggersharp and Gormless Barechin Tim [hes your third cousin, legs removed] an they dont count cos theyr a load of girls blousies. It is your pirattical duty to get a gang together and wreak havoc. The silver I nicked from the Splashdance will help you. Braided Bones will eksplain everything. Get our Mollys useless sprog to help you wif the crew. And shuvels.
Yo ho ho, etc, Your Dad. [deceased]
PS: Dont marry a McHagrty or I will haunt you like the bastard I am.
Chapter 1 of Splashdance Silver|
originally published by Transworld Publishers,
September 1998. Appears with the kind
permission of Transworld Publishers and the author.
©1998 Tansy Rayner Roberts