Return to White Hound fan-fiction
Disclaimer: this is a not-for-profit tribute to the work of the late Diana Wynne Jones
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For those who have come here because you are following me as a writer, rather than because you have read Hexwood (although if you haven't, you really should), a summary of the background to the story can be found here.
"I don't know if I can believe in reincarnation or not. If it were true, though," he said tightly, turning his face away, "it might explain "
"No," Vierran snapped, "it damned well doesn't mean that you did something in a past life to deserve what about your friends, and all the other Servants who never are you going to tell me that they deserved it?"
With a flash of pain, Mordion thought of Kessalta of kind, gentle Kessalta who was killed because she could not kill and shook his head dumbly.
"I realize," Vierran said more gently, "that thinking yourself uniquely sinful is a difficult habit to break but you're really not, you know. Even if you can't see a pretty girl without flirting with her" she added under her breath, and Mordion flashed her the ghost of one of his brilliant smiles, his impressive monobrow lifting like wings.
"I've always considered that to be one of the least of my sins...."
Vierran snorted, her lips quirking, and then looked back down at the article she was reading. "They say small children sometimes remember past lives, before they've learned to forget them...."
"I wouldn't know. I wasn't allowed to remember anything that wasn't authorised."
"You remembered me, though, my voice in your mind maybe we had that connection because we'd known each other before?"
"Maybe." He grimaced. "I find it quite hard enough to keep track of who knew whom when in this life, what with finding out that when we were children we were talking to the King as he was living what, fifteen hundred years ago, Earth-time? and the person I thought was my sort-of son turning out to be my however-many-greats grandfather whom I'd been talking to almost as far back, and then Fitela you realize that if we knew them in some putative past life it might have been more recent than the period in which they were psychically in touch with us now...?" He lounged to his feet, restless and graceful. "It makes my head hurt, if it doesn't yours. I'm just going to go check on Kess and make sure she's sleeping OK in the new bed."
Their daughter, newly advanced from a cot to what she felt was an impressively grown-up proper child-sized bed, was drowsing peacefully, but as he entered the room she roused slightly. "Man Daddy", she murmured, holding her face up for a kiss, and he brushed his lips across her smooth caramel-coloured forehead and then stood looking down at her.
It had seemed the obvious thing to do at the time, he remembered, to name his first daughter after his first and dearest friend (except the Girl Child except the Girl Child, the voice in his head who had preserved his sanity, which he understood was the reverse of what voices in people's heads usually did, and then turned up in person to chivvy him into something like a functioning human being with an actual honest-to-your-deity-of-choice sex-life), but as he looked at her the memory of how he had last seen the young girl whose namesake she was, torn open and twisting in screaming agony until the only mercy he could give her was to terminate her himself, rose up like a red curtain which obscured the image of his sleeping child, and he heard Reigner One's grandfatherly chuckle at his shoulder this was all he had had for a father and he knew, he knew
The creeping knowledge of what Orm Pender had had planned for him, for Vierran, was a treacherous undertow drawing him back into absolute horror. If not for Yam and its personal vendetta he would have been forced to rape Vierran, his only surviving friend, for the old man's amusement and then she would have been taken away from him, strapped to a table in a laboratory and force-fed drugs to make her litter, then ripped apart and their babies condemned to be brainwashed slaves, to suffer as he had done: this baby, his innocent Kess, would have been tortured and turned into not into a monster, surely not Kess, tucked up with her favourite soft toy and her mop of black curls, and for a moment he had the glimmerings of an idea that perhaps Vierran was right and perhaps he had been innocent and not-a-monster too but the pain was too much, it hurt like swords in his heart, in his brain, and he had to flex and change to escape from it, from the cold sick shock of a grief which was literally unbearable
With the last vestiges of sense left to him he pulled himself in, a hard ball of pain, into something small enough not to wreck the room.
His daughter roused again, sleepily. "Dragon Daddy" she murmured, patting the pony-sized monstrosity on the nose, then as her father laid his fanged and spike-fringed head down on her bed with a sigh she curled up against his warmth, including him in the same impartial embrace as her stuffed tiger. "I 'member," she said drowsily, so faintly he almost missed hearing it, "when you were a little boy jus' like Takki 'n' Mot nex' door, 'n' you use to tell me stories then too. I 'member you had to kill me because the bad man was hurting me, but then I got sent back round and made up all new again...."
The "thousand-yard stare" is a blank, unfocussed look often seen in the eyes of soldiers suffering from exhaustion or PTSD. And it seemed to me that as well as being a manifestation of Mordion's trauma and pain, the dragon would eventually become a release from it: a form in which he could escape into sensation and simple beast-thoughts, and be petted.