The prisoner in the cell beside Granny Maberly’s snored like a dragon: Drunken snores, impossibly loud, a disharmony about them akin to six youngsters trying to play the fiddle for the first time. It was the sort of sound that could make a tom-cat’s hair stand on end, and if there had been any babies in Blackwater prison (which there sometimes were) they would have all howled at once.
Granny wished there were bars between the cells instead of solid stone walls, so she could poke the man, whoever he was, with her stick.
The Preceptor had let Granny keep her stick on the grounds of extreme old age. She wasn’t that old — at least, not in her own mind — and she could still nip around as spryly as any youngster (barring a touch of stiffness in the morning), but she had played up the doddering gait of extreme old age because, well, you never knew when you would need a stick.
The snoring continued. There was, unfortunately, nothing at all wrong with Granny Maberly’s hearing. Unlike the other prisoners and the two warders, she did not waste her breath shouting at the snorer. Instead, she found something useful to do, gathering up all the twigs mingled with the piles of straw mouldering on the cell floor.
She tied the twigs tightly around the end of her stick with one of her bodice laces. Then she swept the cell floor, billowing dust, dead mice and other unmentionable things right out into the aisle under her door.
Before she could finish, a stentorian voice roared: “’Ere! You! Stop that!”
A burly jailor rushed up to her cell door; then stopped in his tracks, staring down at her makeshift broom. Wild eyes met hers. He ran away, back into the gloom.
Granny was surprised, until she heard snatches of urgent conversation in between the snores.
“…magically turned into a broom ….” SNORE “…witch …” SNORE “… evil eye …” SNORE.
“She’s never a witch …” SNORE “… old Wagonwalker …” SNORE.
Granny thought fast. She reached down and yanked the binding loose from her makeshift broom-head. Twigs and straw collapsed about her feet. She scuffed them a bit, to make them look natural.
Two sets of heavy feet clomped up to her cell. Granny sat there demurely, hands folded in her lap, the stick resting beside her.
“’Strewth! The broom’s gone. What did I tell you? She turned it back into a stick!”
“Tell you what,” said the deeper-voiced one who had scoffed at the idea of her supposed powers, “If she can shut that idiot in cell two up, then I’ll believe you.”
His fellow warder took a shaky breath and spoke directly to Granny.
“Look, if you can stop him snoring, then we’ll know you ‘as magical powers, and we’ll let you go; no ‘ard feelings. Right?”
“Let me in with him, then. Won’t work, unless I’m in the same cell.”
“Alright — but no funny business. And no jabbing him with a pin, or anything like that. That would be cheating. It ‘as to be magical.”
They put her in the cell with the snoring prisoner. Granny had NO idea what to do … until she saw that the snorer was not only male, but a Talurian knight, reeking of wine and dressed in fine but dishevelled clothing.
“Remember, you can’t touch him,” warned warder number two.
Granny threw him a disgusted look, bent over and shouted, right in the man’s ear: Just one sinister and obviously magical word.“YMSAHABIM!”
The snoring ceased. The knight’s eyes flew open, and he sat bolt upright.
“Don’t worry, madam. We’ll just tell the Preceptor you died.”
“And that we chucked you in the river.”
“Merry Yuletide. Uh … no hard feelings, eh?”
Granny nodded, and left, watched with fear and envy by the other prisoners. She couldn’t help feeling, not just fortunate, but a teensy-wee bit smug.
After all, not many people know the Talurian word for “dragon”.