Ganhook’s Beard spoke to me last night. I wasn’t going to write about it, but it didn’t turn out well for me, and blogging about it is the easiest way to let Aisling know what happened without telling her face to face. I want to be far away when she finds out.
I don’t want to hear her laugh.
I was in Ganhook’s ‘relaxation’ library. Instead of books, the shelves are crammed with brown glass spell jars containing copies of some of the spells Ganhook had created over the centuries. Ganhook says being surrounded by the spells relaxes him.
Aisling had gone off to the armoury with Shinytop to check out some old sword. I was too tired to go. We’d had a long boring day studying magic theory, so I preferred to chill by the big open fire. Ganhook was dozing in his armchair across from me.
The tap of rain off the windows lulled me into a semi-doze. Then, as I was drifting into a dream about being in a spell jar, I heard a voice hiss, ‘Itchy’.
I opened my eyes and saw that Ganhook’s Beard, which was normally rolled up and tied tight to his chin, was unravelling down along his chest like a hairy grey carpet.
Although I knew his beard had a special life formed from centuries of exposure to spells, experiences and Lavun, I never knew it could move. Acting as advisor and assistant to Ganhook, it was a fountain of knowledge and, Shinytop claimed, the most valuable thing in the world.
I’d heard Ganhook speak to it a few times. I’d heard it reply, in a low hissy voice; the same voice I’d just heard.
Numbed with a mix of fascination and fear, I stared as it ran along his legs. The farther the beard rolled, the droopier Ganhook’s face became, and when it stopped at the tip of Ganhook’s boots, black tips sprouted from each corner.
The beard tips resembled horns.
‘Scratch me,’ Ganhook’s Beard said.
‘Where?’ I replied, hardly believing I was talking to it.
‘The black tip. The left one. Keep your hand there, it’ll stop the itch.’
I thought about fetching Aisling. But she’d discovered more new things in Dunari than me. Now it was my turn. When I put my hand on the thing’s left horn, the beard sighed with pleasure.
‘How can you talk?’ I asked.
The beard sighed again, making Ganhook shift in his chair. ‘I can vocalise 72 complete languages and 25 incomplete languages,’ the beard said. ‘I can also mimic the sounds made by every creature listed in the Book of Dead Things, communicate with ghosts, and I know the linguistic method to communicate with elements of the Solar Blue.’
‘A Spirit Storm.’
Ganhook released a long, slobbery snore.
The beard rustled. ‘I hate that more than the sound of a beard trimming scissors.’ Ganhook’s Beard said. ‘I’ve the knowledge of an empire, but no means to quell that noise. Night after night after night. It’s being going on for ever.’
I shook Ganhook. The snoring subsided into sniffling.
‘You must sit by him at night,” the beard said. ‘I beg you. Sit with him and shake him every time he snores.’
‘Impossible. Maybe I can find a way to help, though. What’s in it for me?’
In the following silence, Ganhook’s snuffling grew deafening. Finally, the beard said, ‘I will permit you to ask me some questions.’
Interview the beard? My heart jumped. This was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
What could I ask? I knew nothing about interviewing.
I considered asking it if there were aliens in the Universe. No. Too lame. Besides, I didn’t know if I wanted to hear the answer anyway. I’d enough to deal with in Dunari without thinking of flying saucers, too.
Then I remembered Dad doing a mock interview with Mum to prepare her for an upcoming job interview. I’d been the interviewer’s ‘assistant’. One of the questions Dad had asked was: What are your weaknesses?
When I asked the beard this, it snapped, ‘I have no weaknesses!’
Suddenly I felt stupid. Even if it had weaknesses, why would it admit them to me? That information could be priceless to any enemy.
‘Can you leave that . . . beard?’
‘Can you leave your body?’
‘What was your first memory?’
‘An attempt on Ganhook’s life. I strangled the assassin as she was about to slit Ganhook’s throat. I held onto her spirit for fifty-three years before sending it off to torment one of Ganhook’s enemies.’
Then the unthinkable happened. I actually wished Aisling was here because she’d be better at this than me. Shocked that I’d contemplated such a thing, I shoved the thought away, and said, ‘What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?’
‘I cannot die. But I have accompanied Ganhook on countless occasions where he was imperilled.’
‘Give an example?”
“We were once lured under the Guardface Mountains by a demon. The demon trapped us in a tunnel full of grey mould. The mould came alive, flowed off the walls and encased us. But I analysed the mould and turned the trap on the demon.’
‘Tell me something that Ganhook doesn’t know?’
‘On the morning your parents were taken by the Guards, you insisted on going to the cells with them.’
Stunned, I felt the blood rush through my ears. The only way it could have known about that was if Aisling told it. And I knew she had never spoken to it. “How . . .’ I blurted, ‘did you know that?’
‘I know everything about you now. Thank you for your co-operation. And I am itchy no more.’
I felt a little tickle where my hand rested on the beard. Sucking in a deep breath, I drew my hand back. I’d been dumb dumb dumb to believe this thing wanted to share information with me. It hadn’t been itchy. Nor had Ganhook’s snoring annoyed it. It had duped me into dropping my guard and trusting it, thus giving it an opportunity to discover everything about me.
For that, it had needed physical contact, a means to look into my mind and download a copy of everything in my brain.
‘You tricked me,” I said.
‘My duty is to gather knowledge,” the beard said. ‘By all means.’
As the beard curled upwards along Ganhook’s legs, all the sounds—the tapping rain, the crackling fire, Ganhook’s snuffles, faded to silence. Watching the beard roll up was like watching something bizarre on TV with the sound turned down.
It made it easy to imagine it wasn’t real. Another trick, I think, something to lull me to sleep and imagine I’d dreamed everything.
If I hadn’t recorded the conversation on my smartphone, it might have worked.
Time to post this. And time to hide.