Seventh Circle (Chapter 8 - Sky Warrior, page 2 of 12)

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His immediate neighbours were evidently persons of distinction. The man on his left was dressed entirely in red and had red hair and a flowing red moustache. He introduced himself as Red Hand son of Red Cloud and said he was Head Master of the Catti. The man on his right gave his name as Griffin son of Dragon and said he was Chariot Master of the Catti.

Red Hand was nursing a drinking horn and appeared well under the influence of the amber liquid. He downed the contents and held the horn upside down.

A serving girl arrived with a drink for Tom.

Red Hand grabbed her arm.

'I asked for more mead.'

'I was sent to serve our guest.'

Red fingers dug into her arm. 'Who am I?'

'You are our Head Master.'

'Then I am to be served first.'

Tom handed his drinking horn to Red Hand and the girl rushed away. A nod from the Chariot Master told him he was not the only one who found Red Hand repulsive.

He raised the horn and peered at Tom.

'Where do you come from?'

'I am a visitor from another realm.'

'Huh.' Red lips spluttered mead over the table.

'Another what?'

'Realm,' said Tom.

'What's that?'

'Another world ... another plane of existence.'

'Holy Mother. You've been having too many magic mushrooms. How did you get here ... up or down, north or south?'

Tom considered the question.

'Sideways ...'

Red Hand laughed loudly and Tom felt uneasy. Other diners were looking in their direction. He was fumbling for something to say when a young man approached from across the aisle.

'He is a companion of the princess Adrina,' Griffin whispered.

Tom exchanged glances with a dark-haired girl at another table.

'Sky Warrior.' The young man swirled his cloak and held out a small leather bag. 'The Princess Adrina welcomes you to our realm. She would be honoured if you would accept this small token of her esteem.'

Tom slipped his fingers into the bag and felt something long and furry. He pulled it out and held it up.

'It's a hare's paw,' Griffin explained.

'A hare's paw?'

'It's an expression of high regard.'

Tom fumbled in his shirt. A stainless steel chain hung there bearing a disk that said he was allergic to penicillin. He slipped it over his neck and handed it to the young man. 'Take this to the princess. Tell her it is my token of respect.'

A gong sounded and a door opened. The girls of the royal guard appeared and the diners rose.

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