Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 10: A Babe in the Oaks
Robbie's butterfly-familiar works perfectly. Maybe. At least, it signals him when Laskalen and Narion pass by. Either that, or he just noticed them as they passed through its field of vision. He can't tell. He has the butterfly follow them, and catches some intriguing sentences by Laskalen. "Quirky's gone. I'll bet I know what it is. This could be very important. Trees don't just get up and walk for no reason."
"True enough," thinks Robbie in agreement, and looks around outside. Yes, there, near the edge of the house, is a tree that hadn't been there before. It is brushing against a window, and it -- no, they have four trunks - but it still looks like one tree on the top. Was it really not there before? Ah. There was a commotion outside while he was reading...
He sends his butterfly over to the tree, and so perceives Kate standing underneath it, looking up into its branches. He puts away his book, and walks out to join her. "Where'd the tree come from?"
"Around back," she replies absently, still looking up. Robbie also looks up, and spots Daphne on a branch.
Uncertain, but fearing that she is the culprit, he asks Daphne for more information.
The narrative stream that flows over him both disconcerts and reassures him. The tree developed limbs and went to find "Her," Tintilasea, its animator and mistress, but the pixie had nothing to do with it. Predictably, she wants such a tree for her own. Robbie suggests that they all join the others upstairs.
Up in his room, changing clothes after a workout, Dafnord hears Laskalen's voice through an open window. "Tree...quirky...very important...." He leans out his window to see her dragging Narion in the front door. He finishes dressing, including Umbra, and heads down for lunch. The house is quiet now, but there is almost no one in the dining hall. He listens, and hears a hubbub coming from the family wing. Ah. The awaited event must be occurring. He heads for the sideboard with its trays of sandwiches.
A maid was closer, and has picked up a tray and turned away with it before he could reach it. "Ah. Lunch?" he asks diffidently.
Her lips prepare to shape a "no", but then she pauses. "Ni-uhh. Yes, upstairs." She briskly heads for the stairs, with the Acro trailing behind her. When they reach the stairs, they get to watch a small playlet.
Laskalen and Narion, still hand-in-hand, have reached the top of the stairs, where they are greeted by Markel, holding a tray of sandwiches. Pointedly, he asks them, "Oh, have you come to join the family?"
Instantly, their hands fly apart. Each tries to separate from the other by going upstairs, and then by going downstairs, but a pair they remain. In desperation, Narion sits down on a step, and Laskalen dashes up to join her parents and brother.
The maid scampers past. Dafnord hesitates, then spots Daphne, Robbie, and Kate, also mounting the stairs. Kate asks of everyone, "How's the acorn- er, baby doing?"
Narion shakes his head; he knows nothing. Dafnord looks confused, saying, "I thought it was still too early?" Daphne and Kate look on him pityingly. That was said yesterday.
The group from Lanthil invites Narion to finish climbing the stairs and to join them in waiting for the birth. After all, this is the only place he can get fed; the servants are only making sandwiches and serving them up here. He agrees, and takes a seat at the opposite end of the hall from Laskalen.
Markel, seizing a chance to escape the crowd and the waiting, hands his tray to a passing footman, and heads for the roof. There he will scan the surrounding territory (for storks or something) and watch his dragon fly quarterings.
The informal guards on Tintilasea's door, Salimar and Fallataal, briskly step aside just before the door opens, emitting Nanny Cob steering the mother-to-be in a gentle walk up and down the corridor. Everyone keeps out of their way.
Robbie goes up to join Markel on the roof.
Megilriel, waiting with the rest of us, asks for and receives a small plate of plums. She then produces a small knife and starts eviscerating them. She offers some to her bench-mate, Kate, who smilingly declines. The elf now takes the pits and starts mashing them together, having apparently rendered them pliable. She stops when Tintilasea starts moaning again. Cob leads her back into her room.
Megilriel concentrates on turning her plum pit mass into the shape of a quadruped. She materializes a small knife, perhaps even the one she started with, and starts carving. Kate watches as a horse-shape is slowly coaxed out of the golden-brown wood. Finally, Megilriel breathes on her production, and goes back downstairs.
Robbie, having tired of the open sky, returns to his library, and the book on familiars. By now he has reached the section on pathological familiars, of which there are two major types. The first are those familiars who are mischievous and do things that its master would not consciously wish to do. The second are the "fylgiars," familiars of whom their owners/makers are unaware.
Robbie plays with his own familiar. He changes it from an iron butterfly into a toy soldier, one foot tall. He wonders if he can teach it to speak, perhaps with a variety of robo-djinnish ventriloquism.
Again Tintilasea emerges from her room to walk the corridor until she feels another contraction coming on. Then she returns to her room. The cycle repeats itself. Kate finally eats the sagging plums still on the tray. At last, Swinburn appears and suggests that those not of the immediate family might be more comfortable waiting downstairs. Relieved not to have had to take the initiative, everyone except Fallataal stands and heads downstairs. Dafnord asks a footman if a room can be turned into a theater, planning to beguile folk with some movies. Salimar, with similar diversions in mind, corners Swinburn and asks him about the feasibility of setting up a betting pool on the baby. He does nothing to dissuade her, so she chats to Linlas about setting it up, to relax everyone.
Soon a blackboard (actually, an opaque, light green scrim that floats in mid-air) is set up, and cheerful bets on the time of birth are flying.
Among the family, friends, and servants, Salimar spots an unpleasantly familiar, Middle Eastern face. She tasks him with making his twenty-credit bet more specific; "within twelve hours" is hardly worth covering. It is Hedley again. He still is enchanted by her fluid style. She is still firm in rejecting his overtures to a closer relationship. Rebuffed, he turns into a tangerine bat, and flits out a squirrel door and into the woods.
A few of the people in the room notice. One young lady asks, "Friend of yours?"
"No," replies Salimar. With reluctant distaste, she explains, "He's... stalking me."
The elf recommends that she talk to the warder, Tam Brightman, and points him out.
She introduces herself with "I am Salimar, the liaison officer," and proceeds to describe her recent encounter with Hedley, and mentions the previous one.
Brightman ascertains that her acquaintance does a great deal of shape-shifting. He muses, "it seems to me... but with a Hedley Kow, the surface is not what is really there...."
"Yes. A clan of fays. Known for their shape-shifting. They're mostly mischievous, and may need to be shown appropriate limits -- generally with a sledge hammer. They can be caught with psilence. And they do enjoy playing with children, but not with babies.
"You said there was an earlier encounter. Would you describe it?"
Salimar explains the lamp ruse, and being strangled by a feathery pink snake. The half-elf is alarmed by this violence, and decides that he must contact Swinburn and set up wards. Abruptly, he asks to see the money he gave her for his bet. He examines it, and proclaims the Earth-marks real, and that they have the feel of a Hedley Kow, one which has kept the money for a while. She explains that she put a psionic trace on him as he was fleeing the first time. He nods absently, and goes off to find Swinburn.
A light supper is announced. Salimar goes up to trade with Fallataal, so he can sit down, eat, and relax. He remarks that things are much quieter now, and heads downstairs, where he passes Tam Brightman and Swinburn coming up.
Salimar watches the two of them walking slowly up and down the hall, staring into the walls. They are producing some kind of patterning.
Nanny Cob pops out into the hall. "What was that all about?" she demands.
"Just warding against... anything funny."
"High-larious," she says, clearly finding it anything but, and slams back into the birthing chamber.
Long minutes pass. Salimar knocks on the door. "Nursey, do you need anything? Tea? Cocoa?"
A firm "Rum" comes through the door.
"Gotcha," and Salimar oozes down through the boards to the lower floor, passing a startled squirrel, and coalesces in the kitchen.
Chaffer, mercifully, did not see her arrival. He turns around, is surprised, and asks politely what she wants. At the brief answer, "rum," he reaches for a glass. When she continues with "for Nanny Cob", his hand shifts to a much larger glass, which he fills. Salimar grabs the bottle as well as the glass, and heads back to her post. (By the normal route, not oozing through the floorboards, so as not to spill the rum.) She passes Fallataal on the stairs, who is a little surprised, since he just left her behind him.
Back at her self-appointed post, she knocks on the door again. After a short pause, Cob slips out of the room, and wraps her hand around the glass. After a firm swallow of the sugar-cane-based alcohol, she slumps down onto a bench, and kicks off her shoes. She has incongruous silk stockings. (Incongruous if you don't know what kind of fay she is.) She wiggles her toes, and opines that a few more pushes should do it. She has a few more swallows, and rests just a bit longer, her feet up. Then she's up again, acerbic as ever, and adds some rum to the glass "for Hirgalad." Tintilasea will have to do a little more work before she can have hers.
Soon, Salimar can hear a series of rapid groans coming from beyond the door. She pings the rest of the crew.
They are still at dinner, and immediately become alert, exchanging inquiring glances. The other diners notice this and soon are abandoning their meals and heading up the stairs in waves. Kate passes a warning to Salimar. Then, a thin cry is heard, and the waves become a concerted stampede, with the four grandparents in front.
Salimar spreads herself across the door, and instructs the grandparents to breathe deeply and calm down. After a few squeaks of protest, they do it. Salimar lets the grandmothers in, then the grandfathers. As she looks through the open door, Salimar can see Cob giving a familiar glass of liquid to Tintilasea.
Before the crowd's pressure can build up, the grandparents emerge with the baby wrapped in a silky blanket. He is small, and is a nicer color than the raw liver of a human baby, but the birth process has squished his features in the usual way. Soon it's "kichie koochie koo" as slender-fingered hands reach out to touch or hold the baby, and an occasional "our little Koli." Sharp-eared Robbie and Dafnord hear the low exchange, "What's his name?" and "Aldamir," between Megilriel and a lesser uncle. The child is passed around for several minutes, and then is returned to his mother for his breakfast.
It is Megilriel who announces to the assemblage that the naming will be in two hours. People head for their rooms, or return to finish their dinner. Markel takes Swinburn aside to enlist his aid. Soon, Markel is describing his need for jewelry boxes to the town jeweler over the videophone. The jeweler has done a lot of business with Aikenyard, and professes himself perfectly happy to be pulled away from dinner to perform this service. Soon, credit has moved from the Lanthilor's account to the jeweler's, and the boxes have been dispatched to the manor house.
Long before the naming ceremony, Markel has put the finishing touches on the gold and silver pin and pendant set he made while on the roof, and has nestled each in its presentation box. He changes into the dress uniform of the Silver Service, and joins the others.
Kate has re-polished the presentation box, so not even an imagined fingerprint smudge remains. She puts on her blue and burgundy dress and its accessories, makes a few final adjustments to her face and hair, and, after washing her hands again, slides the box onto her right palm. She is now ready, and joins the others in milling around in the hall, where Robbie, actually clothed rather than upholstered, informs them that "koli" is elvish for "acorn".
Before they can do much more than nod, the gong sounds, and they join the masses trooping over to the family wing and up to Tintilasea's door. The door is open, and everyone enters her parlor. Soon, it is starting to get crowded, but there is no sign of the new family, branch or twig. People settle on their various locations, and quiet down.
The inner doors open. Out step Nanny Cob and Hirgalad, followed by four footmen very carefully carrying a daybed, which hold a tired Tintilasea and a quiet baby. Swinburn brings up the rear, and closes the doors behind him. The footmen gently set down the bed, and disappear from the room.
Nanny Cob looks at Susanah Grey, and says, "I al'ays thinks it best if you goes first."
The vicar steps forward, her left hand holding an open book marked with a cross, the right raised in a gesture of blessing.
"Lord, we thank Thee for the birth of this child and the safe delivery of his mother. Let him be a vessel of all blessings suitable to his nature, and let him show forth those gifts that You see fit to give him, so as to be a blessing in his turn.
"Child, I bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
The vicar steps back again.
Now Nanny Cob raises her hands and speaks:
"Attend us, Powers. Here is a new child of the Old Blood. Let him be blest by you and yours. Let him be known to you, and you alone, by his True Name."
With that, she leans over the baby and says, "Child, I name you ___." As she starts to pronounce the name, everyone goes stone deaf for a moment. It isn't even possible to focus on her lips as she presumably whispers into the baby's left ear. The air tingles with something, and Salimar notes that the Something has the same flavor as the Covenant.
Nanny Cob turns to Hirgalad, and asks him, "Now, what are you callin' him?"
The new father responds "Aldamir." (This is news only to a few; family and close friends have known it for months.)
Now the geas is put upon the boy. Tam Brightman, the Warder, says, "Child, by your Name and by the authority of the Lord and Lady, I bind on you the Covenant of this land." There is another tingle of magic, and we feel the Covenant sung within us.
In the pause that follows, Swinburn glides over to Kate and informs her that she is to be first in presenting her gift. He then turns to Markel and explains that he will be second. Kate leads a soft wedge of the folk from Lanthil forward. Directly behind her loom Dafnord, Markel, and Fallataal in their Silver Service uniforms, and behind them are the smaller, but more variously dressed, Salimar, Daphne, Angel, Robbie, and Gannar. The box Kate has guarded for so long is finally opened. As it is, the clairvoyant (and clairaudient) among us hear the Covenant choir again, but now singing an old nursery rhyme - "Monday's child is fair of face," etc.
Inside is a giant silver acorn with a gold cap. Tintilasea unscrews the cap. Inside is curled up a tiny squirrel with a silver coat, and gold eyes, ears, paws, and tail. The parents and grandparents coo their appreciation. The squirrel sits up and looks around, dislodging a scroll. This is a message from Daewen, and it is read out loud. After conventionally polite congratulations, it says, "This will bond with the baby, if you choose, play with him, protect him, and store energy for him." There is an appreciative murmur throughout the room.
Markel diffidently presents his two boxes. The two swirling spirals of mixed silver and gold are shown, as Markel explains that their shape is a symbol of balance. (In fact, they resemble the two halves of the Yin & Yang.) He goes on to say that it is the custom among his people to give two pieces of jewelry to a child, which have been made on the day of the child's birth. Tintilasea coos to baby Aldamir, "It's not every baby who has dragon gold!"
Next, the three Vespers dart to the front. They hand Tintilasea a sheaf of blank papers. This is enchanted origami paper, and is an earnest of a one foot high stack of such paper every year for twelve years. If the parents and Aldamir wish it, they will teach him paper magic. Even if they do not, there are many interesting things that can be done with the enchanted paper.
The next present is from Megilriel, and is another earnest. Inside a little paper box (probably a bit of Vesper origami) is the wooden plum-pit pony. Megilriel firmly announces, "I swear by my name that, by his twelfth birthday, I will give him a tree mare."
His great-uncle Malinalda produces a toy aircar. "I swear by my name that, by his sixteenth birthday, I will give him a real car." There is a pause, while he grips one of Cob's hands, and she puts the other on the baby's head. "And a skill for driving."
Next his great-aunt Mirgalen steps forwards with a folded piece of golden brownish silk. Tintilasea unfolds it to reveal it as the silhouette of an eagle. "This is a transformation silk, and I also give to him--" Nanny links her and the baby. "-- the gift of flight."
Mallammen, the first of the grandparents, steps forward, and hands Tintilasea a credit card-shaped object with a British flag in one corner, and a line of writing on it. "This is a paper trail for him." Again there is a murmur of appreciation. Minargalad joins her. He holds out a toy saddle in both hands, and breathes on it. It becomes a real saddle. He promises a real horse to go with it, and, as Nanny links him and the babu, he adds, "and a skill in riding."
Now Domelothe and Galentarma have their turn. He pulls out a small green bag, one that looks familiar to our pixie. "This has to be explained a little," he says, as he opens the bag to reveal a heap of grain mixed with some coins. There are six large copper coins. He plucks up one and says, "These are six old pennies, so this is sixpence in a pocket of rye. Each coin holds a geas on a friend of mine, and they are useful people to know." He closes up the bag to a chorus of "ooh"s. He then addresses his son, Hirgalad, and says, "I also give to you the properties of Aigenwald, Aigenwald Manor, Aiglston, and Oxstald."
The naming ceremony is over.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.