Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 12: Old Kingdom Colne
Most of the diplomatic mission from Lanthil is settling in for the night on the path into the Chaos Marches. Kate and Robbie go into the house to pack. Kate is a nervous whirlwind, whisking through every drawer and closet, determining what stays and what goes. Robbie efficiently packs to her direction. Finally, Kate takes Swinburn aside, explains that the Oakleys will have to store their spare clothes and suchlike for a while. She then hands him a sealed packet of papers for safekeeping. He is a bit nonplused at this; the safe clearly is not suitable for secure storage. Kate then apologizes for levitating him upside down. "But you do make a very fierce, dangerous boar," she adds, looking up the two feet from her eye level to his, with her brown eyes looking as helpless as possible. Swinburn takes the implied compliment well. ("An understandable misapprehension, madam.")
Robbie and Kate return to the grotto, and hand people a few bits of things left on bureau and table tops that they might want more immediately on hand than in their luggage.
Kate then turns to Warder Tam Brightman, and asks him to remove the geas from the party, since they will be leaving Tighmark.
"Well, you will be going to Earth, and --"
This is clearly leading to a "no," which Kate tries to forestall. "It's odd. Here, I'm an elf, and everything's fine. Yet I am from Earth, and when I lived there, I hated elves."
Tam looks inquiry.
"My grandmother's great-grandfather was Tam Lin."
Now Tam is bewildered. He knows that Tam Lin was a man taken by the Fairy Queen, and that he was rescued by his fiancee, but he doesn't understand how this little elf maiden could be related, and says so.
"Oh, I'm a convert. When I lived in London though, I was fully human. It will be very strange going back."
Tam is not deterred by the story, and insists that the geas must stay, since part of its purpose is to constrain the fay from demonstrating fay behavior after wandering into the mundane realms. "Besides," he reminds her, "there's really very little you can do in twenty-sixth century Britain that doesn't look like psionics or electronics."
She accedes, and turns to her next task of interrogating Amrod. He is still secured in the dining room, watched by Cob and Dafnord, who have been joined by the two largest footmen. She arrives as Eldawen, his wife, is just leaving, looking bleak.
She asks Dafnord, "Is he awake?"
"Well, if he isn't, I'm sure we can wake him up for you. By some method." He leans over Amrod. "Are you awake?"
The threats implicit in Dafnord's tone bring a twitch to Amrod's eyebrows. Our security man declares him ready for Kate's questions.
She doesn't learn much. He threw the coins down the road to get rid of them, not to invoke the road or for any other magical purpose. He was able to call up the road because any Oakley can; the road is part of the Oakley Land.
Outside, Markel dowses for the coins using their bag as a concentrator. Yes, this will work. Angel suddenly walks several meters down a new extension of the road. Markel, still roped to the gate, follows him, and can see a sort of tunnel in the mist beyond the new end of the path. His dragon shifts uneasily. Fallataal determinedly moves the chairs down to the new end.
Robbie, Dafnord, and Kate head for their bedrooms; the latter two will need all the rest they can get. Kate lies on the bed, relaxing and preparing to use her patharchic skills to cram a full night's sleep into two hours. She decides she'll make Salimar the leader in twenty-sixth century Britain; the alien is a trained diplomat, while she herself is unfamiliar with London after the nineteenth century. She sleeps. She dreams she has returned home, to London in 1591. The sunlight is bright, brighter than in Ashley's Victorian London, and here is the fork that turns down towards the Rose. The muted thunder of cartwheels, accented by shod hooves hitting the cobbles and vendors shouting their wares, is unchanged. The familiar unpleasant aromas rise to assail her nostrils....
Robbie plays more with his familiar, which has settled into a "normal" appearance as a foot-high sim in a black and silver Space Patrol uniform. After many tentative names (including Golem, Tobor, Robin, Bob, and Mr. Winky), he settles on "Cy" from "Cyclops", its origin as his third eye.
Our group assembles at the grotto as the sun, well, emerges from the mist of the Chaos Marches. Three vans with the royal insignia arrive, and seven Marcher ponies are led down the ramps. Apologies are made; these were all they had. (It's foaling season.) Angel, Dafnord, Daphne, Fallataal, Gannar, Kate, Markel, Robbie, Salimar. That's nine. The larger members of the party hastily announce that they will walk. The ponies' handlers and Kate see to their saddling and bridling. Swinburn brings out a last load of food and drink.
We set out our marching order: Markel, his dragon, and Angel will lead, followed by Salimar, Fallataal, Kate, Robbie and Daphne, Gannar, and with Dafnord securing the rear. As we finish latching down saddlebags, the well-wishers arrive. Tam Brightman appears, now in his Warder uniform. Three generations of Oakleys make their appearance: the four grandparents, Hirgalad and Tintilasea, and the new Aldamir, who is sleeping calmly through the commotion which he had inadvertently triggered. The adults produce a constant wash of gratitude for all the members of the party. We smile and assure them that this is what we do.
Tam quietly pulls Kate aside. "It's not been said, but the coins are not bound to Aldamir. They're, um, like bearer bonds." Kate nods; she had gotten that feel. "They bind important Tighmark people. Those people will do as-- They must be gotten back."
Kate looks at his stance, anxious and apologetic. "You can't come with us, can you?"
"No, I can't. I can guard the Chaos Marches from here, but... I'm not qualified."
Kate assures him that they understand.
We shake hands all around. Angel enjoys everyone being so kind and attentive to him. We lead the ponies out to the chairs, and mount there. We wave, and turn our attention forward.
We are at the end of the road. We rope ourselves together, and follow Angel. There is a great deal of mist, but it isn't damp, and through it we can catch glimpses of trees. None of them have leaves, and some of them are translucent, but the pixie assures us that they're alive, more or less. Fallataal looks down at Angel, and can see that he seems to be walking on a path, but no one else can see it.
We hear the Choir of the Covenant in our heads, but it isn't singing the Covenant, it's singing "Old King Cole" and it continues to sing this for a long time as we walk through the almost-woods.
The voices fade, and we come into what seem to be a real woodland despite the mist. Just as we become certain, the path disappears entirely. Looming through the mists are giant stones, three meters high and over a meter thick. There are three standing stones, forming a triangle around us. We continue forward, past the triangle. Turning, Robbie sees the last of us come out of a fog between the stones, although there is no mist anywhere else. As Dafnord steps forward, the fog disappears. We are in a forest. Somewhere.
Wherever it is, we have arrived. Salimar puts a marker-tracer on the nearest of the stones. Kate fails to turn the dragon into a mastiff. Markel clairs the area, pointing "There's sea that way, a road here. A dirt road, and there are fields." This doesn't sound quite right. Robbie sends Cy up in bird form.
Dafnord asks, "What time is it?"
Gannar has The Watch, and announces that it is "the second hour of June 8th, 1016 A.U.C." Robbie digs into his general knowledge, and says A.U.C. means "Ad Urbe Condite", "from the founding of the city," meaning Rome. Gannar knows that date was April 12, 753 BCE, and so announces that the year is 264 CE. Oh, goody.
Robbie announces that Cy can see people in tunics, and an ox cart, being actually drawn by an ox.
The pixie starts babbling that we can go to the Lady of Avalon and get help from her. Kate turns on her in near fury. "No. We will not. Elves take things, and elves keep things. We have to return the coins."
"But, I'm sure--"
Cy has examined the cart more closely, and Robbie reports that it has bags filled with something like grain in them, and that two of the three men in the cart are carrying spears. Down the road Cy can see a walled city with huts around its outside as well as buildings inside it.
Gannar finds and reads the location function on The Watch, "Camulodunum." Salimar pulls out the Map of Here as the rest of us look hastily elsewhere. Yes, northeast of us is a rectilinear city, which has a sea sixteen kilometers down a river, to the east and southeast of it. Around is a nice woods, wild, not cultivated and not second growth. There are none of the Fair Folk around, but they have passed through here. Daphne confirms this.
We use the bag to dowse for the coins. Yes, they're in the direction of the city, Camulodunum. Cy circles over the city, passing over the Colne River. The city is full of bustle. He can see lots of men in armor, with shiny brass symbols on poles, and some of the symbols are eagles. They must be Roman soldiers. The open area which has to be the market is all set up.
Right. We're going into a Romano-British town of the third century which, if the memories we've dredged up are correct, will become Colchester. We're going to have to fix our appearance, and produce a back story.
Grimly, Kate turns the dragon into a mastiff. At least he will look at home. Robbie suddenly sprouts perfect Romano-British peasant dress, and even manages to look human. We tear through our luggage, trading clothes and weapons in and out. Next, we glamour our faces, our clothes, and our bodies into a semblance of the ordinary. The ponies look reasonable in their plain tack, and surely the stirrup has been invented by now. We decide to say that we are from Fubar -- and if we find anyone who twitches an eyebrow over that, we take them gently aside and ask them questions. We are Fubarians, our leader is the Red Tape, no, the Scarlet Cordon, and is called the Cordon. We are on pilgrimage to Aqua Sulis (someday to be called Bath).
Language, Kate suddenly realizes, is not a problem. We have automatic translating wetware -- our psionic translators; our lips just won't always synch with our words. Perhaps really long moustaches....
For money, ah, we have Markel's lumps of silver and gold. He wants to break them up and distribute them immediately, but we automatically nix this. It's always better to see what the universe has to offer before making a counter-offer. One thing we're sure the universe is not offering this week is picnic baskets with hot and cold storage sections. We turn them off and bury them near the standing stones.
Kate and Daphne warn everybody about pickpockets, and describe a few common techniques. Kate then makes sure that we are all on the network. We quietly make our way closer to the road. When we can see no one else, we make a quick dash onto it and mount our gallant steeds. (Dafnord and Markel walk.) We approach the fieldstone and limestone walls.
We enter the town proper, and find ourselves in the midst of a cheerful, chattering crowd. Dafnord and Robbie listen especially carefully. They catch a few phrases that are spoken over and over: "the wedding," "General Constantius," and "the princess," and relay them to the rest of us. The princess is "Helena." She is the daughter of the king, "King Coel". People are being festive; it seems that the marriage is approved of by participants and observers alike.
Markel leads us on, into the heart of the city, its forum and market section. Here there are large houses in whitewashed stone, looking Mediterranean in style. It's the Roman influence. There are lots of soldiers around, buying in the market, being shaved, and decorating the buildings with flower garlands and colored banners. There are also statues here, and they have been decorated too, with shields and eagles and SPQR's as well as garlands and banners.
Our listeners catch that the crowd has not merely noticed us, but is engaged in active speculation. They are sure Daphne and Salimar are girls dressed as boys, but are still speculating about Kate and Fallataal. The consensus is that we are actors. With a flick of the net, we decide that we are. Fallataal pulls out some of his giant acorns, and tries juggling. (He's seen it, but never done it.) Daphne performs some simple acrobatics, and doesn't even have to rely on her wings. Salimar starts a very slow process of becoming more androgynous-looking.
Yes, we are acquiring a few admirers. Dafnord decides he is the strongman. He smiles genially, and lifts the ponies out of the way. The Marcher ponies change their ranking of this trip from slightly unusual to noticeably out of the ordinary, and they aren't best pleased with Dafnord. Fallataal gives his hat to Angel, with instructions to pass through the crowd with it. Markel plays a cheerful tune on his flute. Daphne does a flip up to land on Dafnord's shoulders. Kate fades into the background; she'll just handle the ponies, and leave the "mastiff" to Markel.
Fallataal has maneuvered his way close to a piece of architecture he likes, a building with an overhanging second story. He throws his nuts 'way up, runs up the wall and (with a touch of eldacur) across the overhang and back down, and catches the nuts. The raven-haired elf gets some applause, a few coins, and a queasy stomach. We suspect the geas.
Markel targets the large building at the far end of the forum for us. Its doors are large, there are soldiers carrying spears on its roof, lots of people are going in and out, many of them are soldiers, and its being decorated and cleaned far beyond the norm. We decide that it's the palace. He steadies himself outside, and sends his viewpoint in, up to the second floor, through sparsely furnished apartments and into a particular one, with murals featuring birds.
There is a man in it, nicely dressed in the Roman civilian style. He is plucking an instrument like a flat-bottomed lute. Oh, wait. King Coel. Is this one of his fiddlers three? Markel's viewpoint scans the room. There, on the only table, are some scattered bits of stuff, and a purse. Markel puts a tracer on the man and withdraws.
Robbie suggests that Cy could fly in and grab the purse. He tests the idea by having Cy, still in bird form, pick up a roof tile and try to fly off with it. It's too heavy for the familiar until Robbie adds in qui levitation. He lifts, then there's a cloud of chocolate transparency, and contact dims. Robbie thinks Cy may be falling. He wipes out the qui, and has Cy drop the tile. It clatters to the ground. Cy is sent back to the roof.
We move a bit, to an alley next to a different building. Fallataal improvises a pouch of the correct size and guessed weight. Robbie reshapes Cy into a pigeon. He swoops on the purse in the elf's hand, grabs it, and lifts it, slowly building altitude. He flies over the crowd, and no one notices. He returns.
We'll try it.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.