Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 13: Owls and Yules
We decide that an owl would be a better form for Cy than a pigeon. Poof!
He's an owl. Dafnord, Angel, and Daphne head out to do a little shopping
and make our alley-filling crowd a bit smaller, leaving behind the
largest coin from our collection. By now, Salimar looks unambiguously
male. Fallataal moves close to the mouth of the alley, so he can watch
the entire area. All stand ready to supply distractions.
Cy flaps up, and over. We watch the fiddler's room through Markel's viewpoint. He's still strumming his instrument, with a dog for audience. Cy swoops to the window, where the little white whippet spots him. The "owl" circles the room as the man finally notices him. He swats at the flying ghost, but Cy still grabs the purse, and gracefully escapes out the window. Cy swerves abruptly, and Kate turns him and the purse invisible.
With a roar, the fiddler lunges out the window, but there is no thieving bird to be seen. We watch a pair of soldiers on the roof lean over to look down at the commotion, but there is nothing for them to see either.
Then the fiddler and the little dog tear out of the room, headed for the outside. The dog races ahead, and makes it outside in time to spot the owl flying away (despite its invisibility...). She sets up a continuous yipping, and heads in our direction.
Meanwhile, Cy has returned, and landed on a nearby thatched roof. Kate turns him visible again, so it's easy for Robbie to open the purse with qui levitation, and search through it. There are some copper and some silver coins, and we confirm that the largest copper coin is our target. Neither Kate nor Robbie succeed at turning Cy into an innocuous pigeon, so he sits there looking owlish and melted. Kate hands over the substitute coin, Robbie refills the purse for Cy, and the gallant familiar returns to the air for a return trip. But there is this yapping little dog coming our way...
With a little maneuvering, Cy drops the purse right in front of her. "Yelp!" Several people notice the owl in daylight, point at it, and Cy drops from Robbie's awareness. The dog grabs up the purse, and proudly prances back to the palace. Only now is the fiddler emerging from the building. Upon seeing her and her mouthful, the relieved fiddler sinks to his knees, and very gently coaxes the dog to him, clearly terrified that she will dash away with his savings, never to be seen again. She does not disappoint him, but comes right up and drops the soggy purse in his hand. "Good Luna, good Luna." He scoops her up in his arms and, murmuring, "It must be true what they say about you," returns inside.
Suddenly curious, Salimar examines the whippet, but learns only that it is Not From Around Here. Meanwhile, we are developing more problems.
Fallataal decides to distract any attention from us. He hurls an acorn at man, misses, and hits the flank of a mule. "Hee-aww!" and the mule kicks its cart. That distracts a lot of people briefly.
Robbie tries to regain contact with Cy, first by radio and then with telepathy. Nothing works. Cy continues to spiral around the marketplace, perhaps rising slowly. More and more people are noticing, "Look! It's an owl! An omen." They are pointing, and attracting more attention. If this is the geas's way of shielding the mundanes from us, it isn't working.
Fallataal tries again. Unfortunately, one of his acorns beans a man. The fellow turns, glares, and starts for the elf.
Salimar decides that Cy is best hidden in a cloud of birds. She tosses pebbles at the roosting pigeons, urging them into flight. Kate understands the qualitative difference between pigeons and owls, and gives one of the birds the appearance of an owl. A cry of "There's another one!" goes up.
Salimar casts an owl appearance as well, but left it too late. "I saw it!" cries a voice as Salimar starts to feel "runny" inside. "It turned into an owl!" Salimar spots the overly observant woman, and causes her to faint, effectively silencing her. Then she herself falls over.
With a complete lack of deftness, Fallataal draws attention to himself as he dashes through the market square. He grabs a worried-looking lad from the crowd, thrusts the hapless boy at his pursuer, loudly says, "He stole your purse," and disappears into the crowd. Mentally, he vows a scrupulous self-examination of his motor skills before he tries any distraction again.
Back in the alley, people gather around Salimar and say things like "Is he all right? I think his arm's broken -- look at it." A few gather around the unconscious woman and try to revive her. So far, no one has commented on all the fainting going on in this alley.
People are calling for an auger to explain the plethora of daytime owls. Cy is indeed slowly rising as he circles. Robbie still can't contact him. Though limp on the alley dirt, Salimar is still on the net and urges him to change appearance and fly up to his familiar. Robbie refuses, but Salimar persists.
"Please stop arguing. Thank you," says Kate. The two stop, startled that she did not wait for them to comply before thanking them.
Angel thinks pleadingly at Kate, and asks for "no head talking." With a contrite apology, Kate takes the Marginalis off the net.
Fallataal locates the downed Salimar, and raises her up. There is a murmur of "They must be related." in the background. He looks around for the woman Salimar caused to faint, and spots her. Others have too, and they are indignant. "She's snoring!"
Fallataal gets our woozy liaison officer back to the alley without further ado. Cy is now out of sight, and therefore attention. The auger has arrived, and is trying to sort out the situation.
In this lull, we have Markel dowse with the coin and bag. Now the other coins are back in the direction we came from. Well, if there are no more coins around here, then we might as well leave. Cautiously, we head out, and our shopping crew joins us.
Without any further problems, we return to the standing stones. Bing! Suddenly Robbie is in contact with Cy again. The familiar flies back, and Robbie happily changes him from a Play-doh owl back into a perfect toy soldier. The fruit acquired by the Dafs is parceled out, and we have a pleasant al fresco lunch. Daphne shows off a little bronze and colored glass pin she acquired, and we all duly admire it, without asking how she got it.
With the picnic baskets retrieved, we select our travel order, and Markel produces the rope that we will use to remain connected. Markel, his mastiff, and Angel are first. The dragonrider tries dowsing again, but gets no sense of a direction to move in. Salimar links with Angel, and tries. The fog boils up, and we walk into it.
We are surrounded by fog. Again we hear the Tighmark choir, only this time they are singing "a song of sixpence." The path feels very "ad hoc" to Salimar, and Daphne can detect no forest around us. The Map of Here doesn't show anything; there's no Here here. Now Markel starts to feel a direction, and we follow him. We pass large, bulky shapes here and there in the mist. It gets darker and colder; the ponies' breath steams. The music becomes "Little Jack Horner." We continue to walk, and as the music finally fades, Salimar asks Markel where we are.
He admits he is disoriented, but as we look, the mists clear, and we can see bright stars in a cloudless sky.
We're on a hill with a tower nearby, and there's a cathedral or large church near us; we can see stained glass windows lit from within. The Watch tells us that it's 11:00 pm on December 23, 1532. The Map of Here shows us our hill, the cathedral to the left of center, and a big city to the right of center. The Watch says this is Glastonbury.
We bury the picnic baskets in shrubbery. We pick through our clothing again, and change our glamours. Our "now" is before Kate was born, but she still has some idea of what looks right. We decide we're from London, and we're on pilgrimage again.
Markel can't dowse the coin, but he can tell that something "coin-smelling" is near the cathedral. We head that way. Cy is changed into a poppet with red braids, with strings attached to a pair of sticks, and Daphne, our little girl, holds onto him. As we get closer to the church, we remember that it might be a good idea if neither Robbie nor Cy tried to enter it.
Markel passes the cathedral without turning in. He's sure there's something on the road, but he can't see it. The robot examines the road in infra-red, and finds a single grain of rye. Into the bag. Markel dowses again. He can feel that there's more of something around here, but he can't locate it.
Past the cathedral is the abbey. There's a bustle of activity in there, and we hover by the gate. Robbie decides that he will not go in. Markel and Kate confer, and decide that we are not in a good position to enter the abbey. We head for the town gate instead.
A man enveloped in a heavy cloak slips out a door to make inquiries of us. We say that we're from London, and that we're pilgrims, just passing through, and can he recommend a place for the night. He points us to an inn, just on the other side of the street from the gate. We give him one of our Roman coins, and he slips back into his warm room.
There is robust singing coming from the inn, songs of Yuletide and Christmas. Salimar knocks, and a woman lets us in. She summons a boy to take care of our ponies, and Kate and Robbie join him in feeding, grooming, and bedding the placid beasts. The others find themselves in a large, low, dark room with rushes on the floor and smoke in the air. We arrange for sleeping space in the loft, which is all they have left this close to Christmas, and inquire about food. Daphne and Angel ask for some warm beer, which they are happy to serve to our "children."
Kate and Robbie leave the Marcher ponies huddled together, and go in to join the others in a hearty snack of bread, cheese, and cider. We start to relax and look around. Our mastiff is bigger and more confident than their mastiff, but there doesn't seem to be any trouble brewing on that front. The beer-counting song ends and the (seasonal) song about a bristly boar begins. It's clear that Dafnord is a really big guy, and that Fallataal is very good-looking, but the rest of us are not so remarkable. There are an equal number of men and women here, with a sprinkling of kids.
Daphne joins them, and learns a song, that lots of people are here for the Christmas services, that there's a marketplace, another song, and that there "is bound to be" a Christmas market. The abbey and church are all lit up because the monks are praying and baking. They invite her to join them in "wassailing," a practice rather like Hallowe'en for children, or Valentine's Day for neo-beasts.
After a decent interval, we go to the loft. It's obvious that we can't all sleep together, and that no one is going to get a good location. We pile our luggage together, and Markel sets his dragon-mastiff to guard it. We select our beds to the repeated sounds of "scrabble, crunch" as our dog picks off the rats in the area, one after another. We hesitate to actually lie down; the entire room must be infested with fleas and lice. Kate surreptitiously sets her sonic stunner to full power, and sweeps it repeatedly over her pallet, and does the same for the others who ask. Robbie coats Daphne's bed in esctoplastic, and she coats herself in barkskin. Gannar decides to just hover over his bed, but Robbie coats it and Gannar's blanket, so the AI doesn't have to consume a lot of power.
Robbie, Salimar, and Fallataal aren't even a bit sleepy, and decide to go for a stroll in the brisk night air. They retrace our steps out of town and back up the road. They turn aside to investigate the Chalice Well, whose roots go even deeper than its advertised fifteen hundred years. Then they clamber up Glastonbury Tor, and the tower on its top. >From there, they can see a great deal of dark countryside, and a well-lit abbey.
Salimar points out the bustling monks in the courtyard. Robbie sends out an ordinary third eye, set for infra-red and visual, and gets to watch the monks filing into a large hall. One man is not a monk, and so draws the robot's attention. He's carrying a large dish in his hands, covered with a cloth.
Robbie isn't sure his eye will survive following the monks, so he sends it down the kitchen chimney, and lets it hover near the ceiling. The kitchen is another seething cauldron of activity, filled with monks and apparent non-monks, and awash in cider. The eye transmits a voice declaiming in the other room. Robbie decides to try, and sends his eye into what is the Chapter House of the monastery.
There is a monk at a lectern "... at court, talking to (mumble)." There is a non-monk standing next to him, and it's the same fellow Robbie noticed in the courtyard. "... will try to have our abbey spared. Mr. Horner here--" The speaker (abbot, perhaps) turns and gestures towards the man with the covered dish. "--will be speaking with the king..." As the monk talks about the lands and properties they will be offering the king, the dish is uncovered. It contains anoutsized pie. The crust is lid is pried up, revealing only a little filling of oatmeal and a few apple slices. On top of this, the monk places twenty-four packets (Robbie couldn't help counting) of parchment. The crust and lid are replaced.
Salimar has been watching all this, and tries a third-sight on the pie. No coin. Not even a speck of our rye. The voice drones on, and Robbie finally realizes that the packets are land-grant deeds, and that they are the "plums" in Jack Horner's pie. Salimar does a third-sight on our Mr. Horner, but he's as innocent as his pie.
Like Markel, she is certain that our coin must be around here somewhere. She dowses, and learns that... something related to our quest is... around here... back in the kitchen. Robbie steers his eye back into the hive of activity. They both try to locate that something, but without any success.
Fallataal tries a more physical approach. He walks into the abbey, inquires how to get to the kitchen, and stealthily slips in a side door. Sharply, he examines everything that is even partway visible, but can't find a thing.
A grain of rye lands on his nose.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.