Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 22: Oaken Gratitude
Kate is entranced. She has received two letters. This has never happened
to her before in her entire life. She carried on a correspondence with
the butcher, under the tutelage of the cook, when she lived with
Ashleigh in Victorian London, but this is entirely different.
Nick's letter reads:
Kate reports the "good results" remark to the assemblage at the table, to big smiles and nods. Silently, she gives up on expecting a third letter, with "A" and "N" entwined in red sealing wax. So much for the Tighmark penchant for symmetry.
The "OZ" letter reads:
The founding of your excellent realm of Lanthil has come to the attention of our ruler, Her Majesty, Princess Ozma of Oz. I would be delighted if, at your convenience, you and your companions would meet with me to discuss opening diplomatic relations between our realms. You can reach me at any time at our embassy in Tyley.
She passes both letters around, and asks Galentarma about Oz.
"It's a pleasant place, even though it is less earthlike than Tighmark. Its ruler, Princess Ozma, is a high fay. Oz is the dominant power in their realm, but it's not the only one by any means. Um. Some seven hundred years ago, a small human child was transported to Oz from America. She contrived to make her way back, and told her story to a sympathetic adult, who wrote it up and published it. Thereafter, she made her way back and forth between the two realms several times, and many stories were published about her adventures. There was a bit of a stink about it at the time."
Kate admits, somewhat apologetically, that she never heard anything about it. Mallammen comfortingly points out that it was a long time ago. Mentally, Kate decided that it could have happened after her time.
We start to consider the practicalities of visiting Oz. Fallataal wonders silently if Ozma might have an interest in pointing us at her least favorite relative. (He is still sensitive about having put a knife into an Oakley, albeit the Wicked Uncle.)
The Oakley family starts to protest that we have no real call to leave immediately, saying that they hoped that we could stay with them for quite some time and that they would be most pleased to have our company. We agree without any hesitation. Soon we are fully settled in to our original rooms, with freshly cleaned and mended clothes tucked away in dressers, closets, and wardrobes.
Now the expressions of gratitude begin in earnest.
Galentarma, the paternal grandfather, locates Kate in the library, making a rough draft of a treaty with Oz, using the Tighmark treaty retrieved from Swinburn as the template. He presents her with a box cunningly carved to look like a stout oak tree, with its catch hidden among the roots. He murmurs something about it being a "token of our esteem." Kate opens the box, and inside finds what looks to be a compass, but made of wood. Even the dainty arrow trembling on its point is wood. Only the glass cover is not. "This isn't a compass that points north. It's something to show you the way back. It points the way you came, so you can always retrace your steps." Kate has always been able to find her way around cities, but open countryside and trackless forests, especially of evergreens, have always left her feeling a bit adrift, so her thanks are sincere as well as gracious.
Dafnord has just finished his exercises out in the grove when he is approached by Galandwen, the elven lady whose fiance he provoked into jealous violence, to satisfaction all round. "We know that you prize your sword, Umbra, and we know that you are in charge of the security for the Lanthilor. Therefore, we'd like you to have this sheath." It is wooden, and has "Umbra, the sword of Chaos Twilight" inscribed on one side, and "Property of Dafnord of Lanthil, Elf-Friend" on the other. "It is made of the heart of an oak, and only you will be able to unsheathe it."
Dafnord is certain that Umbra will slice right through the sheath if he is not exceptionally careful, so he resolves to use it only for dress occasions. He takes Umbra and places it in its new sheath, saying "Thank you very much. I shall treasure this, and use it every day." He then asks Galandwen to show him some of her staff work, and she agrees.
Daphne has appealed to the family for help with her stunted little tree, and they respond enthusiastically. Minargalad, Mallammen, and Tintilasea (the maternal grandparents and the mother) meet with her in the conservatory. They explain that they'd like to thank her by doing a magic on her tree, and that it will work out better if she participates. She agrees.
"Would it be acceptable if we were to prick you for your blood?" asks Mallammen.
The pixie gives her an inquiring look. Privately, she is a little taken aback; the uses of blood in magic can be pretty unsavory.
"The more people's blood we use, the better the animation should work out," Mallammen explains.
Daphne is being offered the knowledge of plant animation, a skill she has coveted. She agrees eagerly.
The potted citrus tree is placed on the floor of the conservatory, and they arrange themselves in a circle around it. Mallammen asks Daphne to contact the tree. She does this, and the others link into contact with her through the tree. Mallammen lifts up a small watering can, and indicates that the pixie should carefully watch everything she does. With a dainty scalpel, she nicks her finger to produce a single bead of blood. The bead turns green and is dropped into the can. Minargalad, and Tintilasea do the same thing. But when it is her turn, the pixie can't make the transformation. Patiently, the three elves repeat the process. This time, Daphne is successful. Following Mallammen's urging, she produces a second drop, for complete symmetry.
Mallammen instructs her to water the pot with the entire contents of the watering can, and she does so. Then they sit back on their heels and watch. The tree starts to grow visibly. Soon it is bearing small yellow fruit with pink stripes. Then it begins swaying as if it were restive. It pulls its roots out of the soil, and totters erratically over the surface. Gently, Daphne puts out her hand, and the little tree nuzzles it.
Daphne is thrilled. Minargalad explains that the tree has about the intelligence of a small kitten. The pixie nods absently, never taking her eyes from her now-mobile pet. The Oakleys thank her again for the help she and her companions have given them, and withdraw. Carefully, Daphne picks up the pot, and takes it out to the yard to show Quirky and his friend, Cash
Nursey Cob accosts Robbie in one of the libraries. "Hey, boy-o! Ya got a moment?"
"For you, anytime," replies the former robot.
She reaches into her apron pocket and puts out a wad of fabric. She unfurls it, and holds it out so that he can see it. It's a filmy piece of silk, some 200 cm. by 60 cm., with the image of a purple emperor butterfly spread across it. Cob explains: "The family wanted ya t'have this, but it's not their field. It's mine, so I did the work. This here is a changing silk." Robbie remembers the eagle silk from the Naming ceremony. "Now, we fig'red that, you bein' a surveillance specialist--" Is he? Robbie realizes that he is. "--ya need to be inconspic'us."
Robbie deftly puts on the silk. Suddenly his perspective changes. He is now on the floor, seeing out of many, many (low-resolution) eyes. He can see the giant arc of wings above him. He is a butterfly. He flaps his wings, and moves in response, so it seems his weight is normal for a butterfly. He has the usual six legs, and a great sense of smell. The faint scent of the Vesper's cake suddenly beckons him, but he ignores it. Yet he is still Robbie; he puts out a third eye. This one, too, is a compound eye.
He is charmed. (Well, obviously, but he's also very, very pleased.) This really works. He decides it's time to return to normal. He tries to think of turning back into a humanoid, but nothing changes. He sends "Hey, how do I change back?" to Nanny Cob with robo-djinnish ventriloquism, but she perceives only an annoying buzz in her ear. "Are you doin' that?" she demands of the robo-fly. "Quit it!" He asks it out loud, but she still doesn't react. Finally, he projects ectoplastic letters that spell out "HOW DO I CHANGE BACK?"
She reads them, lips moving, then says, "Pretend like it's over yer head, 'n' take it off, prolly with your front legs."
The butterfly-shape finds that the basic grooming gesture works, and there stands Robbie, holding the silk in one hand.
Cob gives her last bits of information. "Ya should keep it clean. Spots'll show up on your wings right easy. Oh, and anyone can use it, so's ya can share it with yer pals."
Robbie is thoroughly delighted, thanks Nursey Cob handsomely, and instructs her to convey his thanks to the family.
Tintilasea comes up to Salimar, and shyly thanks her for the efforts she went to for the Oakleys, especially their little Aldamir. Our alien waves away the thanks, insisting that no thanks are needed. Determinedly, the new mother drags Salimar into her office, and announces, "We've been asking around, and wanted to give you something appropriate. So, we made this for you." She pulls over a small, oaken cask, set on its butt end. There is a shiny, brass doorknob in the middle of its other end. "It's furnished too. Would you care to try it out?"
Salimar is hesitant, but intrigued. Almost reluctantly, a pseudopod reaches out and flips open the door to this new 'bucket'. It is seven times larger on the inside than it is outside. "Do you mind if I...?" By the time Tintilasea can give an encouraging nod, our liaison officer has slipped entirely inside. The elf hears delighted cries of "Oh, this is like your trees!" "Oh, there's a closet! And another, and...", and "Lighting! And power taps. Is that a psi charger?" (No, but never mind. There's the media set to make up for it.) amid delighted chortles. Salimar arcs back up and out of her cask and gushes, "Oh, thank you so very much! No one has ever..." No one can gush like Salimar.
Fallataal is waylaid by Laskalen and Narion, who take turns speaking, and never let go of each other's hands. "We wanted to thank you on behalf of the family--" "And on behalf of ourselves." "It's produced excellent results for us." "Because I tossed those fireballs and revealed myself--" "Things got aired and now--" "We don't have to sneak around. So, because you helped with all that--" "And because you run up walls--" They hand him a pair of boots in purple, brown, black, and white, the pattern of a Purple Emperor butterfly. "These will let you run through treetops."
The elf tries them on, and finds they fit perfectly. "Kind of you, indeed. Quite unnecessary. Glad to be of service."
That first evening, they gather in Kate's room. The initial atmosphere is a bit dampened by the large, glistening cake that the Vesper family has presented to them. Markel soon cheers them up by showing around a large loaf of brown, acorn bread that he was given. "I gave some to my dragon this afternoon -- about a bushel, I think -- and it's still all here. They said it will always stay good, and fresh." He pauses to think. "I think my dragon could actually survive for a while on this, but I fed him meat anyhow. I guess those were his first sandwiches."
Everyone laughs. Then Gannar shows off an acorn cap he was given. It looks like a wooden beret, and when he puts it on, he turns invisible. Salimar does hex clairvoyance, and ascertains that, not only is Gannar invisible, he is cloaked. The acorn cap is cloaked too; there is no indication that it is in any way magical.
Robbie shows off his butterfly silk, and everyone is suitably impressed. It too is cloaked.
Angel is the last to produce his gift. "I got a present from the father, Hirgalad. He said that fathers should stick together." It takes us a moment to remember that childlike Angel is really an adult Marginalus, with a wife and children of his own, before we can focus on his gift, a wooden rattle. "It makes babies fall asleep."
The pixie is the first to ask the obvious question. "How old can the baby be?"
Angel turns to Fallataal, and shakes it in the elf's face. The centuries-old elf falls asleep.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.