Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 4: Table Talk
Refreshed by the familiar activities of shopping and researching, our
mission team (If they're on a diplomatic mission, then they must be a
mission team, right?) returns to the hotel. Dafnord goes down to check
over the car, ostensibly for safety purposes but actually because it is
a twenty-sixth century air-and-ground car with lots of cool controls.
Gannar obligingly repeats the itinerary from memory when Kate asks for
Kate calls the Prime Minister's office, "I am Katherine Carter of Lanthil, calling in. Our party is staying in the Ridgeway Hotel."
A pleasant voice responds, "Thank you. Did you have any trouble on the way?"
"N...o." Kate finally decides that they mean after arriving in Tighmark.
The pleasant voice explains, "Sometimes we have difficulties with people coming in-" Kate joins her in finishing the sentence, "from the West."
Meanwhile, Robbie and Angel have been having a communications problem, revolving around the word "go," and Robbie calls in the returning Dafnord to help. The nature of the difficulty is readily apparent to the Acro, and he quickly demonstrates the use of the toilet and the other pieces of plumbing in his own bathroom to an increasingly happy Marginalis.
There is a knock on Robbie's door. Outside, Robbie finds a man in severe formal wear, with a pin bearing the royal arms of Tighmark on his left breast. He asks of Robbie that he be directed to Ms. Carter. The former robot obligingly takes him to Kate's door and knocks.
Since this is not expected, Kate mentally pings everyone, asking, "Who's there [at my door]?"
Robbie telepaths back that it is he at the door, with a visitor. After ascertaining that the visitor appears to be a royal official, Kate lets him in. The gentleman greets her, and gently inquires about providing the Lanthil party with guards. Kate thinks that it would be a comfort, and perhaps even useful, and checks with Dafnord, "[Would we like some] guards [provided by Tighmark]?"
Dafnord agrees that it would be nice to have someone guarding the entrances to our floor, so Kate, who hopes that her gaze had not become too vacant during the telepathic exchange, agrees to a security detail. The gentleman smiles and nods, assuring her that it will only be a few minutes, and leaves. Dafnord breaks off mental contact; he decides that Angel has had enough fun in the bathroom, and goes to rescue him.
With gratifying promptitude, a pair of guards arrives on our floor and again one is a man and the other a woman. This time their uniforms are split between blood red and emerald green, instead of rust and olive, but the golden crest is the same. Dafnord briefs them. They develop a familiar vacant look. Dafnord then explains that we'll be going out to dinner soon, and asks them to recommend a place. After another blank stare, the woman suggests "Benjamin's." She gives him directions, and assures him that it's "a favorite with the P.M.'s staff." They then settle in to guard the elevator and stairwell.
Although it isn't yet six o'clock, we make reservations, dress, and troop out to eat at a restaurant where, as the guard's bland comment hinted, no one would find us strange. We get about a third of the restaurant to ourselves, and no stares. Even the mastiff is welcomed without a fuss.
Replete, we return, and gather in Kate's sitting room to chat and digest. Eventually everyone drifts off to their rooms to read, check out the vid options, and sleep. The next day is equally exciting. We stroll through a park, and we visit a determinedly mundane museum. The highlight of the afternoon is the return to Bergamot's to pick up Salimar's earrings. Eventually, it is time to dress and leave.
Again, Gannar drives, and this time there are no wrong turns. We suspect he interfaced with the local web and did some careful research, but do not ask. We arrive at the gates, and are met by guards wearing a very familiar uniform. We're cleared through, and Gannar drives us at a sedate pace up the stately avenue that winds up to the castle. We are ushered into a charming hall, and our car is driven away.
A man in a red and green tabard bows to us, and offers each of us a leaflet. Each is in the appropriate alphabet, whether Roman, Quenya, or Tengwar, and they prove to be a briefing on etiquette. The Prince Marshal is addressed as "sir" and the Princess Marshaline is addressed as "ma'am." We speak to them only after being spoken to, we do not sit before they do, we stand when they do, and we do not turn our backs on them if at all possible. The pixie, unable to read, indicates her distress on the net. Salimar explains the content of the leaflet to her. Daphne is appalled; what sort of rulers can be trusted so little that you are advised not to turn your backs on them? Salimar clears up her confusion.
The back of the leaflet is the guest list. It begins with the Prince Marshal, the Princess Marshaline, and the Prime Minister. Then there are the Chief Wardress, the Astronomer Royal, the Geographer Royal, the Bishop Joan Randall, and the Bishop Taurmegil. Last, but of great interest, is ourselves. We are presented with trays of hors d'oeuvres, and nibble on them as Salimar reads us her leaflet over the net, and advises us about the nuances implicit therein. She then suggests that we mute our mental network for the remainder of the evening, and we agree, dimming down to presence level.
As soon as she has finished (and we don't think it's a coincidence), the herald in the tabard leads us to the great double doors at the far end, opens them, and announces us. It's a plush throne room, with shields and swags of gold fabric decorating the walls. It's probably not the main throne room, but it is very nice. The thrones are occupied by Angloth and Laurecen, two tall, thin high elves, with platinum hair and golden eyes. Many people are clustered around them, most in the increasingly familiar red and green uniforms. In fact, Angloth himself is wearing a uniform, liberally bedecked with gold braid and Celtic knots, while Laurecen is graced by a gorgeous red and green satin gown, and is bedecked with gold jewelry. Neither has a crown embroidered on their breasts; they are wearing the real thing on their heads: classic openwork gold raised in points, and with the headband portion bordered in rubies and emeralds.
Smoothly, Kate tucks her hand in the crook of Fallataal's arm, and they walk up to the thrones. The other members of the team follow. Reaching what she judges to be a respectful distance from the prince and princess, she stops, and bows her head; the others do the same.
The prince and princess greet us pleasantly, and graciously suggest that the treaty-signing begin immediately, much to Kate's relief. We are led over to a table on the right, not much larger than a pool table, and the two copies of the treaty are produced and signed. Our copy goes back into the leather case, and the other passes from Prince to Prime Minister to another official, and so out of the room, presumably to be copied and filed.
We now relax, and smile expectantly at the royal pair, who oblige us by asking about Lanthil and the New Blood. Yes, it is true that we have founded two realms, the Dreamtime and now Lanthil. No, Lanthil hasn't had any real problems. Since it was founded. We are in perfect amity with the Patalans. This earns us a look. This makes Kate nervous, and she explains that she, and most of us, have been away from Lanthil, founding another nation. This one is just a planet in the mundane realm; however, in doing it we were opposed by dragons. The people we saved were the nephilim, but the dragons who opposed them were not the Lilim. As far as we could tell.
This earns us another look and a question about the Patalan ambassador's massacre. Fallataal continued the explanation. He assured them that the version they had heard was garbled. In fact, we were the people who had killed most of the Patalans, and the ambassador had strangled only one. Fallataal leaves the suspicion of espionage and cover-up in the air, but unspoken, as he describes the events more fully. He garners a Look, while the Prime Minister whips out a high-tech tablet and takes frantic notes.
In the pause that follows this delicate recital, the prince and princess signal that it is time for dinner. Each Lanthilo receives a Tighmarker escort of the appropriate gender, and we are led into the splendid dining hall, and are seated so that each Lanthilo is flanked by two Tighmarkers of the complementary gender, with both Robbie and Gannar being treated as male. The "mastiff" is given a large bowl of meat on his own little rug. (Later, he gets another bowl, this one of sulfur chunks.)
Initially, conversation centers on our realm. We explain to the Geographer Royal that most of the boundaries of Lanthil are open sea, since most of our visitors are either fay folk, or mundanes who are definitely out of their own time. It may actually be an island; it is only now starting to be mapped by Tom Noon. It has a vague connection to Faerie by way of the Chaos Marches, which we like; the Dreamtime is happy with its firmer connections.
We touch on the possibility that Lanthil is still being made, which leads us to explain about the knack of the Marginalia for creating solidity out of the Chaos Marches, and how we opposed the Lilim who had enslaved them, and how we led them to... whatever it was that became Lanthil with their arrival. The Tighmarkers all look carefully at Angel, who is made vaguely uncomfortable by their gazes. For the Astronomer Royal, we describe the Lightfall, the glowing cascade of light that comes pouring down the sky into pools of something that is almost water, and how its brightness waxes and wanes, providing us with a measure of day and night.
The Astronomer Royal asks us about heavenly bodies. We are able to say that the moon can be seen from out at sea, and from the bottom of any canyon deep enough to block the Lightfall. The stars can only be seen at sea.
Bishop Taurmegil, dressed in green robes and mitre, with twisty little decorations in gold where you'd otherwise expect a cross, returns to the question of the Marginalia. "Are they fay?" We explain that we are uncertain on that point, but they are certainly not mundane. There is emphatic agreement on that point. Bishop Randall, dressed in red robes and mitre, with a golden Celtic cross around her neck, asks "Who lives in Lanthil besides the elves, the Marginalia, the humans, and pixies?" We mention the dwarves, and explain that Lanthil is open to those who need a place. We do not mention the budgies. Someone else asks if any of the nephilim live there. We explain that no, they have been given a world of their own. Daphne adds, "They like to run things." The Tighmarkers nod in agreement.
Robbie, ever thirsty for knowledge, asks about the religion of Tighmark, and learns that there are two: the Christian Church and the Fairy Kirk. Bishop Taurmegil explains how the rituals of his Kirk developed over the very long time that Tighmark has existed. Ah, yes, Robbie recalls that one book he looked at dated back to the Wurm glaciation.
Since Robbie brought up the subject of religion, the bishop asks him what is his religion? Robbie explains that he had been a robot in the Galactic Patrol, on the Classical Line, and had joined us. Then, he had accepted the invitation of the ambassador from Djinnistan to visit that far land. She had taken him there immediately and unexpectedly. Since then, he has found that he is unable to enter a church. The two bishops look surprised, and exchange inquiring glances. Bishop Taurmegil suggests that it is Robbie's lack of a religion which is the cause of his difficulty, and that he needs to make a deliberate supernatural connection to overcome it.
Robbie is reluctant to make the test. He explains that he originally had a physical third eye, which could fly around and radio its information back to him, but that now he can conjure up such a third eye whenever he wishes. This eye, however, ceased to exist when he flew it into a church. Silently, we contemplate the same thing happening to Robbie himself. Bishop Randall thinks, balancing a spoon on her finger. At least, Robbie muses, his reflection can be seen in the bowl. She asks Robbie, "What are you?" Now that he has a label, his answer is prompt: "A djinnish eidolon."
"Ah. No wonder," she responds. After a moment to arrange her thoughts, she describes her theory. "Transcendence" is the concept that there is something, call it God, beyond what is the material world. "Immanence" is the concept that there is something, also usually called God, throughout the world. The fay folk are more immanent, more firmly of the world. Mortals, who are destined to go beyond the material world, are more transcendent. As part of this, magic is incompatible with transcendence. Since Robbie is an eidolon, he's effectively doing magic all the time.
Robbie nods in understanding. He explains that when the ambassador had taken him to Djinnistan, it turned out that she had taken only his essence, and left his body behind. To the rest of us, it looked like Robbie's system had crashed, and we had done a hard re-boot of him. Thus, when we finally retrieved the essential Robbie, he found that there was a new personality in his body, and so he could not ethically reinhabit it.
That topic of conversation effectively exhausted, we tune in on the hints of the Astronomer and Geographer Royal, and invite them to visit Lanthil sometime. We ask about people coming in from the East, and how they are dealt with. The Chief Wardress now takes center stage. Those who wander in from the East are put under the Charm, so that they believe that they're still in whatever country they came from. Those who come into the North are usually from Norway or Sweden, or sometimes even Denmark. Those who come into the central area think they are still in England, or Scotland. Those who come into the South, generally by boat, think they are somewhere along the coast of France. Unlike the three stable connections with Faerie, the paths to the East move, and even the land does not always stay the same shape. Frequently, she explains, people find the paths just off country lanes. We ask about Lewis Carroll, but are told he never came here. This sets the Wardress off on a conversational tangent, as she assures us that she has read "Alice" to all her grandchildren, and that she loved the remake with... Spotting the Right Sort of movie buff, Kate asks her about the Black North movies, and the two of them are soon in their own little bubble, expressing their distaste for the current run of human-made ones, and their continued bewilderment over the Threenaleen ones.
We finally ascertain that, as we had come to suspect, the red symbolizes the connection with Earth and the mortal realm, and the green symbolizes the connection with Faerie. Bishop Randall asks Salimar, "Who are the New Blood? Is it the elves, the dwarves, the pixies?" The Immediate answer is that "We all are." Fallataal adds that the New Blood is self-defined.
The Christian bishop remarks, "Wouldn't that have been nice!"
Salimar looks polite inquiry. The bishop starts to explain, "Faerie needed, uh,..." The Wardress continues for her, "... buffer states. They thought it would be convenient, and so we were made. For balance." The Prime Minister murmurs something like "plausible deniability."
In our turn, we explain about the "visit" of Lumitar, the loss of our magic mirrors into Faerie, and our very brisk transfer into Lanthil. The Wardress looks thoughtful. Again Daphne pipes up with a truthful observation. "He's the most stuck-up elf I ever met."
This time the Wardress snorts and giggles, before explaining, "He likes to check the geas. Personally. Every three years." We are relieved to find that his next visit is not for another two years.
We ask about mundanes living in Tighmark. The Wardress looks startled, and begins, "Do you think-?"
Kate finishes the question for her, then answers it. "-that many of your people were mundanes? Not any more."
The Wardress assures us, "There are many mortals, humans here, but mundanes rarely stay here for even as much as a day."
We ask which fay realms are near Tighmark. There's Faerie, Tir na N'og, Avalon, Norembega...
Fallataal asks what travel by sea might be available in those realms, and is directed into a conversation with the Geographer Royal. Robbie joins them, asking what is to the North and South of Tighmark. He is told that it is Chaos mostly, although ocean is now opening up in the South, where there are also the Golden Mountains of Faerie.
Salimar asks the fay bishop about the roots of Tighmark. He smiles at her choice of words, and attempts an explanation. The foundation of Faerie is the Tree, and it is said that its roots wrap around every grain of sand. The foundation of Tighmark is the Covenant, which is sung. It seems that the foundation of Lanthil is the Marginalia. Again, everyone looks at Angel.
Salimar describes our unsatisfactory library researches, and explains that she wants a greater understanding of the spiritual basis for the Covenant. Taurmegil explains that it was fashioned as the basis of Tighmark by Faerie, and that it is always being sung somewhere. He adds that it is usually sung at St. Bride's here in Tyley. He goes on to explain the superstitious belief that times of, um, stress occurred because the singing stopped, but that there has never been any actual proof that the singing had actually stopped everywhere in those times.
Eventually the dinner winds to its end. We have learned much, taught much, and dined well. We take our leave graciously, we hope, and return to the Ridgeway in our returned car.
Most of us head for our rooms and bed, but Robbie, Daphne, and Salimar have Gannar drive them to St. Bride's. This is no simple chapel, but a large place with many buildings, frequently decorated with Celtic crosses. They enter on foot, and soon finds a map, which directs them to the choiry. That building has fine, airy gothic arches, but there are none of the Celtic crosses in sight. Robbie puts out his third eye in front of them, with every intention of turning around if the eye should cease to exist. He spots the schedule posted on the door of the choiry, and learns that the singing has just re-started. Salimar opens one of the pair of doors, and steps inside. Robbie's eye passes through into an enormous space. There are bleachers around much of the space. In front, the conductor, a high elf, directs from a thick book. The choristers in their stalls are of all types, high elven, ordinary humans, the furry, the chitinous, and all are in green choir robes. The music is wonderful. Robbie re-docks his eye.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.