Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 6: Post-Prandial Meanderings
Our first meal, and attendant amusements, at Aikenyard has ended, and we
return briefly to our rooms to freshen up. If Nanny Cob is to be
believed, there will be no special event this afternoon, and we are free
to do nothing, so we all variously aim for the Great Outdoors and a
chance to explore.
Kate skips down the main stairs, and encounters a set of three elves who have just arrived, and who, for a wonder, do not look to be related to the Oakleys. They are a trio in black, wearing black silk with some dark velvet trim, with black hair and dark brown eyes. The ladies have slender daggers pendant from their belts. One of them, apparently named Dittany, is fussing over a set of large cylindrical boxes to be sent to the kitchens. They contain something that she seems to have made herself, since Kate catches the tail end of a statement to the effect that she "made some especially for Tintilasea." The liveried servants carrying the boxes are completely expressionless, so Kate assumes that the treat will elicit no more than modified rapture.
The gentleman spots our diminutive diplomat, and promptly introduces himself, "Hello, I am, hmmm, Mallow Vesper, these are mmm, my sisters Tanzey and Dittany, old chummms of Tintilasea. And you would be, ummm?"
"I am Katherine Carter of Lanthil."
"Ahmmmm, the diplomat, mmm. Quite the feather in their cap."
"Well, I think of myself more as the 'foreign godmother' than as 'the diplomat,'" she explains, trying to soften the harshness of her accent.
Undeterred by her attempt to direct conversation towards the lying-in, Mallow asks about the dragon assassination. In as gracious a manner as she can manage, Kate explains how she and a small group of Lanthilor cut down six of the seven spies as they were landed from the Patalan ships, and how the Patalan ambassador throttled the only member of his entourage who might have given an explanation that differed from his protestations of complete innocence.
As Mallow is digesting this version of the putatively well-known events, the velveteen robot sweeps down the stairs, and veers toward Kate and the unfamiliar person. She introduces him to Mallow Vesper as Robbie of Lanthil, the Galactic Patrol, and Djinnistan.
Mallow is so unwise as to remark upon the broadening effect of travel. Robbie, ever agreeable, increases his width to demonstrate the truth of this commonplace. Kate, mentally aghast at this, pings him to not do that. Robbie returns to his previous dimensions.
Now Fallataal comes downstairs. Kate quickly introduces him to Mallow as another Lanthilo. Then, before Robbie can trip over another method of humiliating her, Kate steers him out the front door and towards the gardens.
Charming as the gardens appear, they cannot compete with the exceptionally well-groomed oak grove beyond them. Robbie leads the way along the flower-lined paths that wind among the trees. Some lead right up to trees, trees ten feet wide, with doors and windows. Before Kate can stop him, Robbie has stepped up to one such door, and knocked. Aloud this time, Kate says, "Don't do that."
Before she can continue, they hear a voice, "He's out." Confused, they look around for the source of the voice. "He's out" is repeated, and the speaker is a liveried man in the oak behind us, leaning out a third level window. Robbie rises to the window to converse more politely, and learns that the speaker is cleaning one set of rooms, and that the oak across the way is owned by a family member, who is not currently at home. Kate performs a jump, augmented by levitation, and snags Robbie, urging him back to the ground. Once there, she attempts to lecture him on the social impropriety of going to the home of a complete stranger; she does not think she was effective.
She pilots him around the edge of the grove, and back towards the gardens. Ahead of them, she sees Galentarma. Feeling unequal to the task of schooling a robot while making civil small talk with someone she suspects of being a stickler for the haldennin niceties of elvish manners, Kate turns them away from the gardens and across the lawn.
In their new direction, it is obvious that they will intersect paths with Vicar Grey, but Kate considers the plump woman positively welcome in comparison to Galentarma. They meet up not only with her, but Fallataal, who has been strolling on his own. She greets us with the comment that she thought she saw a large, flying thing over there. Uh. We ask her if she remembers the mastiff from lunch. She does. We explain that the mastiff is really a dragon - but not that sort of dragon, and then we have to describe how Markel and his dragon flew out of Chaos to join us.
She seems to accept and assimilate all this. She explains that she is worried about the dragon flying into Chaos, which is just beyond that wall. Oh. Preferring to be safe, Kate pings Markel, and warns him about the proximity to Chaos. Markel assures her that the dragon knows enough to stay away from the walls. Kate relays his assurance to the vicar, who contributes a further warning: In some places, there is no wall between Aikenyard and Chaos. Kate tells Markel this.
Vicar Grey explains that Chaos is mostly to the North and South of Tighmark, but that the Chaos Marches exist, however thinly, between here and Earth. She adds, "Weird things do show up here from time to time. On the other hand, a new realm - " Like Lanthil. "- appears only once in an age." Now, it appears, the vicar is producing a little set speech. "It would be a very fine thing to mark this historic occasion. There is a little school nearby, where I teach. I and my students would appreciate it very much if Mr. Markel would show off his dragon, to sort of break the ice, and then discuss Lanthil, and other events he's taken part in."
Robbie happily pings Markel, and calls him down from the roof where he was ensconced, while Kate wonders just how uncomfortable Markel will be at talking - at length - to a large assembly of young girls. Vicar Grey makes her proposal to Markel. With great diffidence, he agrees to it. Kate promises that she will help him by fielding some of the questions he gets. The vicar is pleased, and takes her leave. Robbie wanders off.
Dafnord, instead of heading outside, chooses to prowl the manor, checking its defenses, its supports, its exits. He is near the kitchens when he sees several large, cylindrical boxes carried past, with the intriguing comments, "I don't know what Chaffer's going to say about this," and "Last time, he crawled under the refrigerator."
Casually, he follows the small procession, but refrains from entering the kitchen area. He is loitering outside, when Swinburn shimmers into view. "May I help you, sir? A snack?"
"No," the Acro denies any appetite with a smile. "I have just been admiring the mansion." Swinburn nods, and steps into the kitchen. While the door is open, Dafnord can make out aggrieved voices, but no words. He continues on his self-imposed scouting mission.
Robbie, strolling off in the general direction of the wall at the edge of Aikenyard, finds an abrupt, deep drop in the land. It is a ho-ho, an extreme version of a ha-ha. There are steps in the supporting wall, so he follows them down to a delightful, perhaps even charming, bosky dell featuring a fountain. Beyond that is the wall, with a barred gate set in it. Through the gate he can see fuzzy weather and distorted trees: the Chaos Marches. He climbs back up the ho-ho, and continues around the house, exploring as he goes.
Fallataal, uninhibited by a fear of interacting with elves, returns to the manor house. As he is sauntering down one of the corridors, Narion comes up to him. "I wanted to th-thank you for your discretion earlier today."
Fallataal smiles, and replies enigmatically, "It's a tradition."
Narion is not quite finished. He shifts from one foot to the other, then asks, "Have you seen G-Galentarma? Recently, that is?"
"Yes, I saw him outside. It was only a few minutes ago." Immediately, Narion whisks off, in a direction that, Fallataal suspects, will not take him out of doors.
Feeling a trifle peckish, the elf meanders into the dining room. Unfortunately, all traces of the luncheon have been cleared away. Instead, there is large chocolate cake with pride of place, clearly ready to be served. A hovering footman offers Fallataal a slice,
He declines, murmuring that it would not be right for him to have the first one. The footman assures him, mournfully, "There are others." After a pause, he inquires, "Would there perhaps be something else I could get you?"
After a moment of polite hesitation, he requests "a bit of cheese."
"Please sit down; I will bring it to you presently."
No sooner has he settled into a chair than a tall lady in black enters, clearly related to Mallow Vesper. Dafnord enters from another door at almost the same time. The woman looks at Fallataal, looks at the table, and says, "Hmmm, hmmm, oh. You haven't touched it." Before Fallataal can say anything, she has cut him a sector of cake, and docked it in front of him. "It's an, umm, old family recipe. I've been working on it." She introduces herself as Dittany Vesper. By now, Dafnord has a slab of his own.
It has diced chocolate fruit across the top, and it quivers. He smiles winningly, and takes a bite. There is a very intense chocolate flavor, the tang of honey, and another sweet savor he can't place. Maple syrup? His pancreas turns inside out. He smiles winningly, and takes a second bite. Thus, we learn that Dafnord's middle name is Stoicism. Just as he is bracing for a third bite, the footman brings Fallataal a runny cheese, crackers, a cheese fork, and some water. Dafnord smiles winningly, and asks for some water.
Daphne, apparently operating on a pixie homing sense, plunges into the dining room. Fallataal gestures with his cake plate, and his slab becomes hers. She is thrilled, "And with chocolate fruit, too!"
Dittany laments that it is no longer possible to get chocolate fruit. Heedlessly, Daphne suggests that she simply plant the seeds.
When Dittany explains that she has been unable to grow it from seed, the pixie begins to tell what we did before plunging to a halt. Her comment goes unnoticed, perhaps because she is shoveling in the cake with both hands.
The empty expanse of table in front of Fallataal then draws Ditany's attention, and he receives a new gelatinous slab. Dafnord's water arrives, and he is especially grateful that a lime has been included. Salimar arrives, and is given her own slab. She absorbs it effortlessly, but then, this is a creature that seeks out blazing headaches.
The pixie asks for some milk to go with her cake. At the same time, Dittany asks for mead. Someone's ears prick up, and Fallataal also requests mead. Salimar asks for May wine, only to have it pointed out that it is only March. Undaunted, she asks if there might be any left from the previous year. The footman departs.
Dafnord can no longer deal with his cake, so he attempts a distraction. He introduces himself and the others to Dittany. "Oh, hmmm, the diplomats?" He pings Salimar and explains his problem.
Modestly, he explains that only two of them are diplomats, and that he handles the security. Dittany asks Dafnord about the fight between him and Linlas. As he describes it, Salimar absorbs his monument to sucrose. He suggests to Dittany that they repair to the garden for a brief re-enactment, and she agrees.
Shortly after their departure, the footman returns with their various drinks. Salimar now sends him off to get her some thornberries. By the time he has returned, the cake is octarine, and vaguely iridescent. The returning footman stops dead, and exclaims, "Oh, my god. It's gone off."
Salimar smoothly suggests that it be gotten rid of. Reverently, her bowl of berries is placed before her. Then the cake is whisked away into the kitchen, accompanied by a murmur of "They're not going to believe this."
Kate and Markel have continued their aimless stroll over the grounds. They then discover that it is not entirely aimless; they are agreed in avoiding Galentarma. Kate spots Dafnord engaged in another kendo display, and heads that way. Markel is more direct, and climbs a tree, where he is watched by a squirrel in Oakley livery.
The kendo demonstration ends, and Dittany reciprocates with a display of knife tricks. There are several toss-and-catch variations, some juggling, and a version of mumblety-peg involving Dafnord's feet. Interestingly, the knife seems to leap back into her hand after each throw.
With mixed feelings, Daphne watches the octarine cake be carried away into the kitchen. She is well and truly full, and buzzes outside, rather more heavily than usual, and washes her sticky, crumb-covered hands in a koi pond. She leaves behind some very happy goldfish, and flies off for a nap in the trees.
Salimar has a solemn discussion with the footman about the cakes, and segregating them from the other food. The footman looks thoughtful. Before the silence becomes too long, Salimar asks for directions to the library. Instead, her new friend leads her to a cozy old study, with two bookcases, a wing-backed chair, and some footstools. He informs her that this is the horticultural library, and then pauses, looking puzzled. With a little prompting from our KaiSen liaison officer, he explains that he doesn't remember the floor lamp. He gives a shrug, and leaves.
The floor lamp certainly looks ordinary enough, but Salimar gives it the psyonic twice-over anyhow. The lamp morphs into a tall, dusky fellow with a vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. Surprised at his own transformation, he says "Oh. I'm so curious to meet you."
Salimar only raises her eyebrows in inquiry.
Another interrogative look.
This is not as informative as Salimar would like. "Why are you so interested in me?"
Hedley flounders a bit. "You're so... fluid." Her lack of real bones would explain that, but she says nothing. "I noticed you in Tyley." Suddenly, he turns into a large, pink, feathered snake, and coils around her neck.
She easily pulls him away from her, and says reprovingly, "That wasn't very pleasant."
"Oh, sorry," he says in a strangled voice (since she hasn't let go). He escapes by turning into a fly. She grabs him in her fist. He tunnels out through her hand. She lets him escape, but puts a psi tag on him before he can leave the room.
She then does a short-term retrocognition of the room, and learns that it was earlier today that a fly flew into the room and became the lamp. She also learns that this Hedley is fay, and no human at all. She does a thorough scan of the room, and ascertains that it is now clean. She selects a hand-written work on horticultural magic, and settles in for a quiet read.
Daphne awakes, still feeling uncomfortably full, and starts exploring the woods. She looks over the wall into the Chaos Marches with mild interest. Eventually she finds her way into Markel's oak, where he is still being watched by the squirrel in green.
"Hi, Markel. Are you exploring too?"
"Who's your friend?"
"I don't know."
Daphne turns to their furry observer, "Who are you?"
Perhaps the squirrel says something, but it is nothing intelligible.
Robbie found his way to an easily-overlooked garden near the mansion, and practically tripped over the bench where Narion and Laskalen were kissing. The two leap to their feet. Robbie, inexplicably sensitive, says, "Oh, sorry. I'll just be passing on. Sorry to disturb you."
Narion manages a protest. "N-n-not at all." The two watch the robot amble away.
He continues around the house, and soon hears Markel and Daphne talking in a tree. He rises into their nest of branches. "Oh, hi. Who's your friend?" he asks about the squirrel. He is rewarded with a glare from the rodent. He tries a more direct tack. "My name's Robbie. What's yours?" Now the glare is sulky.
The squirrel's gaze flicks to something behind Robbie. It screams, and flees down the trunk. Robbie turns to find that the dragon has joined Markel and them.
Markel slips down the trunk, reaching the ground at about the same time as his mount. They commune briefly, and Markel goes inside while the dragon patiently waits. By the time Markel returns with his saddle, there are five footmen and four maids staring at the winged beast, from a safe distance. He ignores them, and starts to saddle up.
A maid asks, "What does it eat?"
The dragonrider pauses in tightening the girth, and replies, "Small animals and an occasional plant. ... Not animals in clothes," he adds, thinking of the squirrel in livery.
The maid explains, "That would be Captain Ficket." Markel nods.
One of the footmen essays, "What would he like to eat?"
"Meat," Markel admits.
"Could he please not eat the squirrels near the house?"
Markel consults with his companion, and reports back, "Okay."
The servants whisper back and forth, and the footman makes a further request. "And ... not at night?"
This consultation does not go as well; the contingent request is too much for the beast. Markel decides that he will have to use other measures. He smiles reassuringly at the huddled people, mounts, and urges his dragon into the sky.
Meanwhile, Daphne has been describing the chocolate cake in superlatives to Robbie, so he decided to investigate that next. They descend, and make their way back into the dining hall. Fallataal is still there, nibbling on his cheese and crackers, and glancing at his cake slice. Immediately, he offers it to Robbie, who politely declines. Fallataal becomes more insistant, and the pixie contributes that she cannot have any more; she is full. Robbie accedes, and takes his first bite, sensors wide open. This is CHOCOLATE and this is honey and that is maple syrup and ... He is charmed.
A tall woman in black enters the dining room. This is a different woman, so it must be Tanzey Vesper. She casts a sharp eye over the cake-free table, and heads into the kitchen. Soon we can hear, "They do not 'go off.' Ummm, let me see." There is an eloquent pause, then "My god! What color is that!?"
Firmly, Fallataal discusses cheese with Robbie and Daphne, and persuades Robbie to try it. The robot agrees that despite being runny, it is very nice. He then suggests that they leave before the woman returns. Daphne warns Robbie that the other lady cut really big slices, and then she leaves, walking.
They continue chatting about the cake, cheese, and mead, and so are still there when Tanzey, radiating single-minded determination, returns with another cake. They watch as she cuts a good-sized chunk onto a plate, and vibrates off with it.
Daphne, careful not to jar her digestive system, walks through various gardens around the house, until she encounters Mallammen, Tintilasea's mother, watching over some oak seedlings in a greenhouse. The elf immediately turns her full attention on the pixie. It is rather like being caught in the glare of a set of golden headlights. "Oh, I'm glad to see you. You are a pixie, aren't you?" Daphne makes a small nod. "I couldn't help but notice how you flew up into that oak tree. And that you were quite stealthy about it." Our pixie doesn't even blush. "I've known several pixies, and you are a diplomatic pixie." She pauses for a nervous instant. "I need someone not of the family... to help me with a problem.
"We have produced a very nice present for the child,... but it was very expensive."
Daphne cocks an eyebrow in inquiry.
"It's a series of promises of aid for the baby. They were expensive to obtain." The next part of her story is more rambling, but easily untangled. Many years ago, her husband had given her the family brooch, an enormous, ugly piece of natural gold and emeralds, solid with symbols and coats-of-arms. She had always hated it, while her husband was enormously proud of it, and insisted that she wear it to balls, on her evening gown, although it weighed nearly a pound. Mallammen whimpered that no attempt at teaching him that the piece was in bad taste had ever come close to succeeding. The only proper place for such a thing, she opined, was on a cloak on the eve of battle, and, she cryptically added, "the Fomorians have been dead a long time."
By now, Daphne was expecting her next step. Faced with the expense of the promises, she had pawned the overgrown gorget, and glamoured a pewter saucer into a replacement. Then she came to the crux of the matter: her husband, Minargalad now wanted to show Hirgalad the wretched thing, and if he did, Mallammen's deceit would be found out. So, could Daphne perhaps steal the copy?
Daphne considers this and suggests they blame the deed on a squirrel. Sounds plausible to Mallammen; could Daphne actually persuade a squirrel to steal the copy?
After a moment's thought, Daphne replies, "No, but I know someone who could be a squirrel." Mallammen agrees to leave the copy out on her dressing table, with the window open.
Daphne contacts Salimar, and the latter directs her to the horticultural library. There, Salimar deftly untangles the pixie's version of the story, and the two discuss the possibilities. Salimar then explains about the mysterious Hedley, and it occurs to both of them that more attention should be paid to that shape-shifter.
Daphne returns to Mallammen, while Salimar buckles down to the Hedley problem. She asks a passing maid if there is a guest list somewhere, and is directed to Swinburn. Of course. Swinburn tells her definitively that there is no such person invited. Salimar then describes the entire exchange, which prompts a "Most disturbing, madam." They agree that the household must be put on alert. Swinburn adds, "I shall inform Mr. Brightman, the warden, that we have acquired a pooka."
After a discreet examination of Salimar, Swinburn delicately suggests that Hedley's fascination with Salimar may be useful in his apprehension, but warns that his claim may have been merely a ruse while he assessed her capabilities, or even just a crude jest. Salimar nods, and reminds him that she has put a psi tag on Hedley, so that it should be possible to find him. Swinburn nods in understanding, he thanks her for her useful communication, and they separate.
Salimar pings Daphne, and quickly finds her in the oak garden with Mallammen. The pixie and she soon decide that trying to involve Hedley in the brooch situation would bring in too much attention. Salimar asks the elf where the pawnshop is located, but any scheme involving the real brooch is dashed with the word, "London."
They tentatively decide to have Mallammen simply un-glamour the faux brooch. She can then blame the squirrles and Daphne will volunteer to search squirrel nests.
The conversation then turns horticultural.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.