Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 8: The Belles of St. Trinian's
Still subdued from our encounter with the dead of the Oakleys, we return
to our rooms to prepare for dinner.
The preliminary gong is sounded. Kate and Salimar, who know what the sound is, speed up their preparations. Dafnord, unfamiliar with the custom, draws Umbra, and steps ever so nonchalantly into the hall for a reconnaissance. He sees people casually heading downstairs, and relaxes. Malinalda, Narion's employer, genially asks, "Anything wrong?"
Dafnord smiles tightly, and replies, "Apparently not." He retreats to his room, and puts the finishing touches on his Silver Service uniform. He reflects that blue and silver are not his colors, but he should dress to support the Envoy of Lanthil, and not his amour-propre.
As Fallataal heads for the dining room, Laskalen slips in next to him, beaming happily. "Good evening," he says.
Laskalen responds effusively. "Yes, it is. Wasn't it a wonderful sunset? And the roses in the garden? Magnificent!"
The little hairs on the back of Fallataal's neck go up. All too clearly, she has spent a rapturous afternoon with Narion. If he cannot shake her out of this mood, everyone will know. "Even the skeletons were lovely," he agrees.
She does a fractional double-take, and returns to earth, or at least Tighmark. "Skeletons?"
"I don't know what you'd call the ceremony, but it's when the skeletons and other dead of the Oakley family dance around the fires under your hill...?" Laskalen indicates that she has no familiarity with what he's describing. Subdued, they arrive at the dining room.
Kate, escorted by Dafnord and Markel in their Silver Service uniforms, arrives at the dining room to find a somber Oakley family preparing to eat. Immediately, however, Daphne bounces in, with her new, electric hat flashing, and the mood, um, lightens noticeably. Robbie, upholstered in red plush, does nothing to stifle the upbeat atmosphere.
Daphne is seated next to Minargalad, the father of the mother-to-be. Making conversation, he asks her about the Hat, remarking that he hasn't seen anything like it in three... no, four hundred years, when his sister-in-law.... Daphne is happy to tell him that she got it out of the attic, and that Robbie and Gannar fixed it for her. Minargalad glances at Robbie on Daphne's other side, but there is no gratitude in his look. Robbie turns down the brightness level of the Hat.
The late arrival of the day, Megilriel, is seated next to her new friend, Fallataal. She asks, "Do you know her? The one in the Hat?" He demurs, admitting that he is acquainted with her, but denying that he knows her well. She then comments on the phenomenon of the fiery hill, and is deeply surprised to learn that Fallataal watched it from up close. "You were at the Oakley burial ground?"
Now the penny drops for Fallataal; he had not realized that the hill was the actuality, not just the representation. "'Burial ground'? I had not realized that the hill was so, so literal."
Megilriel nods, and meanders on to explain that her family is thorn, and that when she travels on a British-Euro passport, her name is "Margaret Thorn."
"Were-houses?" murmurs Fallataal.
"Oh, yes, lots." Though she explains that the Thorns and the Oakleys are not, technically, were-houses, but later developments.
"Beetles?" he asks, checking on an earlier comment.
"Oh, you mean Chaffer. Yes, he comes from a very old, very pure family."
Fallataal nods thoughtfully, and turns back to his soup.
Robbie, next to Daphne, checks the placecard on his other side, and learns that the woman next to him is Eldawen, the wife of the brother of the father-to-be. An aunt-in-waiting. Eldawen opens with the conversational gambit, "Do all Lanthilor wear hats to dinner?"
Robbie admits, "Daphne is a law unto herself."
"She's a pixie, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is." Feeling that there must be more fruitful topics of conversation, Robbie asks, "Where are you from?"
He learns that Eldawen and Amrod have a place down in Lincaster, that they had once had hopes of relocating to Aikenyard, and that she is active in the local historical society and the local hunt. He learns about foxes and drag hunts before he can turn the conversation to the Covenant, its singing, and religion. Daphne chimes in to say how she was hoping to sing as well, and that she already had her robe, purchased just that morning. Robbie turns down the Hat some more.
He learns that Christianity entered Tighmark when that faith entered the mundane realms of France and Britain, and that the local version, Celtic Christianity, is extinct on Earth. The Faerie Kirk took its bureaucracy from the Church, for the sake of efficiency. Eldawen is impressed that the Lanthil group met with both bishops when they were in Tyley; it is a great honor.
Robbie remarks that he was surprised to realize that the fay here have a sense of calendar time, since those in the Summerlands do not. She explains that here, with visitors coming in from the mundane realm, everyone must be sensitive to day and night, the weather, the seasons, and so to time itself. She further explains that fays were originally from Earth, and that the Summerlands were founded to stave off the last Ice Ages, and so it is understandable that they are resistant to the passage of time.
Kate finds herself next to Hirgalad, the father-to-be. Soon he brings up the delicate subject. "Gather you folk went out to the hill?"
"Yes," she admits, and tries to explain what happened as gently as possible. "We went out to observe, since we were told that it was unwise for you to do so." Hirgalad nods. "We received several messages for 'the little lord,' and we will be writing those up as a presentation scroll, or something similar." Hirgalad nods again. "There was one message for all the Oakleys, so I will give it to you: Anglas is moving on." She waits expectantly.
Hirgalad turns to his mother, Domelothe, asks her about Great-Uncle Anglas, and repeats Kate's relayed message. The whole family grows quiet as they hear this.
Robbie asks Domelothe what "moving on" means in this context. She explains that it means that Anglas will not be coming back to the family, unlike others who have died. When Robbie looks confused, she gives him a bit of history. Anglas had fought in the Fomorian War some thirty-five hundred years earlier, had lost his fiancee in the war, and had returned from it horribly maimed. Although his ills had mostly been cured, he remained a very melancholy person until his death. Thoughtfully, she adds that his fiancee had belonged to another family, and there is the possibility in the air that Anglas has 'moved on' to be with her. Robbie asks about the Fomorian War, since he had heard "Fomorians" mentioned at the hill, and learns that Tighmark and Tir na n'Og fought for a hundred years against a race of shape-shifting giants with their own realm, the Fomorians.
Markel again finds himself in contact with the vicar, Susannah Grey. She confirms that he will come to her school, to show off his dragon and talk to her girls about the founding of Lanthil, and gives him directions and a time to arrive the next day. She rides right over his demurral that he doesn't understand much about the founding, assuring him that his dragon will be the focus of interest. He nods warily, and turns to his food.
Nursey Cob asks her dinner partner, Dafnord, about the visit to the hill. Dafnord, who spent his afternoon doing other things, lets Kate on his left explain about the messages, and what we intend to do with them. Cob nods approvingly. She explains that the fires under the hill are always portentous for the Oakleys, which makes it inadvisable for any of them to view the experience at close hand.
Salimar finds herself across the table from the Vespers, one of whom (Tansey) appears to be grumpy. Overtly solicitous, she learns that one of Tansy's special cakes has turned a sort of purplish greenish color, and that people are refusing to eat it. Soon she is able to offer a suggestion that has all the Vespers buzzing appreciatively: prepare the recipe as cupcakes, so that each individual serving can be dipped in, say, chocolate, and frosted. Tintilasea, who had been listening, abruptly leaves the table, followed by Swinburn and her maid.
Later in the meal, Minargalad finally makes the comment Daphne and Salimar have been waiting for. "It's a pity you can't find that brooch." Daphne looks a question at him. Minargalad explains that, although he is sure they packed it, now his wife can't find it, and he creates a life-size image (about five inches by seven inches) of the flamboyant piece of the goldsmith's art, so that they will know what he is talking about. Salimar and Daphne get to see that the crest has quarterings, and that two of those have quarterings. It is clear that an extensive infrastructure is required to wear this on a mere gown.
Daphne brightly asks if the windows were open. She doesn't have to say anything more. "Oh, those little bastards!" exclaims Minargalad, clearly referring to the ubiquitous squirrels. Salimar adds some distracting suggestions, but everyone is agreed that the squirrels like shiny things, and that the giant gaud is likely to have been taken by them. The places to look for it are the attics and the dower grove, and Daphne volunteers to help.
Salimar asks for an explanation of the "dour grove" and learns its proper name, that the trees are larger on the inside than the outside, and that any Oakley is entitled to retire to live there. Minargalad explains that he and Mallammen have a tree there, acquired when they abdicated Aikenyard to Hirgalad and Tintileasea, though they hardly need it, with their other residences in Tyley, Oakley, and London. Perhaps they will give it to someone. He invites them to visit the grove the following day.
Dinner ends, and after some polite post-prandial chit-chat in the parlor, we retire to Kate's room. From here, we collect writing instruments, paper, and a strong light, by appealing to Swinburn, and start to prepare our presentation scroll. After much argument, and against Kate's better judgment, the side comments are included, and the scroll is finished.
After breakfast, Kate again contacts Swinburn, and has him arrange a meeting with the parents to make our presentation. Kate, followed by Fallataal and Markel, and then by Robbie and Daphne, presents the scroll to the grave-looking parents-to-be. They read through the messages, reading some aloud, and exclaiming over others. Eventually, they give us their thanks. Kate nods gravely, and exits with, "Tell the little lord not to miss Lanthil" and a gentle smile.
Markel returns to his room and changes into his riding gear; it is time to visit the Oakley Park School for Young Women. Following the vicar's directions, he and his dragon fly low over the north side of the town to the boarding school. There he finds too many girls sitting in the bleachers around a soccer field. There is much stirring and pointing as they circle in, and he hears Vicar Grey finish with, "... a big Oakley Park welcome to Markel of Lanthil."
There is a ragged cry of something like "Ah el of aih eh" as they land.
The dragon twists his head around to look at his dismounting rider and manages to express his dissatisfaction with this experience. Markel tries not to get far from his mount while still standing near the vicar.
The vicar says a few more words about the historic founding of Lanthil before she invites questions from her students. A forest of hands start waving, and the vicar selects the questioners. As predicted, the girls concentrate on the dragon. "Is that a real dragon?" Yes. "Does it have a name?" Yes, but you couldn't pronounce it. "Can you?" Yes, and Markel rumbles out something like a clap of thunder. There is silence, then an impressed "Ooooo."
Someone switches over to the celebrity line of questioning. "Did you meet Didanna?" Yes. "Is she pretty?" Yes. "Does she really have a miniature wizard on a leash?" No. "Did you meet Alvirin?" Yes. "Is he handsome?" Yes is still a safe answer. "Is he fierce?" Sure. "I've heard your queen is from Middle Earth. Is she really?" Yes. He doesn't say it was the Worldbender construct, and that "queen" is the last thing she wants to be called. "Is she one of the Dream Princes?" No. "Is she a sidhe?" Sort of.
Someone asks an actual, thoughtful question, "Like, uh, we have the Covenant, and Faerie has the Tree, right?. So, like, what do you have?" Although he is far more pleased that Lanthil has a delightful absence of screaming mobs of young girls, he explains, "We have the Marginalia. They created Lanthil out of Chaos, you see."
Then it's back to the dragon. "Does your dragon breathe fire?" Yes. (Meanwhile there is a scuffle, with "I wanted to ask that question!" and "She hit me!" audible in the middle of it.) "Can we see?" Yes. The dragon produces an impressive flame. "Ahhhhhhh!" "I heard you were in a battle with dragons? What happened?" He just flew from Elsewhere into this...fight.
"Which side did you start out on?" This produces a hub-bub of its own.
"I... there were these little people, and they were being attacked, so I just took their side."
There is a moment of impressed silence. It's broken. "Is your dragon glamoured or shape-shifted?" No, but he could be. "Can we see?" No, Markel can't do it himself. "Oh." Disappointment reigns.
The vicar says, "Now, girls, I'm sure there's a basic glamour on the dragon that can be easily activated...." The hint is quickly taken, and several volunteers to activate the glamour raise their hands. "Esme" is selected amid cries of "Show-off!" and "Teacher's pet!" and haughtily flounces her way down onto the grass.
"Hold it!" warns Markel, and he pulls the saddle off before Esme proceeds with the spell. It works, and there is a brindled mastiff with its head and tail down. "Geeee." Markel twitches his head, and Esme returns the dog to its true dragon form. "Ahhhhhh."
Esme then wants to feed the dragon, and shows up with a "rabbit" that turns out to be a white mouse from the biology classroom, glamoured. The vicar rescues/confiscates the mouse and, after some pleading, allows the girl to fetch some raw hamburger from the cafeteria. It's the high point of the visit, as far as the dragon is concerned.
"Olive" asks if they can touch the dragon, and with a bit of consulting and a lot of position arranging, shoving, and pinching, the girls are formed into a line so that only one girl at a time approaches the giant creature. There are solid pats, a few timid touches (with squeaks), and one or two attempts to actually give the dragon an enjoyable pet. Esme actually fast-talks her way into a quick ride in the air. This is clearly the climax of the encounter, and Vicar Grey wisely chooses to thank Markel for his visit, let him escape gracefully, and let Esme cope with the envy of her peers.
They fly back to Aikenyard, with the dragon giving reproachful glances at his hapless rider.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.