Journey to New Europa
Chapter 16, The Seige of Old Oak Manor
We left our heroes at their newly-acquired home, on alert because Mithriel became aware of a "something wicked this way comes" feeling.
Lorelei sets about raising her Wards Major. She covers an entire wing of the house (the one we're in) with a dome of silvery, misty luminescence. Mithriel's oppressive premonition stops and time passes.
By late afternoon, nothing has happened. We notice a local kid staring in awe at the Ward light. He leaves and more nothing happens.
Various locals show up to gawk. Mitchel shows up, too, and tries to shoo them away. He fails. Then our cook, Jenny, shows up and is more successful than Mitchel, probably because of wielding a broom.
Tom suggests lowering Wards to chase away innocent bystanders. Lorelei responds that the Adversary is also known as the Father of Lies, and this could be a trap. Tom agrees. Eventually, the locals go, to be replaced by a new crew. This group appears to be the town drunks. Eventually, they run out of patience and witticisms (not a long wait) and leave.
By now, it is late twilight -- after ten in summer England -- and we have missed both appointments with Sommerset Hall, arranged to verify that he survived his encounter with the Assassination Bureau.
Keeping watch in the gloaming, Mithriel uses glamour to amplify the light coming through a window. Tom tries to do the same at his post and is very surprised to succeed, give or take some green static at the edges of the window. It's the first glamour he's performed here that hasn't gone poof in his face. Probably the Wards Major help.
Through this amplification, we see two locals leave their hiding places and scurry away. A carriage comes thundering down the road. It really shouldn't thunder, since it is about a foot above the road, but that doesn't stop the horses' hooves from striking sparks off the air. The horses are six in number, massive, and black.
It rolls to a stop before our gate and the carriage door swings open. A bogey of some sort scurries out of the brush and into the door, which closes. A few minutes later, the bogey emerges and runs away.
After that, a large ... "man" emerges, wearing a blue and purple cloak and a horned helmet. If he is wearing a helmet. He walks down where the carriage steps should be if he had bothered to have any, and surveys the Manor with glowing eyes. After a couple of minutes, he nods slowly to himself, gets back in, and drives off through the middle of town.
More time passes. We keep to our posts and play whist by telepathy. We hear squirrels (?) on the roof. Tom takes a look clairvoyantly, as well as the Wards allow, but sees nothing at first. Then he spots wings on the roof of the house, the main section beyond the Wards. Nick takes over the clairvoyance and casts a glamour spotlight, which shines through the wards and reveals imps on our roof -- hairless, batwinged little monkey-things, tearing up the shingles. Had we the opportunity to call either, we'd hesitate between an exorcist and an exterminator. They scowl and chitter at the light, but continue clawing up titles, shading their eyes with their wings.
Then a huge black dog comes loping over the fields, jumps at the dome, and scrabbles, sliding, down the sides. It tries several times.
Dafnord asks if we can hold out indefinitely. Lorelei says no, but we can easily hold out until Auberon gets back to London tomorrow. Time passes and we listen to stubborn monsters trashing our house.
Then Z sees the grounds humping and roiling, suggesting something like very large moles beneath. Lorelei assures us that the Wards continue through the ground, forming a sphere, not just a dome.
Simultaneously, Nick notices smoke going down our chimney, shortly followed by a puff of embers, then several more puffs, then great gouts of fire. Sparks kindle parts of the roof and some of the shrubbery in the garden.
Mithriel then spots a figure approaching from the back fields, in the direction of the old farm. It is darkly cloaked and shuffling. Tom suggests she use some telescopic glamour. Mithriel complies and Z now notices that the figure's shuffling feet appear to be 6 to 12 inches below the surface of the soil. He appears to be wading or skating, rather than shuffling. He's very wide and stocky.
The gate levitates open for him, he passes by the duck pond, whips off his cloak, soaks it, and reveals very long arms and chain mail. His face is decidedly ugly, and he has huge ram's horns. He then starts beating out the fires in the garden with his wet cloak. This friendly action and fragmentary descriptions we got from the locals tells us that this must be Old Tom, a long-time resident of the Manor grounds (as in, probably pre-Norman, pre-Saxon, pre-Roman, pre-Neanderthal...).
Passing flames show a bark-like face. What we have here is a sort of bonsai Ent with horns. His efforts favor the vegetation rather than the house, but that's natural. Nothing seems to attack him. Midnight comes, and things seem to calm down.
Around 3 AM, there's a distant roll of thunder. We see more gouts of sparks and flames, this time from the far side of the house. Then a lightning bolt goes up from the house. Shrapnel flies. We spot motion in the darkened yard. The glamour spotlight reveals Old Tom rollin about in a scrum with the Black Dog.
Fortunately, summer nights are short in England. Dawn is nigh. Old Tom flings the dog off. The dog skulks away and Old Tom marches away, apparently victorious. Dawn breaks, heralded by roosters, cockerels, and one very misguided goose.
Dew glitters in the early light. Some of the glitter rises, revealing itself to be very petite petty-fays, like Tinkerbell, only smaller, the smallest we've ever seen. They frolic for a bit, then scram.
An hour later, another carriage comes down the road. This one has only two horses, white, and stays on the ground. It bears the Bavarian arms. Morrolan steps out, surveys the damage, smiles weakly, and heads for our door. We drop the Wards and go to meet him.
At the door, we find Morrolan only a neck ahead of Mitchel, who listens with ears a-flap. Morrolan tells us that Auberon's ship has been delayed by unexpected bad weather in the Channel (courtesy of guess who). He's still expected this afternoon. And it looks as if the Wild Hunt rode through our yard. And, in fact, now that we are out of the Wards and able to look around, the damage to the house and grounds looks more extensive than we had thought.
Katie shows up, vibrating, to tell us that something very strange is at the back door. (That's all right. There's something very strange at the front door, and more strange things in the middle.) Tom Noon goes back to see and is not surprised to find Old Tom there. Tom thanks his namesake profusely and invites him in for breakfast, sending Katie off to drum up some oatmeal. (House spirits generally like oatmeal. Or milk or cream, but all the dairy stuffs in the village soured last night.)
Old Tom is rather gruff in manner, but pleased to be invited in, though it's the first time he's ever been inside this place. He heaves up the steps heavily, cracking the less sound ones, and moves across the floor without lifting his feet, acquiring a throw-rug by the time he reaches the table.
We offer more thanks, oatmeal, and healing from Lorelei. He looks a lot better by daylight and healed. We exchange pleasantries and compliments. We ask him if the Wild Hunt is likely to come back. Old Tom says yes and pulls out a pocket watch with one hand and fifteen non-Arabic, non-Roman numerals, and opines that the Unseelie will likely be back, worse than before, by next Tuesday. (It is now Thursday.) Morrolan thinks this very likely.
Nick suggests that if we can't wrap our mission up soon, we take "refuge" with the Druids, who conjured us here. Old Tom is amused at the idea. Lorelei asks him about our signing the Second Compact. He thinks it a good idea. A few more pleasantries, then he shuffles out, taking the throw-rug with him, now acting as a pair of unconventional slippers. The floor was going to have to be fixed anyway, and the repair crews are already descending on us.
Morrolan tells us that the petty-fays brought him here. Auberon should be here around tea-time. We'll be sure to show up at the Embassy. Meanwhile, we resolve to look up Somerset Hall. Morrolan notes who to expect for tea, plus a memo to tell the Bavarian Ambassador who he (the Ambassador) has de facto invited, then leaves.
Nick, Z, Dafnord, and Tom head back to London to seek out Hall. Lorelei starts setting up Wards gain, so they can be raised on short notice. As we leave, Katrina shows up in a hansom, to see if we're at home, or, for that matter, if the house is still at home. The fireworks were clearly visible in London. We leave her to interview Lorelei and the others.
Hall is relieved to see us. Nick apologizes for standing him up, but we were besieged by the Wild Hunt. These things happen. Hall absorbs that, looks a bit deflated, and says he supposes his experiences pales next to that. But, for what it's worth:
He went to 17 Deerfield and was met at the door by a huge, sinister butler or footman. He was surprised, in that he was expecting an empty house. Instead, it was very fully furnished. He was taken to a huge library and introduced to a distinguished fellow of Russian extraction, who seemed absolutely brilliant and debated ethics and philosophy with him -- whether or not the world at large would be better off without Hall's intended victim, Murchison, and so on. A very odd approach, Hall thought, just as odd as the sudden lack of secrecy. But the man appeared to be satisfied with Hall's answers. He obviously had a lot of data on Hall, to hand in a number of file folders. He said that he would not accept the contract on Murchison until he'd verified Hall's accusations and Hall's bona fides. Then, it would cost Hall 30,000 guineas. Which happens to be a perfect round-off of the amount presently in Hall's to-hand account...
The fellow seemed like a professional soldier in manner, combined with a high-level university don of the energetic and resourceful sort. He gave Hall no instructions for secrecy, which was another odd thing. His name was Ivan Dragomilov.
We absorb all that, then give Hall a little more detail on our own misadventures. We invite him to the Bavarian Embassy, for whatever that might be worth to him by way of information or protection. He accepts.
Copyright © 2003, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.