The Logs of the TDFS Tindome
Chapter 28: Tea Without Sympathy
Back at the Tindomë, we contemplate what we have in the way of possible
gifts. We troop down to the hold to examine the contents of that chest we
dredged up from the bay of Port Rouge. It is a classic pirate's chest, with
lots of gold coins, ropes of pearls, formal daggers, chalices, etc. We find
three pieces with serpentine embellishments: a chalice, a dagger, and a …
paperweight, each with a pair of serpents or dragons twining their way from
the bottom to the top of the piece.
Aldamir tests them for sinister or dangerous magic. The dagger and the Worm Ouroboros-like hoop, have a faint trace of magic. "Maybe that talking head thing can tell us something about these." Eïr trots off to her cabin to get it. Mannie gets out a psi-battery to charge the bust. He attempts to charge it up, but something goes wrong, and he stumbles away, clutching his head and moaning. Bay takes over, and feeds psi into the head until it wakes up.
Aldamir puts the objects in front of the bust. "Are any of these magic? Can you tell us anything about them?"
"These two." Aldamir points to the hoop and chalice.
"No, not the cup."
"So, it's the dagger and the chalice?" asks the fay.
"Are they from known continua?"
"No, I have never navigated to them," it replies.
"Are you a navigator?"
"Yes. Most of my functions have shut down."
"You have been incapacitated for a very long time. I found you in a cave."
"I found you in a shop," adds Eïr.
"Can they be restored?"
"I don't know; those functions are impaired."
"What is your name?"
"I am called Chekov."
"Could you navigate us to Lanthil?"
"Do you have a sample of it?"
He explains that this entire ship was made in Lanthil.
"That continuum is directly accessible from here," Checkov confirms.
"What are your other functions?"
"I do not know. They are shut down."
"Well, you're answering our questions," Aldamir points out.
"I have to answer questions."
"What are your goals?"
"I have not been given one."
"But I… I thought you said something about needing to go to Lanthil."
"I am bound to go to Lanthil."
Eïr spots some dark brownish stains in the guard of the dagger, and tries to find out what they are. Eric tries poking at it with her, but they can't learn anything about them. She takes the dagger over to the bust. "You still in there?"
"What is this?"
"I meant the stains here and here."
"I cannot tell. My ocular functions are sub-optimal." Once she learns that this means he can't see the stains, she gives up.
Aldamir asks Chekov if the pieces are dangerous. The bust explains apologetically that it is not used to testing for danger. Aldamir tries to analyze the psychic trace of the stains, and determines that they have an outré form of psychokinetics. Maybe if they were the blood of a dragon, which moved by…
They set the squirrel to trying to find foreign material in the Ouroboros. It pulls out a fibrous strand that Aldamir thinks should be associated with seeds of some sort. We are getting nowhere with these. We dig further into the chest. There are two more goblets, one with semi-precious stones, and one with seed pearls, and a nice little box inlaid with semi-precious stones and one little gem. It's locked. Aldamir learns that the goblet with gems is ordinary, but the one with pearls is intriguingly magical, and gives him a headache.
Mannie overcomes his headache enough to shake the box. There does seem to be something in it. He examines it closely, and starts pressing and pushing the fire opal on the top. It opens. There are three jeweled stickpins, a gold chain, a couple of gold rings, and three strands of pearls.
Fine. Now we have a nice bunch of little bri—gifts. Eric wraps each one up nicely in a folded paper box. (The people around here seem to prize folded paper, so this seems the courteous thing to do.)
We have an appointment to go to, and it's about time to leave. Aldamir and Teller stay on the ship. We march off to acquire our translator. Eïr tugs on the captain's garment, and suggests that he connect to everyone via telepathy. Finwë connects to Mandorak, Bavör, Eric, Eïr, and Sam. We walk on to our rendezvous, where Khazhad is waiting for us. The captain and Khazhad begin negotiating the translator's rate. He discusses it with the rest of the crew, ostensibly vocally but also telepathically. We agree to one talent of gold per day. Finwë then discusses the relative worth of gold and silver, and of pearls and gems (since we do not wish to give inadvertent offense through our ignorance). Our translator explains that pearls, being beautiful just as they are found in nature, are valued more highly that other gems, which must be modified to become beautiful. Various customs and understandings are discussed at great length.
Together, we step out down the street, into that imposing building, and meet with the Steward of the Gate. He is flanked by a few guards. (We could still be pirates, after all.) Captain Finwë makes his pretty speech, which Khazhad translates, and presents him with a stickpin gift as a token of our esteem and friendship. The Steward's reaction is hard to read; he hands it to his aide. He then inquires about gaining permission to enter the Inner City.
The Steward allows that he is part of the chain of command that produces permissions. The captain continues. "Lanthil, the land we come from, is a new land. We are starting to seek out our neighbors. It is our duty to present the Serpent Prince with a gift as a token of our friendship."
The Steward accepts this reasoning. He checks that we have never made such an attempt before. Our captain assures him that he knows of no such contact. The Steward agrees to pass us along to the Captain of the Gate, produces a little note, and has us led to the Captain's office by the guard? major domo? brown-robed person nearby.
He leads the group to an office flanked by two guards, and speaks to them. They open the double doors. We enter a circular room, with benches along the walls. This must be a waiting room. We wait. The brown-robed man talks to the guards at the inner double doors. We sit down, with Khazhad nearby. The robed man leaves.
Finwë asks Khazhad about the Steward's reaction to his gift. The translator admits that it was hard to understand the reaction. "Was the gift magical?"
Eric snorts. "The wrapping was magical. I had no other way to wrap it up." Khazhad agrees that this might be the reason. He admits that he has no feel for magic himself. We chew this over further, but we do think that the official was actually pleased with his gift.
Shortly thereafter, the guards tap their spear butts on the floor, and the doors open. Khazhad stands up, so we do too. A fellow in an embroidered blue robe comes out, looks around, and asks, "you wish to see the Captain of the Gate?" We accede, and follow him into the inner room. There's a desk with a scabbarded sword on it, some bookshelves with gimbaled instruments. There is a collection of low stools and a coffee table. There are two young fellows of military bearing, with short swords, and a tall man with a pointy beard and military bearing. The blue-robed man hands the paper to this man.
He takes it, sits down on one of the low stools, and gestures for us to sit down on the other stools. Finwë directs our group's seating. He introduces us, and hands over one of the gold rings as our token gift. The Captain opens his gift, and beckons over one of the young men. He quickly brings a tray with a teapot and glasses. The Captain pours a bit of tea into each glass, and the young man fills up each one. We take the hot glasses.
The Captain thanks us for our gift, raises his glass, and we all sip together. The tray of little square things is set down. The Captain gestures invitingly at them, but doesn't take one. We do not either. The Captain and Finwë begin the standard conversation about new Lanthil and our explorations. Our captain introduces all of us, and describes our arrival at Darkholme. (Sam is introduced as our first mate.)
The Captain observes that, if our occupations have been described honestly, we are either very suspicious or very bold people. He thinks that our cartographer could map their defenses, and that Mannie, as a dwarf, could undermine the walls. Finwë remarks (politely) that such an idea would never have occurred to us, since we are not militarily oriented. He states that Lanthil is small and harmless as well as new, and mentions that we have had visitors who may have come from (and returned to) Darkholme.
The Captain insists that he has never heard of Lanthil, and that such a weak nation would have to conquer by guile. Our captain insists that we prefer trade. He points out that, between naïvité and malice, the former is usually the more likely, although he assures the Captain of the Gate that that man's military sophistication requires him to consider unlikely possibilities. He hints that one dwarf is hardly enough to scout out the walls, and certainly not enough to undermine them, and that Mr. Craggenhilt in fact is a marine engineer.
The Captain is bothered by his two choices, and decides to pass the buck up to his superior, the Prefect of the Gate. He sends off a note. Other than that, he is amused. He asks us to tell him more stories of Lanthil, while he plies us with fruit and cakes. We agree. We discuss among ourselves what stories we should tell about Lanthil, until the refreshments come.
©2002, 2006 Ann Broomhead. All Rights Reserved.