Chapter 27: The Dragon Delegation Approaches
We left our heroes in Vinyagarond, departing a consultation with Daewen, who is preoccupied with the arrangements for an upcoming council of the great powers of Faerie & its neighbors, about Lanthil. We are escorted to a suite of rooms kept for family members. (Tom and Kate have their own rooms elsewhere in the house, but these are in use now, for the council.)
They are barely settled down when a young elf-girl comes and nervously tells Tom, "It's coming through the mirror," without any very clear description of what "it" is. We hustle back to the library, where the magic mirror hangs, and hear scraping, thudding noises, and shouts of protest. Entering, we find the gargoyle has loyally followed the party through the mirror. It blithely ignores the elven children who are trying to herd it, and cheerfully follows us back to our rooms.
Braeta asks about Tom's conversation with Daewen about "raids" and Chaos' Rim and Tom's proposal to create a pantope there. Tom explains that Vinyagarond and Lanthil have been almost entirely populated by transdimensional raids made on the Worldbenders' Middle Earth mock-up (to get the elves) and the city of the Lilim (to get the Marginalia). We may hope to rescue the nephilim in a similar way.
He then explains about the form-hungry nature of Chaos' Rim, where he hopes to create pantope effects (which he understands in the abstract) without having to bother with pantope machinery (which he does NOT understand, any more than an alchemist would understand solid-state electronics).
"Ah, I see," says Braeta. "It's the power of metaphor. You will act as if you really had one of these pantope craft."
Tom falls silent. For months now, various people from out of sequence have been cheerfully asking him, "How's the metaphor doing?" or "How's the metaphor holding up?" Perhaps he will find out soon.
Robbie and Tom reminisce that, at the Battle of the Lilim, none of the dragons seemed to avail themselves of the powers of Chaos' Rim, when all it takes is a little imagination and willpower. Braeta remarks that, in her experience, dragons are long on willpower, but short on imagination. Oh...
So Tom is going to go prospecting for Chaos' Rim. The logical place to look is where he last saw it, out through the Chaos Marches, on the borders of what is now Lanthil, where the geography got rearranged by the rescue of the Marginalia. Daewen recommended we take "Marcher ponies." Markel and Katrina accordingly go down to the stables to see how many Marcher ponies are available, and what they can do.
Glor-something, Daewen's grandson and Glorian's brother, whose name we cannot quite remember, leads them out of the tangled architecture of the house, to a huge barn. They notice a largish bird-house near it, rather like the ones for martins. But this is actually part of the stable, housing the "horse-flies" favored by pixies, and other tiny mounts. Beyond the barn stands a redwood-sized tree that supports Aelvenstar's talen (elvish tree-house, like those in Lothlorien).
Inside the barn, the stalls come in various sizes for the various mounts. A lot of the big ones are as tall as draft horses, but slender in build, like Arabians, often white with red manes. Elfbreds. The Marcher ponies are shaggy little beasts with nothing arcane about their appearance. But an elvish groom explains that they have a knack for finding paths through the Marches, and for finding their way home out of the Marches. The March Wardens (such as Daewen) keep them in stock. One of their uses is to track down the Incoming.
"Incoming" is what they call elves who died but are getting over it. Fays are immortal, apparently, and if physically killed, they eventually come back, first showing up as specters and then gradually getting solider. Many of them come in through the Chaos Marches. They have typically been gone for centuries or millennia, have no clear memories of what happened in the interval, and are generally disoriented. They often need guidance and protection. For that matter, the local residents often need protection from them, since they are, after all, slightly crazed ghosts, at least to start with. Marcher ponies aid in policing all this.
Ideally, an expedition into the Marches should have one pony for each member. The deeper into Chaos you are going, the more strictly this rule should be observed. The elven groom, one Tirel, politely asks how Markel and Katrina got here (since they are so uninformed of local conditions). "With Tom, through the mirror," Markel answers. Ah, that explains a lot.
Having learned about Marcher ponies and counted the ones available, they head back to the main house.
Tom, meanwhile, has gone scrounging in the attic, where they've stowed the stuff from his room while it is being used for guests. He is looking for his notes on pantopes. He also wants replacements for the spacetime survey equipment he broke when he fell out of the Great Sucking Noise with half of Salimar. He finds the family has boxed up his stuff by location: "Found in Tom's closet." "Technical stuff from under Tom's workbench." Interspersed with other people's junk, such as "One brass cousin-frightener, with additional string," and an animated artificial owl that takes messages.
Robbie and the cat, meanwhile, decide they need to research the general subject of dragons. They head back to the library to look for books. The elf-children are still there, tidying up after the gargoyle, or perhaps just on guard. They are singularly vague on how to locate books here, and say they'll just turn up when needed.
Robbie finds this is the case. Near a copy of "Of the Races of Earth," he finds a treatise titled "On the Other Races," volumes 1 to 3. Speed-reading, he finds a lot in volume 1 on dragons, their realm of Patala, the djinnish realm of Kaf, and other fun stuff. The book discusses animals as well as people.
They also find an illustrated guide to dragons, a book entitled "Dragons of the East," and "Dragon Tales," volume 7. Volumes 1 to 6 show up after a little hunting. This is enough, and they head back to the suite.
Tom, on seeing their books, notes that some of them (e.g. "Dragon Tales") are clearly fictional, and so of limited use for research. Robbie, taking a cue from Tom's search in the attic, goes back to the library to look for books on pantopes and time machines. The library yields "The Fast Times and Other Pantopes," a monograph by Alag, and that's it. Ashleigh's notes are time machines are not to be found; probably they're in the attic, under the Compleat Set of Dwarven Action Figures, or with Ashleigh.
Alag's book is mostly a detailed account of the making of the "Fast Times." Mildly interesting, but Tom is taking a completely different approach.
Soon, it's time for dinner -- mostly fruit, bread, and cheese, a light and informal family meal, NOT to be confused with the upcoming formal diplomatic dinner. The gargoyle scarfs a wheel of cheese.
Tom and Daewen talk pantope design. Tom has two plans: One is to create all the bits of a pantope and assemble them in the standard way, using imagination in lieu of machinery; this is straightforward but has a greater chance of going wrong under the general battering of Chaos, in Tom's opinion. The other approach is trickier but, if he can pull it off, likelier to produce a more satisfactory, stabler, result -- it is to envision a pantope already complete, and furthermore with a geometry he has worked out that makes it impossible for it to be taken out of self-containment. Daewen agrees that this second plan is better.
Everyone else glazes over and politely hunts hors d'ouevres.
Dinner is interrupted by Angel running in, shouting, "It comes! It comes! They come!" Turns out he is referring to the Dragon delegation, who are arriving by boat, bringing their own river with them from the Lurn sea. They are still "many hills" away, but they have been sighted by Daewen's scouts. Daewen now has to go get ready, but she asks the party if some of them could go help check out these "water snakes," as she refers to them. (We're at peace with Patala, but that doesn't mean we like them. Or trust them.)
Braeta, Robbie, Brunalf, Gannar, Markel, and Tom head off to the stables for transportation. Katrina saddles up a pegasus. The rest of us take some of Aelvenstar's aircycles. Angel rides with Markel. ...And the gargoyle comes flapping after.
Three hills away, we're met by some pixies on horse-flies and urged to be quiet. We land and Robbie launches his remote eye as some Marginal scouts show up. They and the pixies have been monitoring the Dragons.
Robbie spots a wide river or canal. The tip of it is advancing through the valleys like a strange, giant pseudopod. A little way back from the tip sails a large boat with impressive, sweeping lines. Closer to the "head" of the river rides a small boat of vaguely Phonecian design. Three figures stand in it, one with hands upraised. The river-wranglers, we presume.
Angel explains that we are to watch them, not greet them; Daewen will do that, at Vinyagaerond. In particular we are to make sure no one gets off the boat. Alvirin's magic was able to count how many people came into Faerie on the boat, and we'll be able to count how many get off the boat, but we can't tell if they're the same people, and there's a possibility of some shuffling of spies on and off.
Tom volunteers to do some more ariel reconnaissance in eagle form. Angel thinks that might be okay, but we have to clear it with the pixies. The pixies insist that no one do any magic but the "natural" kind one would expect in the Faerie woods. So none of our "mundane" psychic tricks. But, Tom points out, the amulet that lets him turn into an eagle is a gift from a centaur shaman, and so presumably fay magic. The pixies say that's probably okay, then.
Robbie, meanwhile, continues to use his hi-tech flying eye, and Markel uses plain old stealth and sneaks off through the woods along the new-made river bank, accompanied by pixies criticizing his technique.
Tom, having found a thermal and spiraled up over the river, studies the boat. There are several figures on deck, and a cabin. He notes something odd about the ripples in the water behind the boat. Watching, he soon sees a small, dark figure slip out of a concealed door near the boat's waterline, on the stern. So that is at least the second departure. They swim quickly to the shore and slide into the woods, back on the side where Markel, Robbie, and the others still are.
Tom then flaps back to report -- which entails transforming, since he can't talk in eagle shape and daren't use telepathy. Robbie then sends his eye tracking back along the river and finds the earlier spy moving through the woods. (No guarantee it's the first spy, of course.) Braeta picks up the most recent diver, on a hi-tech scanner she has set up.
Tom goes aloft again, and also offers to ferry some pixies up in his feathers, so they can cross the river without much chance of being seen. Pixies, it turns out, are heavier than they look, and a couple get left behind, along with some of Tom's plumage (which smarts), but on the whole, the launch is a success.
Markel, meanwhile, has climbed a tree and tries to count the number of figures on the boat. Robbie's eye has found the last dragon-spy to come ashore and follows him through the woods. While he steers his eye to do this, Robbie himself runs through the woods to get ahead of the advancing river. He then crosses its path, so as to be on the other side of it when it comes through.
Tom scans the dragon-ship again and notes the figures are robed, turbaned, and very, very still. Dummies, or just reptilian patience? Looking around on the shore, he spots the earlier of the two spies, and starts tracking it.
Robbie and Gannar continue tracking the later spy. Both spies are heading south, toward the Marches, if that's significant. Looking for the road to Lanthil?
Robbie, Gannar, and Braeta wonder where Tom is, but not too hard. They write a note to Daewen and send it back by Angel and Markel, on aircycle, and Katrina on the pegasus. Robbie then risks telepathing Tom and they pool data: there are two spies. Before this, each party only knew of one. Katrina sets off for Vinyagarond on her pegasus, with this additional information.
She meets Markel coming back with a message from Daewen: "Damn! All busy here. Catch him if you can."
Taking it on ourselves to re-interpret "him" as "them," we prepare to intercept.
Soon Katrina comes back on her pegasus, bringing Kate.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.