Chapter 31: Scheduling
We left our heroes composing themselves after yet another military action at home, this one just before the diplomatic dinner. The Patalan Ambassador has just left. Tom recalls all the wounded pixies down in the basement and asks Daewen if it would help to offer their medics the use of the autodoc (currently working on the cat).
Daewen is dubious. The autodoc is hi-tech, which often doesn't work as expected in Faerie. Even her own things that looks like technology, such as her famous glamour blasters, are really glamour and just look like blaster guns.
Tom, however, decides it is worth a try and delays going in to the dining room for a trip back to the basement. There, he finds the senior gnomish healer and repeats his offer. The healer is also dubious, and has a hard time thinking of the autodoc as something other than "clockwork." However, the dwarves are widely known to do wonders with clockwork, so he'll take a look.
Tom leads the way into the store room, where the autodoc lies, a thing like a sleeping bag with a box at one end, the bag currently containing Brunalf the neo-cat. Tom queries the autodoc AI, meaning to see if it can cope with insects, pixies being sort of a blend of bug and tiny humanoid. He doesn't get the chance. The AI reels off a list of error messages, the gist of which are that it can't believe its sensors, something must be wrong, and so it's been having to go very slowly and cautiously with the cat. Tom isn't sure if it found pixie-dust residues in the cat's fur, or if it's just the air or the ether here, but the autodoc clearly feels flummoxed. Daewen was right.
Tom offers to take the most seriously wounded pixies through the magic mirror to Hellene, where we have the Munch parked, with its more sophisticated autodoc operating in its proper environment. Yes, but the healer advises against moving wounded pixies out of their native magical environment. As it is, some will lose wings. Tom considers asking about regenerative magic, decides he doesn't want to risk hearing the wrong answer, sighs, and leaves.
Up in the dining room, there are no dragons about. Just our crew, Gortle from the Marches, the two Avallonians (Lauren and Lillian), and some elves. Tom gets a seat next to the Avallonians and thanks them again for healing his hand. They wave it off; it was only their duty. Refuge and healing are what Avallon is all about, they say. Tom muses that it was, after all, Avallon that received King Arthur to heal his wounds and harbor him until his prophesied return.
Robbie the Time Patrol Robot, whose beat evidently does not include Dark Ages Europe, asks who Arthur was. Tom gives a brief precis. "Is he still in Avallon?" Robbie asks Lillian. "That would be telling," she answers.
Lillian makes the mistake of asking Tom where he's from. The answer is the Jack, a space station -- i.e. a city built in the void, this one being in a star system called Delta Chrysaor, about 500 light-years in the general direction of Orion. Lillian doesn't appear to feel any more informed. Oblivious, Tom goes on to introduce the others. Lillian is bemused to learn that Robbie was "manufactured" in Ohio. She copes better with most of the others, especially Kate, who's from the sixteenth century and tells Lillian that family legend has it that her great-grandmother's grandfather was Tam Lin. Markel, we learn, is from the city of Carth, wherever that may be. Katrina is from nineteenth-century London, in a timeline where mortals and fays mingle freely -- a concept Lillian finds very surprising. (It's not often you get to freak out the arcanes.)
A long and lavish dinner ensues. When it's finally over, Aelvenstar says he promised to show the Avallonians one of the tree houses. Markel asks to come too. Aelvenstar hesitates, then says, "Of course." The four of them leave.
Robbie turns to Gortle, the heavily-robed halfling-or-something from the Marches, and asks if he's met Jeffy, one of the chiefs of the Marginalia. Yes, he has. Robbie explains that Jeffy is from Lanthil -- or from the zones out in the Marches that became Lanthil. Gortle says he has occasionally encountered the Marginalia, but they rarely left their valleys.
Tom asks Gortle if he knows of a reliable way to reach Chaos' Rim. The idea both alarms and amuses Gortle, since "most choose to avoid it." But if you want to find it, you surely will.
Tom explains that he wants to make something there, and mentions Dafnord's sword Umbra as an example. Robbie asks Dafnord if he'd fetch the sword to show Gortle, but Gortle is not eager, and is in fact taken aback by the whole idea. Did we, he wants to know, transport this chaos-sword through the Marches? Well, yes. Didn't we know that, being chaos, it was by nature unstable? Uh, no. It always seemed very ... well-behaved. Just sort of sword-like. Tom wonders if it's been that way because it belongs to Dafnord, who is a very stable and reliable sort. Very likely, opines Gortle.
Gortle shoots a glare at Daewen, who has been listening to the exchange with mounting alarm. She intervenes. "I'm sure Tom doesn't now remember what you said at the First Council," she tells Gortle. "You were, of course, quite plain."
Oh damn. This is the Second Lanthil Council we're getting ready for. Tom hasn't been to the first one yet, but he knows that he is fated to. That's time travel for you. Apparently he will be there when Gortle makes some requirements about what is and is not safe to take through his Marches. Tom spluttered awkwardly about his trick memory and promises to be careful about taking weird stuff through the Marches in the future (whenever that is). Gortle grunts and waddles off to diminish the load on the dessert table.
While we're talking over diplomatic blunders, Daewen remarks that Aelvenstar rather wanted to be alone with the Avallonians. Tom accordingly telepaths Markel and explains this fact, advising him to lose himself as soon as convenient.
Markel, at that moment, is strolling with Aelvenstar and the Avallonians through the gloaming of evening in Faerie's eternal summer, toward some very tall trees. Sequoia-like in proportions, though not species. Aelvenstar shows them into a door carved at the base of one, leading to a spiral staircase. In far too short a time, they come out high up the trunk, on a wide wooden platform -- wide enough to have a couple of nice little cabins built on it. Markel notes that the trees are connected by guy wires. Obedient to Tom's suggestion, he goes off to examine these and is not surprised when he looks around and finds the other three folk gone. Good.
He is only a little surprised when an elf comes sprinting up the guy wire and asks if he's lost. It's dangerous up here for mortals. Markel reassures him; he's brought along his back-pack, containing his Dragonrider-issue personal hang glider. As long as you can strap it on before you hit bottom...
Back in the dining room, we discuss the problem with the autodoc. Maybe the cat would heal better if we put it and the autodoc back through the magic mirror. There's the problem of temporal drift, but maybe that would go away or diminish if we tied a rope to the autodoc and threaded the rope through the mirror.
The cat, recall, was lightly toasted under pixie-fire in the altercations and misunderstandings before dinner. Daewen remarks that the gnomish guards are already referring to this as the Second Battle of the Basement -- the second in one night, in fact. She asks Tom to tell the cat to be more deferential toward the wee folk, who are, after all, Lord Alvirin's own military. He'll try.
Daewen sighs and remarks that, of course, it's always exciting any time Tom and friends drop by three times in one day.
Three?! This occasions some hasty buzzing and consultation over the telepathy net. We count only one, at most two, arrivals today. We came in through the mirror (1), then went off and helped spy on the arriving Patala delegation, returning with the captured spies (2, maybe). If there are more arrivals, we may have a temporal problem here.
Of course, the last time we came through the magic mirror, we had the first fight between the cat and the pixies. But that was days ago. Months, in fact, by any clock tracking the cat. Wasn't it?
Tom excuses himself and strolls over to the library, where he finds the gnomish guard still on duty, now with a friend. He asks when the first row with the cat happened and learns that it was, indeed, earlier today. That, at least, accounts for one of Daewen's three arrivals. We've come through the mirror twice today. Now, is the third arrival coming back from the spy trip, or something else? We could, of course, just ask Daewen, but she'd probably be upset to learn she has a time-twist running in her house. We certainly would be.
Well, there are others we can ask. Robbie sends of Gloragil and asks him if he met us for the first time today. "Some of you." Which? "I wasn't supposed to tell." Ah. Well, maybe Daewen is already onto the time-twisting. We beat a hasty retreat to our rooms, hoping we aren't already in them.
We aren't. Runyana is, though, sitting in one of the wing-backed chairs in the common room. "Well, you didn't make that easy!" she tells us. Make what? Getting to the Battles in the Basement, she means. It turns out she had (or will have) a bet with some of her fellow Firstborn of the New Blood, in future Lanthil, on whether she can see the Second Battle personally. Alas, no. She asks Tom about it, and he gives her the details. She thanks him and walks into a wardrobe, which is, of course, full of nothing but clothes a moment later.
Tom and Robbie then cautiously venture out to the front yard. There's a tree there, where Tom binds bits of telepathy -- psychic notes to himself, to help him keep track of his sequence relative to Vinyagarond. Tom binds in, "I was here for the start of the Second Conference, and my watch read [whatever]," then turns to go. He and Robbie hear a loud squawk from the night sky. Looking around, they see several huge hawks, in dim silhouette, landing on the roof of the stables. People get off them. They look short and stocky.
They amble back in thoughtfully and find Daewen, telling her about the new arrivals. "Ah, then they've come." So they're expected? "Yes." That's all right then.
It's been a long day -- two or three melees and a formal dinner for each of us -- so we go to bed. The next morning, once we are up and about, Angel, Gloragil, and half a dozen elven kids invade our rooms to serve breakfast. We invite them to join, which gets us another half-dozen kids. They tell us the Marcher ponies are ready for our expedition to Chaos' Rim. Good. With modest luck, we can leave without running into our later selves, which is always awkward.
We open the autodoc and decant the cat. Robbie asks Angel for some stunners. He looks puzzled, but fetches a presentation box containing a wooden gun, elaborated engraved. Robbie looks it over and tries it on the cat, who is still woozy, but not too woozy to run cursing under a bed. FLARE He missed. Or maybe it's just set on flare.
We go to the stable and find the March ponies waiting for us. They are big for ponies, barely under horse size. We ask how to use them. The elven groom says you need The Talent, and one of us must surely have it, or Daewen wouldn't have given us the ponies. He has no idea how to recognize The Talent and seems baffled that we don't know which of us has it. "You boarding the cat here?" he asks. No, he's coming. We have a pair of panniers put on one pony, so the cat can sit in one of them.
Robbie goes back to the house and tries to look up Marcher ponies in the library. Nothing. He asks Gloragil, who knows nothing about this Talent. But we do know one person who ought to know about navigating the Marches -- Gortle. We find him in the back garden, his head in a flowering bush. (We don't ask why.) He looks us over, recoiling slightly from Markel and Katrina, and announces that it's the cat. Well, of course, now that we think of it. This Talent is probably the witchsight (common to all cats) that lets him navigate his interdimensional egg.
So the cat will be riding on the first pony. He'll be insufferable.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.