Chapter 32: Passage to Lanthil
We left our heroes poised to leave Vinyagarond for Lanthil, which is "near" the last place Tom saw Chaos' Rim. (We want to get to Chaos' Rim so Tom can make a pantope there and use it to rescue the demigods from the dragons, just as a reminder.)
While we are to-ing and fro-ing with the packing and saddling up, Dafnord seeks out the commander of the gnomish guard, to see if there's anything he can do for the pixies maimed in the Battle of the Basement; he feels very bad about that.
He finds all the commanders of the various royal guards in a "big" (for them) pantry, where they are listening with respectful attention to a very large and blocky dwarf flanked by two more extra-large dwarves as guards. These guys only come up to Dafnord's elbow, but they tower over the other dwarvish commander, not to mention the really wee folk. The big dwarf in charge is rumbling at them forcefully, and receiving occasional "Yes, Lord Captain!" replies.
Dafnord waits patiently until the three big dwarves leave. They are followed by all the various fay commanders, which would leave Dafnord with no one to talk to, but the dwarvish commander comes back and asks what he wants. Dafnord asks if there's anything he can do for the pixies. The dwarf says that everything is being done that can be. Dafnord leaves the offer open for future aid and goes back to the stables.
There, the rest of us have been packing. We are thus in a good position to see the front door of Vinyagarond explode open in a gush of short fays -- dwarves, gnomes, pixies, fairies, and elven children. They buzz and patter over and around us, into and over the stables. For a moment, all is quiet.
Then Dafnord comes out of the house and looks skeptically at the pony assigned to him, which looks skeptically back. It's even odds who should carry whom. The pony reflects that, in a fight, it can always hide behind Dafnord. Braeta's problems with the size of her mount are just as bad.
Just as she and Dafnord are strapping on their ponies, there is a great flapping noise, followed by fluttering. Looking up, we see three giant hawks take off, followed by flocks and swarms of winged petty-fays and birds carrying petty-fays. They are all headed roughly south, presumably after that remaining dragon-spy.
Then there is a pattering and the stable issues lots of dwarves and gnomes, riding various animals including itty-bitty equines, also headed south, after the air force. Dafnord asks Tom who the out-sized dwarves are. Tom glances at Dafnord's memory of them and identifies them as the royal guard of High Dwarrowgard, seat of the High Dwarven King. They were the folk who came, and now went, on giant hawks. It all underlines the intense level of fay security going on here.
Eventually, we too mount up and head south. We, like the pursued spy, are seeking the road to Lanthil, through the Chaos Marches. We travel most of the day uneventfully.
Toward the end of the day, the cat, and then Tom, begin noticing someone moving quietly through the woods, parallel to our course. A bit of clairvoyance reveals it to be an elf-woman, Taurwen, a scout who is a friend of Daewen's. Eventually, she reveals herself to us and remarks about the recent upsets here. First, there were a bunch of dwarves on motorcycles who roared through a few days ago. (Those would be the construction crew, headed off to Lanthil.) Now there are all these rumors of strangers about. Or a stranger. Tom tells her about the Patalan spy and how there are all manner of fairy guards out after it, to whom the locals should give assistance. She promises to pass the word along.
We leave the wood for the plains and make an early camp. Tom goes off a little way to make what he describes as "pantope eggs" -- two big green ectoplastic jewels. We hear a rumbling noise further south. Robbie launches his eye, then lofts himself, followed by Gannar. They spot a troop of two to three dozen riders, tall and slender, with very large dogs running at the edges of their group. We suppose them to be elven warriors out hunting the spy. We also suppose them to be at least a little like a Wild Hunt and decide not to bother them.
Next day, the plains sink and give way to march and mist and the gradually more surreal and vague geography of the Chaos Marches. We find a ridge of rock and, after our custom, follow it. Katrina leads the cat's horse, so he can be up front, navigating. Salimar links with him telepathically and lends her dowsing talents, using a sample bottle of water from Lanthil as a token. This works well enough to uncover a surprising little side trail in the mist. We take it.
We march for what feels like a day -- though it's hard to tell, since, as is typical, the sky is twilit and no two watches agree on the amount of time passed. We note the mists are rather rosy in color this time, which may be a good sign. Near the end of the "day," we hear a whirring noise and eventually meet up with a dwarf on a motorcycle. He is from Lanthil, of course, and is out patrolling the "highway." He conceives it his duty to escort us the rest of the way, and we are happy to have him.
About the time we begin to feel we've been marching long enough, we come to a rise on the ridge and see some actual geography: a stretch of water the dwarf calls the Never-Ending Sea and, across from an inlet of it, a butte rising through mists that we recognize as the center of Lanthil. No castle on it yet.
Salimar asks the dwarf if there are offices we can check in at. He doesn't understand her. There are, of course, people there, though. He gives us directions: cross the inlet, pick up the trail up the cliffs to the first ledges and the "First Woods," to the Great Cataract. If the bridge isn't there, summon it (by contacting the folk on the other side). Or you can go downward to the plains. Jonathan is over there, though he'll be leaving soon.
We part company with the dwarf, but not before he thanks Tom for introducing his people to these marvelous motorcycles. Tom sighs and smiles wanly. What happened was that Tom made one of his trips to High Dwarrowgard in company with Aelvenstar, Daewen's husband. Aelvenstar loves motorcycles, having encountered them in the 21st century. Tom has offered him silent electrics and anti-gravitics, but he likes your classic, noisy Hog. So, alas, do dwarves.
We go down to the beach and camp. We note that the distance is wider than the last time we were here. We were hear 40 years in the future, so the distance is going to shrink. We also note a boat on the other side. Robbie sends up a flare and a small figure appears. He gets into the boat and starts coming over. So we strike camp...
We do have time to eat a meal before the boatman can get to us. He is a thin, anxious figure wrapped in a brown robe, poling along with a pole that appears to push directly against the top of the water. "Wrong way!" he fusses. "I'm expecting folk from the castle." We apologize and pile in.
Ponies and all? Yes. Tom shrinks them down to hamster size and puts them in a basket.
When we are three-fourths across, we see things in the air. There are flying carpets, very big birds, flying people, people on pegasi, and at least one boat. Our boatman is alarmed -- he's later than he thought -- and accelerates. We skid up onto the shore and find lots of other folk already gathering there, including more dwarves on motorcycles, plus Marginalia a-foot, and elves a-foot and mounted.
None of the elves look like Jonathan. They are off to the Council. (They'd be a day late by our reckoning, but given the fluid nature of time on that Chaos Road, we aren't worried.) The spokesperson is a young elven woman who looks vaguely familiar to Tom and addresses him as "uncle." She's glad he could show up for the occasion. He and the others seem vaguely famous to this lot. After they bustle off onto the ship, we put up the tent again and sleep.
Lanthil still has no day-night cycle, but after a while, Robbie (who pulls a lot of watch duty, since he just needs a bit of batch-processing time rather than ordinary sleep) sees a Marginalis hanging about the tent. He greets him and learns his name is Seven. Seven offers his services as a scout and guide. Robbie accepts and offers him breakfast.
Seven comes into our tent. And stops stock-still at the threshold. This tent, you see, is loot from an adventure in an Arabian-Nights sort of world, and is heavily magical. It is lushly appointed inside, always has plenty of food in it, and is far bigger inside than out. After a bit, he gets over this and tucks into breakfast.
The rest of us wake up to find our new employee talking with Robbie. We inquire about Jonathan and find we just missed him; he left among the fliers. How about Father Paddy, whom we left hear some time back? He is "teaching" in Far Valley, but Seven doesn't know any more about it. We ask Seven to take us to the bridge. Easily done. We pack up our tent, inflate our horses, and go.
There is no bridge there when we reach the Cataract, but Seven "calls" it, making it appear as if this were the most natural thing in the world. It looks like a stone bridge, if you ignore the transparency. The horses won't ignore it, but Robbie blindfolds them and we can then lead them across. Their hooves go clip-clop, which is odd when you consider that our feet make no noise at all. Expectation is worth a lot out here.
Seven then leads us to the foot of the cliffs, where we see lots of bits of stone and machinery (and parked motorcycles), indicating the dwarves are busy building the castle up there. Someone must have noticed us arriving, because they lower a large wicker elevator for us. We picket the horses and ascend. Robbie, Gannar, the gargoyle, and Markel on his dragon reduce the load by flying up on their own power.
At the top, we meet a fore-dwarf named Dainis. Tom asks for someone who knows the area well. This is not the dwarves' forte; typically, they are immersed in their job and have hardly looked at the surrounding area. Tom asks if Dainis has heard of Chaos' Rim. "Yes." Around here? "No. But, now that you mention it, it would be hereabouts. Sobering thought, that." Of those who are left, who would know the area best? "Well, there's an elf-woman in charge now. Forget her name..."
He leads us off away from the cliff edge, through some woods. We pass the falls again and see the big outcrop that will someday be the castle. At the foot of the outcrop is a multi-cultural camp/village. As we approach, a voice from up on the outcrop calls, "Oh, Uncle!" It's Mithriel, apparently the elf-woman in charge. She comes running down the air to meet us. Soon, Tom is introducing her to the new members of the party, Braeta and the gargoyle.
Tom then gives a very brief resume of what's been happening and what they're up to. It's a lot to take in. Mithriel asks Tom (her mortal godfather) if he thinks he might not need a fairy godmother to keep him out of trouble. Tom cautiously allows that this might be so. (He knows plenty of formidable fay women, present company included, but avoiding trouble is not the strong point of any of them. Causing, yes...)
Mithriel is at a bit of a loss about finding Chaos' Rim. It was last seen next to the Last Valley of the Marginalia, but (1) it was contaminated with the influence of the Lilim, and (2) the Last Valley hasn't been seen since the Battle of the Lilim, where it was evacuated of Marginalia, and (3) the only known way there from here was through the tunnel to Memory's place, which was destroyed shortly before that battle.
Mithriel could witchwalk to the Battle, but a battle is not the best place to build a subtle vehicle.
Tom remarks that she's been to the Battle already. She says that doesn't seem to stop some people. This turns the conversation to time-twists, and she tells us that she got "lost in the woods" on her way home and arrive in Vinyagarond well before she left, which ticked off her mother, Daewen, no end. So she's been avoiding Daewen (and her earlier self) for a while, until things straighten out.
Tom asks how the budgies are doing. Oh, fine. They're speciating all over the place. Some golden varieties sing nicely. Do any still bring in Marginalia from the Battle? Well, some very big ones (condor-sized parakeets) still bring in Marginalia, but Mithriel doesn't know where they get them. This leaves Tom wondering, not for the first time, what he started when he created the budgies and made them self-perpetuating.
Back to the Chaos problem. Could we seek out Chaos' Rim using Dafnord's sword Umbra as a dowsing token? It, too, was made in Chaos. Or could we use Tom's watch, wished onto his wrist in the midst of the Battle of the Lilim? We'll try one of those next.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.