Chapter 57: Food Chain
We left our heroes in the common room of "The Golden Stag," picking up
and patching up after a bar-room brawl. Morniesul had just come diving
through the window, battle-ready.
Seeing the battle is over, he recovers himself. Tom asks him what brings him here. He says is "slate" told him to come. We decide to retreat to our own inn, "The Dancing Bear," before trying to understand this. Tom tells a waitress to have any leftover wounded from the other side sent to us, if they want additional patching. Dafnord asks to be looked at and reveals several stab wounds. Tom does a quick patch on them with ectoplastic bandages, then whips up a stretcher and has Robbie and Markel carry the Acro back to the Bear. Tom and Gannar carry Kate away on a similar stretcher, and Morniesul carries the portable autodoc with the pixie in it.
Once back in our rooms, Tom asks to see Morniesul's "slate." He produces a cubit-long stick that magically stretches out into a board with a handle, rather like an old-fashioned school slate. The face, however, displays like a personal computer. Morniesul explains it's one of Alag's projects. Tom probes it and finds plenty of Alag's signatures, but also traces of Daewen, Nick, and Chris.
Nick, who is traveling with us, confirms that the slate is Alag's, and that he's helped on it from time to time, though it is now much advanced since he last saw it. It's a glamour-based computer, and apparently psychically programmed to alert Morniesul when family members are in trouble and nearby. ("Nearby" is an elastic term, too. Morniesul was some miles hence when he got the word, but was riding a Marcher pony, which is apparently capable of fay flitting.)
Robbie, meanwhile, has sent a dwarvish bell-hop for a healer. He returns with the old fay sage and his two assistants. While the autodoc continues to process the pixie, the sage works on Kate and Dafnord.
Tom asks Morniesul what, exactly, the slate told him was wrong. Morniesul does his best to retrieve the message, looks it over, and asks Tom if the word "Unseelie" means anything to him.
It certainly does. Tom looks at the slate and sees the terms "Seelie" and "Unseelie" offered as translations of the names of two political factions or positions hereabouts. Back in Katrina's world, those were the names of the two opposed power blocs among the fay, the Unseelie being marked by violent hatred of humanity.
Since Nick is most expert among us in fay politics, we ask him what those labels mean here. Nick says the Unseelie are sort of a loyal opposition, as far as the politics of the Court goes. They are darker, wilder, and edgier in some alien dimension than are the mainstream Seelie. Their proportion is higher in the remnant populations. They are also rather xenophobic (as we discovered empirically). The King's Own Goblins and the Queen's are sort of semi-Unseelie, which somehow contributes to their considerable power.
We make a mental note to stay out of Unseelie bars.
We are awakened near dawn by the screams of a terrified pixie who finds herself in the alien guts of an autodoc. After that's over, Morniesul has breakfast and then parts company with us again. Tom asks Nick about the phrase "children of pride," overheard by Dafnord and Markel in the Golden Stag. He says it's an epithet for dragons, so apparently the ungulates somehow scented Markel's semi-draconian blood.
Nick points out that there is some conflict between our three goals of (1) finding out how to repatriate, and thereby rescue, the nephil remnant, (2) make our contacts with the diplomatic community in Elvencrown (which is partly a cover for #1), and (3) establish a Lanthil embassy in Elvencrown (also partly cover for #1). The conflict is timing. Rescuing people is a matter of some urgency, but fay politicking usually takes a lot of time. Sometimes in geological quantities.
We decide we'd better split up, the main party to take on the urgent task of working on repatriation, Nick to take on the embassy-founding task. The diplomatic visits could take a long time, but the main group can start on the ones to nephilite realms, where we are likeliest to learn about repatriation. Nick suggests we start with the Heronesse and Elyssia, though he has few details to give about them.
Tom asks Nick how dangerous it is to admit our ignorance around here. He says it would be bad to admit all of it, but it is even somewhat flattering to ask your way around; it's safe to admit to being newcomers, since that's obvious, and fays pride themselves on being hard to find, so asking directions feeds that vanity.
We then pop Dafnord in the autodoc and settle down to a day of recuperation. Daphne pokes around the nearby woods and finds some magically-inclined saplings suitable for making into pixie arrows. The cat has another chat with the Dancing Bear himself, who has heard an amusing story of some foolish mortals picking a fight last night in the wrong part of town...
The sage comes around to do another round of healing on us. Tom takes the opportunity to ask him about the phrases "children of pride" and "children of delusion." The sage confirms that "children of pride" is an epithet (perjorative) for dragons, though he goes to some lengths to avoid the word "dragon." The bit about delusion he doesn't know.
Tom suggests the gargoyle as a "child of delusion," more or less by process of elimination. The mage is dubious. He points out that the word (in elvish) implies self-delusion, which doesn't clear up much. Tom invites him to take a professional look at the gargoyle, he being a glamourist and all.
The sage takes a long look and gets rather huffy to Tom. He feels Tom is jesting with him, since the gargoyle is obviously a creation of Tom's own. ("Huh?!") Tom tries to placate the sage and tells him how we found ... we thought we just found ... the gargoyle in a very odd place of heavy-duty fay glamour. Perhaps we accidentally "expected" him into existence. Tom looks at the gargoyle psionically and indeed finds his own signature all over it. Maybe a touch of Kate, too. The sage leaves, somewhat mollified but still huffing slightly.
The day passes. Evening falls and Markel takes his dragon out for a ride, scouting the area. Buildings are scattered very thinly through hills and forest, and he catches sight of fay folk out gathering food, not cultivating it.
Night falls. The cat straps on his thumbs and his sword, and sallies forth. Somewhere in the inn's back yard, he sees a pair of eyes up in a tree. His feline night-vision (genetically enhanced with some infra-red sensitivity) soon shows the eyes to belong to a very large bird, rather hawk-like, but leafy and bark-covered.
A few branches down, he spies another pair of eyes, belonging to a winged cat, who seems to be stalking a pair of squirrels on the ground. Then, at ground level, there's a long face with a pair of long ears, peering at him. Wolf? Hm.
Brunalf is distracted from the possible wolf by the winged cat, who launches itself at the squirrels, misses, glares at him, and flies back into the tree. When he looks around again, the wolf is gone. Er...
The evening looks up when he spots a nice big mouse under the tree, with that oh-no-I'm-at-ground-zero look on its face. He draws his sword and is about to lunge, when foom the winged cat stoops on it. The winged one gives Brunalf a grin and takes off again.
Meanwhile, the gargoyle has been happily looming out of our upstairs windows, watching all this. He notes that the big, leafy hawk, further up the tree, has also been watching, taking a possibly culinary interest in his buddy Brunalf. Accordingly, the 800-pound gargoyle jumps out of the window and flaps over to the tree. The branch immediately starts to collapse under him. He flaps madly.
Under the tree, Brunalf has begun to get the same awful feeling the mouse probably had. He remembers the leafy hawk. He looks up. It's stooping on him. With a big shadow behind it.
He bolts out of the way, just as the gargoyle hits the place he was standing. Milliseconds later, the hawk hits the same place. skritch Hawk talons don't do much to stone.
The gargoyle finds itself half embedded in loam, being fluttered at by a bird. The bird is simple; he bats it away. (Way, way, away.) The loam is harder. Soon, however, Markel flies over and notes the thumping and flapping, and the slightly hysterical sound of a cat laughing, despite being somewhat the worse for wear and losing his sword and one thumb-strap.
Markel and some dwarves from the inn eventually pry the gargoyle out. They get some version of the story from the cat, who retrieves his property, and everyone goes in, leaving the night to a bemused wolf and, somewhere in the middle distance, a badly contused hawk.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.