Chapter 14: The Pudgie Budgie
Unladylike Encounter on a Maiden Voyage
We left Daphne at the shop of Norbo the Potter. He agrees to make the pots she wants and starts to work. Daphne does, too, going out to the back yard and persuading a tree there to exhibit fall colors every other day -- this being part of her payment to Norbo. She caps it off with a load of nuts.
Two days pass uneventfully. At last, the air-ship is finished. We take it for a shakedown cruise, up to Daewen's house and back, and discuss what to name it. Its appearance is dominated by a rotund, blimplike gas bag, with the gondola slung under it, so, over Kate's protests, the majority settle on the name "Pudgie Budgie." Daphne starts to work on a suitable figurehead. And won't Tom be pleased? (No.)
Dafnord leaves Findriel a lock of his hair and, then, we're finally off on the actual mission of rescue and discovery. We work widdershins, around along the coast, and soon pass the house of the fisher-maid, the last outpost of coastal settlement. We're now in The Wild, where there's no one but straying fays and, far away from the shore, the First Homely House ... plus anyone we don't know about yet.
We do spot occasional beached canoes of forest elves, and, finally, the Fisher Giant, who lives just across the water. We decide to talk with him, so Robbie and Gannar flit out. They arrive just as he casts his net. He's a very big giant, so this is almost a meteorological event. The next is very coarse, but certainly fine enough to catch a man, and elf, a boat, or the Pudgie Budgie.
Robbie hails him. We get noticed and squinted at. We're about hand-sized to him. We learn that he goes by the use-names Galuokossus or Goldher. He hasn't seen anything useful -- no mysterious green glow that might mark the pantope, no other ships, certainly none like ours. Isn't it hard to reach the fish from a ship up in the air like that?
Robbie explains we weren't in the fishing business. Well, he is, driven by hunger. Robbie suggests he try trading. "Trade what?" Fish. "For what?" What do you need? "Fish." Oh. Well, how about other stuff? "Their stuff's too little." He's morose about the puny size and numbers of the local fish, and his own consequent hunger. He doesn't seem interested in seeking help or in catching people, so we wish him good luck and pass on.
We cruise along about 50 feet above the water, following the coast, looking around. And it's a good thing we do look around, because, about 90 degrees widdershins from the town, we begin encountering lots of life in the water. Big life. Giant dolphins with something weird about their fins. Something big squirming under the surface, that could be a titan octopus, or a school of giant eels, or Cthulhu for that matter.
We are far from the lightfall, now, and it's getting dark. Even so, the shadows seem unnaturally deep. The faint light is very diffuse, which doesn't really go with shadows. Hm.
Kate tries dowsing for Tom. So does Markel. Nothing. How long have we been out? People have different impressions, and, when Gannar tunes in the Lanthil public clock signal, it sounds uneven to him. We're getting close to Chaos.
We are also tired. Kate spots a rivulet coming down to the shore, with perhaps a trail next to it. Would Tom have stopped there? Well, we will, to sleep. We throw out an anchor, have supper, and settle down.
Kate gets an useasy feeling. Is it too quiet? No, there's the noise of the surf. Isn't it? It's a white noise, but too articulate, too orchestrated. Why didn't she notice it earlier? And why is Robbie just staring out the port hole.
She hears a splash. Followed by Daphne, she moves to the railing, where she finds Dafnord. "What was that splash?" she asks. "Gannar," he answers, much too calmly. She grabs him by the lapels and tries to shake him out of the evident trance he's in, but he only stares at the water.
Daphne, coming from a more intensely magical world, already has her suspicions and plugs Dafnord's ears with some handy gumdrops. "What did you do that for?" he asks, irritably. Now he can't hear the crab singing (or whatever it is).
WHAT HAPPENED TO GANNAR? Kate telepaths at him.
"No need to yell," he replies, afronted. She gives up and dowses. Gannar's down in the water, all right. She flies down after him, bringing up the telepathy net as she does so. Hm. Sure is dark in the water. So she turns on her Second Sight, too.
Dafnord, gets ready to dive. Daphne, on his back and puts her hands over his eyes as he goes in.
The folk under water see, through Kate's borrowed Second Sight, just what Daphne suspected -- sirens. Gannar is floating between two young ladies, with long, limber, finny legs and long, unladylike teeth and claws. One is holding onto him, annoyed and puzzled at his failure to drown. (The spacer android has quietly and automatically gone into glycogen recycling. He can last as long as his batteries hold out.) All around, the water tingles with magic.
Kate gives a telepathic yell to the sirens -- MINE! -- but finds the other one suddenly in her face, with a dagger.
Daphne, meanwhile, was casting a barkskin spell on Dafnord. He ends his dive clear of the siren spell, but nearly punches Daphne out before he realizes that the thing on his back is a friend. "It's really bloody difficult, being Dafnord's fairy godmother," Daphne reflects.
Kate, meanwhile, has parried her foe with her own knife and TK. Gannar comes to when the siren holding him bites a chunk out of his neck. We discover there were a couple of more sirens on the scene, for a total of four; one of them grabs Dafnord from behind and tries to slit his throat, but he parries and Daphne nicks her with a tiny crossbow bolt. Dafnord then pounds on her until she's out cold.
Daphne shoots the fourth siren, who flees. Kate stabs her foe and Gannar slugs and escapes from his would-be consumer. Just as he reaches the surface, he starts to succumb to siren-song again, but Daphne shoots her in the eye. She sinks below the waves. Gannar, not normally capable of much emotion, registers a touch of pleasant vengance.
Soon, everyone is out of the water and reasonably unscathed. Even though Daphne accidentally shot Dafnord, it bounced off the barkskin spell she had put on him. Dafnord and Gannar both thank Daphne sincerely, as well as Kate. Gannar then goes to the autodoc to have his neck tended.
Robbie soon snaps out of his trance, as does Markel. Salimar, as far as we can tell, slept through the whole thing in her bucket.
On reflection, we notice that the siren song lured only the masculine members of the party, though it is a little surprising that Gannar, and still more Robbie, qualify enough to be susceptible.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.