Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 17: Hither, Thither, and Yon
The Ignorant, the Armies, and the Clash by Night
The ambiguously martial music fades behind us, and we step out from our personal mist onto a gently sloping hillside. Appropriately enough, we're only part way up the hill, and it's after sundown. We can see the last of the sunset behind a hill to our left, silhouetting the familiar, really large standing stones of Stonehenge. We are therefore on Salisbury Plain. Gannar informs us that it is December 1, 1688.
As we look down our hillside, we can see masses of troops at its base. Most are bivouacked. That is only the beginning. There are troops spread across as much of the plain as we can see, many flying banners that we can't make out in the gathering shadows.
Gannar corrects himself, saying the date is really November 21, 1688. Markel locates the coin; it is out there on Salisbury Plain, halfway between here and Stonehenge. No one welcomes the notion of us wading into that sea of soldiery while trying to be inconspicuous, and while trying to keep the Tighmark ponies out of the clutches of the army.
As if on cue, a voice shouts down from the top of "our" hill, "Hi! What are you doing with the horses up here?"
After a few seconds of frantic cross-telepathic communication, Dafnord announces, "We're on our way to Salisbury."
Gannar informs us that "[This is the] Glorious Revolution. [There was] little bloodshed [involved. At the end of it, King] James II [is] out, [and King] William of Orange [is] in." He also explains that the date is going to keep flicking back and forth between its two values; a calendar reform has started, but is far from complete.
Daphne does her part to signal vigorously that we are a party of very harmless civilians. "Who might you be?" she asks the voice above us.
He ignores her, shouting down, "Get off this hill or taste lead."
"Which way?" Robbie asks.
There is only the sound of a gun being prepared for firing.
"Down is good," Robbie observes, at the same time Daphne asks, "Papa, are we lost?"
"No," responds Dafnord, with a credible imitation of someone hiding a "yes" answer.
One of the soldiers points out a fractional path, and we start moving. "Bloody hell" is muttered as we leave.
We reach the bottom of the hill, which apparently had been a wheat field before the harvest and the arrival of two armies. There are soldiers everywhere, but there are also lots of civilian camp followers. We may fit in after all. Markel detects that the coin has moved, and the hill is now between it and us. We note this, but have more immediate worries, like the marcher ponies, the bright picnic coolers,... and a day-glo blue pixie. "Pop!" and Salimar has turned her back into a little human girl-child, wearing appropriate clothing. The rest of us are already dressed acceptably. The coolers become simple, battered wicker baskets.
We start to wend our way among the camps, heading towards Salisbury, we hope. A little telepathic discussion ensues, and we dismount from our ponies, one rider here, and another one there. We casually cluster around one horse, which becomes silent and invisible as we turn a corner. The process is repeated again and again, as we stroll along. As the last one disappears, we hear "What horses?" in an exasperated tone from one of the many campfires that accent the area.
We meander on, trying to find a place where we can actually be alone. Fallataal, who has not yet learned from his previous attempts at being adept (He does fine when running up a wall; it's the horizontal that seems to defeat him.) collapses in a noisy heap on the path. We see the white faces of many people turned towards us in the darkness.
We have drawn too much attention. A tall figure looms in the darkness, intoning "Go back."
"Yes, sir," says Kate in her meekest voice. "How far?"
We turn around slowly, to disguise the presence of the invisible ponies, and return the way we came. We branch off from our previous path at the first opportunity. Robbie keeps an eye out with infrared vision, and learns that the hill next to the one we started on has fewer soldiers on it.
Exercising all their agility and stealth, Markel and Fallataal make their way to the top of the hill. Robbie uses his eye to keep track of the soldiers, and make sure that there are no strays that the other two are unaware of. Markel learns that the coin is now traveling toward our original hill.
Fallataal has an idea. Realizing that James II is a king, he asks Gannar if he has any pictures of him from the history he scanned. Gannar does indeed, and shows images of James II, the first Duke of Marlborough, William, and Mary. Robbie scans the plain for a kingly pavilion, and finds one. It is about 120o from our main group and from the coin, using the current hill as the center, so the hill is between it and us.
Markel has Robbie turn his eye in the general direction of the coin. Then Markel launches a dowse through the eye, and is able to identify the individual who is presumably carrying the coin. Robbie keeps his eye hovering well above our quarry. Markel and Fallataal are joined by Salimar, who renders the three of them invisible. The three make their way quietly down the hill in that direction.
The other six of us mill around, to keep any other evening strollers from running into the marcher ponies, and to disguise our intent to stay right here.
Two men come up to us. One remains a large, hulking figure in the background, as the other one demands, "What are you doing here?"
More soldiers pushing us around this unfamiliar area in the dark. Kate takes refuge in vagueness. "We're waiting for her to come back from, uh, the, you know...." Her tones speak of bodily functions not discussed in the usual course of events.
Fear of death from psychosomatic causes renders Kate mild and patient. "We are trying to get away from here and get to Salisbury."
"Salisbury is not for you. Go back."
"We can't go back. There are soldiers there who have turned us this way." The other group is getting closer to the person with the coin. She holds her ground and starts to stall for time.
The voice becomes even more suspicious. "What are you casting?"
Oops. Seven silent, invisible horses were a bit too much, and this fellow knows a little something about magic. Kate clings to our cover as innocent civilians, and uses a bewildered tone. "Casting? I'm no smith!"
The figure crouches close and lowers his voice. "You don't belong here. Go back," he growls in Sindarin.
So these two are elves, which is how they spotted us, and they can't reveal themselves either.
Kate responds in whispered Sindarin and puts her first card on the table. "We can't. We have to retrieve a geas coin."
Her opponent halts with a startled look on his face. Daphne pushes on him as well. "Are you related to Lumitar? You remind me of him," she says sweetly.
The elf develops a sour look. He at least knows of Lumitar, and does not like the comparison. Even so, he returns to the attack. He has a view of how events here should go, and we are not part of it. "You can't stay," he hisses.
"We are trying to leave," Kate quietly informs him through gritted teeth, "but not until we fulfill our obligation."
The pixie adds in a low tone, "We were told by the Warder."
"A Warder of Tighmark," replies Kate softly, turning another card face up.
"Oh. We have no quarrel with them." Kate radiates body language that warns them that they will have trouble if they try to block us. "Why are you here?"
Kate retains her patience; these elves are under stress too. "I told you. We're here to retrieve a geas coin. We are waiting for part of our party." Surreptitiously, she cups her hands, and in the bottom of the hollow, she makes a dim glamour of one of the coins.
The elf draws in his breath in startlement. He concedes in another whisper, "All right. You can wait here."
While the two elves hold their hissing match (Talk about your racial stereotyping!), the three invisible Lanthilos spot their target. Fallataal maneuvers between two pup tents, crouches, turns visible, and stands up. He steps into the path of the newcomer. "Have you seen a coin?"
He is grabbed by his elbow, and led back between the two tents, where they crouch down. "What do you know of this coin?" demands the stranger.
"We have been sent to return it," replies the Lanthil elf. "It belongs to the Oakleys of Aikenyard."
"You are from Tighmark?"
"No, we're from Lanthil." Fallataal can tell that his new acquaintance looks confused. "Forget it," he says meaningfully.
The stranger shifts into Sindarin. "Swear on your name that you will return the coin."
"I swear it as Fallataal of the Silver Service. Now give me the coin. We have been separated from our comrades for too long. The dragonrider here has been kept from his dragon, and that is not good."
The coin is handed over. The stranger gives his name as Luiungil, and points to the base of the hill crowned by Stonehenge.
Meanwhile, the main group is still in delaying mode. Kate explains that we are retrieving the coin for the Oakleys, and that the geas on the coin obliges an important personage in Tighmark. Suddenly the strange elf bursts out with, "What are you doing?"
All of us look at Daphne, although she is sure she isn't doing anything. She isn't even flying, or looking through her acorn purse. The elf might be looking at the mastiff. We assure him that the dragon is quite safe, for now. The mastiff licks its chops. The elves watch it carefully, and give us a little more space. Impishly (of course) Daphne recommends, "Don't stare at him too long." Quickly, two sets of eyes shift elsewhere.
Dafnord reports, "Our companions have the coin." The two look dubious.
Fallataal relays the formal message, "Luingil has handed over the coin." The name convinces them.
There is then a bizarre, four-way argument, as Luingil explains that we must leave via Stonehenge, and his friends will guide us across the plain to the base of its hill. We object, explaining that we have to return as we came, via that hill there. Luingil remains adamant, and soon the six of us, the dragon, and the seven invisible ponies are wending our way among the encampments of Salisbury Plain, headed for the biggest shaped megalith monument in the world.
We meet our people and Luingil; the other elves have vanished away. He explains that he will take us up to Stonehenge singly. We balk at this, until he explains that we will not pass into the mists singly but all together. He simply has to take us up one by one because of the guards posted. He is as good as his word, and members of the party slip up the hill, to crouch behind different stones of the sarsen circle, clutching the reins of the silent, invisible horses.
He misses one person. "Your point man is missing."
Kate shakes her head, "No, he's up there." Fallataal has stealthed up by himself.
Angel and Dafnord are brought up together, with the last marcher pony. Fallataal slips closer to Luingil, and quietly cautions him against trying to mention "Lanthil" to the Ladys Lillian and Loren. Again, he looks bewildered, but nods. Our elf gives him a nice, dry cracker to help him.
The lookouts are still looking out. Luingil makes a gesture towards the nearest trilithons. Robbie sees a faint ripple in the air; Salimar can tell that a glamour is being laid out. We quietly arrange ourselves into order, and Salimar renders the ponies visible again. Fallataal offers to help Luingil, but is refused. Luingil needs no help. He leads us nearly half way around the circle, and straight at the gap between the stones (one present only in imagination) of the sunrise trilithon at the tip of the bluestone horseshoe. We can imagine that we see the heelstone through the gap.
As we walk towards the trilithon, the mists rise to surround us, and we hear a song of sixpence. Luingil gives no sign of having heard it. We leave him behind, Markel and Angel leading us through a dark mist that eventually lightens, so that we think we might come out in the open countryside during the day. We hear the choir of Tighmark sing:
"Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
We emerge on the top of a modest hill, in a country-like environment, just after dawn. Uneasily, most of us realize that this looks sort of familiar. Gannar reports that this is Regent's Park in late May, 1819. We are on Barrow Hill, and we scramble down from it as quickly as we can.
We try to relax, and tell ourselves that this is 1819, and that this is Primrose Hill, and nothing more. Kate and Gannar turn their attention to dressing everyone in appropriate garb. We rummage through our boxes and bags. Markel dowses with his bag of five coins, and informs us that the coin is in that direction, in the depths of London. We feel that we are dressed more-or-less acceptably, and bury the picnic baskets again.
We decide that we're Canadian, but beyond that, we don't see much need for a story. Of course everyone comes to London just to look at things. Kate suggests that we first find a livery stable, since we can't take the ponies everywhere with us. We head out, and discover that the gates on Regent's Park are locked. How were we to know that John Nash designed it as a gated community?
After a little fussing, Salimar uses something like a knock spell to unlock the gate. It opens with a contemptuous click. We whisk out and she locks it behind us, as it seems to give a little "humpph."
We look around for a livery stable, and find one quite near by, apparently associated with a modest hotel. This seems reasonable. Unfortunately, they want payment in advance, and they're not happy with our foreign money. Kate and the gold shamrock are left with the ponies as surety, and the group goes out looking for numismatists.
The first one is very distrustful of our coins; they have no oxidation to notice. He offers us a low price. We decline, and repair to a handy alley. We have the mastiff breathe on them. His sulphurous breath and slimy slobber are just the thing. Dafnord suggests that we take the Roman coins to one dealer, and the Scottish coins to another.
Robbie and Dafnord take the Scottish coins to another numismatist. "I have some family heirlooms that I need to sell," announces Robbie.
"Let's see. Ah. Scottish coins in excellent condition."
"I hate to part with them," continue the eidolon.
The dealer neither believes him nor cares. "They smell of sulfur," he observes.
"It was a dreadful fire."
The dealer pulls out a cloth, and a bottle with dangerous smelling fumes. He cleans off the coins, looks at them again, and makes an unimpressive offer.
Dafnord, in a thick but unplaceable accent, declares the price not good enough.
The performance is repeated at the next shop. This time Dafnord adds in "But we need the money." in a mournful, almost Russian tone. We're offered a good price, nearly a guinea. Kate explains to them over the net just what a guinea is in actual coinage. She cannot explain why it is no longer actual coinage. They conclude their deal, and Dafnord gives the merchant a parting blessing: "May your children be a joy to you in your old age."
Encouraged by this, Fallataal goes to a jeweler, and sells his topaz and an emerald for five guineas.
Feeling financially secure, the crew returns to the livery stable to make the required payment, and retrieve Kate and the shamrock. We all check into the hotel next door. Markel dowses again, and collapses in a faint.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.