Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 7: Dusk on the Hill
Markel urges his dragon higher. To the east are mists and clouds and the
Chaos Marches. There are oak forests in all the other directions. South,
among the oaks, are the rooftops of Oakley. He flies north, where there
is a green hill rising from the forest. Indeed, there are no oaks or any
other trees on it, or even shrubs. It is a perfectly round hill, covered
with grass, with oaks surrounding it in an even circle. He flies lower,
and discerns that there are lots of small things flittering in the trees
around the hill. He can't quite make them out from his position, but
they aren't pixies, and seem to be ordinary flying insects.
The pair turns west and flies over more natural forests, forests of mixed trees, many of them not even oak. More flying brings them to the edge of the forest, and a glimpse of roofs. They fly lower, out of respect for possible aircars, and wing closer. It's a small town, with white-washed stone houses, some two stories high. It seems a good boundary for their flight.
The powerful wings of the dragon soon have them back over the vicinity of Oakley. Markel amuses himself by following a bright purple car up the road to Aikenyard. At the entrance, a young woman gets out of the car and uses the intercom to have the gate opened. When she turns back, she sees a dragon flying above her, and stares, open-mouthed. Markel signals his mount, and they glide past the wall to land near the house, and wait for the newcomer.
The purple car pulls up to the front door, and footmen and the butler appear. The young lady again steps out of the car. Unlike the Oakleys Markel has seen, she has black hair and compelling violet eyes. Her gaze passes from Markel to his dragon. "Swinburn," she asks thoughtfully, "What have I been missing?"
Swinburn is as imperturbable as ever. "There are been *other* arrivals, including Mr. Markel of Lanthil." He inclines his head toward the dragonrider.
The raven-haired elf extends her hand, and he takes it. "Is this your friend?" she asks, indicating the wall of scaled flesh behind him.
"Are there many dragons in Lanthil?"
Lanthil was created to be free of the Lilim, but his mount is not one of them, and he did arrive there more by accident than by design, as others might, so he says, "Not yet."
She gives up hope of learning more about flying dragons, and finally introduces herself. "Oh! Where are my manners? I am Megilriel."
Although he has not lived long among elves, Markel knows that Megilriel means "Sword maiden." Now he really looks at her, and sees that she wears a discreet ring brooch, with a small dagger as its pin. Thus prompted, he volunteers, "You really should meet Dafnord and Umbra."
"Ah. Who are they?"
Markel explains who Dafnord is, and that Umbra is his sword pulled from Chaos, as they move into the house, following the luggage.
Kate turns away from the flashing display of armaments and teeth between Dafnord and Dittany, and resumes her aimless strolling through the grounds. Again she spots Galentarma, but now she is unaccompanied, and bears the responsibility only for her own social ineptitude, so she makes no special effort to avoid him. As they draw closer, she nods gravely at him, and the elvish gentleman smiles in return. "Hello, I do not believe we have been introduced. I am Galentarma."
Kate also smiles, and introduces herself as "Katherine Carter of Lanthil, and London."
Galentarma brightens, "Really? What part of London are you from?"
"I worked at the Rose Theatre until 1592. I held the horses," she explains.
"Oh, I was there a few times then. I wonder if we saw each other."
If there is one thing Kate is certain of from her early life, is that she never saw a blond man of extraordinary good looks, blemish-free, and over six feet tall, ever. "I am certain that I would have remembered you, but I never saw anyone like you."
He reassures her. "I wouldn't have looked like this." He pauses, and looks at her thoughtfully. "Did you ever meet William Shakespeare?"
Everyone gets around to that question. "Oh, yes, I knew Master Will. Whenever anyone who was foreign or had been in foreign parts arrived, I would go and tell him. There was sometimes a farthing or even a penny in it for me."
"That must have made an excellent cover for you," remarks Galentarma.
Our small elf catches his misapprehension immediately. "Oh, I wasn't an elf then! I was an ordinary human. It was while I was working there that I was picked up by a time-traveler, and then we were both picked up by another time-traveling group. That's when I took on the genome of an elf."
"Ah, so you are a convert! Excellent."
Conscientiously, Kate explains further, "I only became an elf for the longer life; I didn't really choose to become an elf."
He remains avuncular. "You're still what we call a convert. Your reason doesn't matter." He pauses. "Time-traveler, you said?"
"Oh, aye. The first time I saw Ashley-I thought she was a man-she had just turned down the way to the Rose, when there was this spectacular accident, with two wains overturned, and vegetables and chickens everywhere, and her in the middle of it. I got busy soothing the mules, so I didn't get to speak with her. The next time was similar, but with a sow, and she got a bucket of sh- slops dumped on her, nor with the bucket too. That was very bad, but I was handling a carriage, and I couldn't pay much attention. The third time, I noticed her just as she turned the corner, and I got to her and stopped her before the curse could kill her." Now Kate knows that that was timelock rather than magic, but she had great respect for what was happening even before she understood it. "She befriended me." Kate sees no need to go into detail about how two women, each disguised as a man, had discerned each other's secret, and bonded on the cobbles of London. "She took me back home, and then we went to India," posing as master and manservant on a bet, "where we met these other time-travelers, looking for her brother. We, I've been with them ever since."
Galentarma looks at Kate with stunned respect. "Well. I never had an adventure like that at the Rose. Um, yes, I've led a much quieter life. But it's had its rewards. This, of course," he gestures around them, "and my children. Now Hirgalad is becoming a father." He pauses for a moment of thought. "But I worry about my daughter. Laskalen. Young people will develop unwise attractions! She's taken a fancy to a young man from a fire family! I ask you, what could be more unsuitable than an oak associating with fire magic?"
Kate has never found herself in the snares of love, but she has seen it in others, and has only been able to watch helplessly as various mismatches met disaster. She can offer no true help, only sympathy, to her companion.
Daphne and Mallammen are deep in a discussion on pollination, when a thought suddenly occurs to the pixie. "You should get rid of the saucer."
The grandmother-to-be is entirely disconcerted by this sideways statement; she is not accustomed to pixies. Her look asks for an explanation.
"Well, there may be traces of glamour left on it, and you might have people wondering why you brought it from home in the first place."
This makes sense. Mallammen decides, once she realizes Daphne is talking about the saucer she glamoured to pass as the brooch she pawned. "I'll notice that it is missing while I'm dressing for dinner, and you can say you saw a squirrel going off with something shiny."
Daphne nods in agreement. "I'll claim that they hide things in their nests, and go look, unsuccessfully."
"That means the attic warrens," says Mallammen. "You're not in danger there."
Daphne reassures her unnecessarily: "I'll bring food."
Fallataal is sipping ginger ale to calm his stomach when a young lady enters the dining room. "Hello, I'm Megilriel." He introduces himself. She notices the cake, and remarks, "Ah, Tansy's here." Fallataal explains that there are three cakes, but, seeing the look on her face, is pleased to tell her that one cake may be out of service.
Megilriel explains that she too is not a relative, but (like Tansy) is an old school friend of Tintilasea. Fallataal explains that the baby has not arrived yet. She is very pleased to hear that, since she came from Aten, all in a rush, after realizing that Tintilasea was about due and wasn't sure if she would arrive in time.
Fallataal mentions that, as he and his friends were coming in, they had picked up Goody Cob, traveling by scarf, enabling her to arrive on time as well.
Megilriel smiles. "Timing is everything."
Fallataal nods and sips his ginger ale. "I appreciate that the more I sit here."
With an uneasy glance at the cake, Magilrial springs up. "Well. I left Aten before my invitation caught up with me, but I should still see Tintilasea right away." She flits away.
Before more than a few minutes have passed, another servant checks the dining room. Fallataal has a thought. After apologizing for his ignorance of the local cuisine, he asks that some slices of waybread, filled with some substantial food, be prepared for Megilriel. The name startles the fellow, but he promises to take her some nourishment. "Ham sandwiches," he calls them. Fallataal prattles on, explaining, "The young lady has just come from Aten. She's been traveling around, and thought she'd missed her invitation." The servant whisks away, and Fallataal barely catches the start of his next conversation, initiating a fast scan for available bedrooms. In a few more minutes, a maid presents him with his own plate of "sandwiches."
Robbie, continuing on his quest for knowledge, finds a room full of books, and promptly enters it. This is obviously a fiction library. He picks out one of the Gwendolyn Maxwell mysteries, selects a chair, and starts to read. An elf enters. Robbie can tell that he is an Oakley, that he seems older than Hirgalad, and that he was expecting to settle down in an empty library.
Smoothly adjusting to the change, he introduces himself. "I am Minargalad, the father of Tintilasea."
Amiably, Robbie returns the introduction. "I am Mr. Roberts of Lanthil. Please let me congratulate you on the birth of your grandchild."
"Thank you. And please let me congratulate you on the creation of your new realm. That is a rare event."
"Is this your first one?"
"Yes, it is. It is also the first grandchild for Galentarma, Hirgalad's father."
Robbie volunteers, "You seem very young to be a grandfather."
Minargalad is momentarily startled. "You must not know much about elves."
The former robot agrees.
The elf recovers. "Ah. You're a sim, aren't you?"
Robbie begins by saying yes, and then explains what he really is (whatever that its - "djinnish eidolon" being the latest diagnosis), ending with "I have been told to always believe in myself."
His companion nods in sympathetic understanding. "That's always good advice." He selects a book, and leaves the library to Robbie.
Daphne finds the kitchens without any difficulty. She is greeted by a short, wiry fellow in brown work clothes surmounted by an apron. "Yes? Can I help you, miss?"
"Yes, please. I'd like some fruit and nuts."
He smiles a gently sly smile. "Always plenty of nuts here." He gestures her towards several bowls of acorns. She samples a fresh one. "You're one of the Lanthil people?" he asks.
"I'm with them," she answers. He is called away, and she discovers that his name is Chaffer. She turns back to the nuts, and starts stuffing her pockets with them. A squirrel is poised over one bowl. She leans back, and he grabs his nut and leaves. Other squirrels do the same. She finally has all the nuts she can carry.
She steps outside, then flies up to the roof. She changes back to her natural size, but finds that she no longer has the strength to carry all the nuts. Another size change, a trip to her room, where she unloads a lot of acorns, and now she can fly while at her proper size. Back up on the roof, she easily makes her way into the attics via one of the squirrel doors. Eight squirrels are watching her. She puts down eight acorns in two piles, and backs away. Eight squirrels circulate around the nuts, and start to fight. Then a ninth and a tenth join. Daphne looks around. There are about three dozen squirrel nests here, and what is probably a covered litter box. Beyond that, the attic looks more ordinary. There are packing trunks, old appliances, lamps, computers, and furniture. She goes exploring, and finds an old electric hat from the twenty-second century that doesn't fit too badly.
It may fit, but it doesn't light. She takes it down to Robbie. He isn't set up to recharge it, so he calls in Gannar. Gannar recharges it by pressing it to the small of his back. No one asks why he has a power connection there. Robbie now probes the hat, and discovers that it has multiple operating modes. He shows them to Daphne, and explains which ones are hidden modes. Then he puts an ectoplastic headband in it, so that it fits her more securely.
Fallataal decides that the dining room is too eventful a locale for him. He finds another room from which he can watch people going by without being obvious himself. He watches, and practices his knots. After a while, he looks over to discover that Nanny Cob is in the room with him, and she is playing string games.
"How is the-- how are things proceeding?" he asks.
"Nothin's happ'nin' yet." She amplifies, "It's been over a year 'n' a day, though. It'll be soon."
A male member of the family passes through the room; a slight hitch in his step hints that he was expecting to stop there, but in an empty room.
"His nose is out a joint," remarks the midwife. "That was Amrod. And now there's the fuss with Megilriel."
"Oh, she's an old school friend of Tintilasea. She wasn't asked to come, 'cause everyone knew she was off-planet. They had to scramble a bit to get her a bedroom. At least, she's not too put out about it."
Fallataal explains that he had spoken to her, and that she had assumed that her invitation simply hadn't caught up with her. Cob nods approvingly; it's a good take on the circumstance. Fallataal refers to his own travels, from Ennorath to the Summerlands and then to Lanthil, and somewhat enigmatically remarks that he has been moving to smaller and smaller realms.
Mallow Vesper is the next elf to wander in. "Mmmm, how's Tintilasea?" he asks. The old woman reassures him, and he veers out again.
"Elves seem to be more interested in leaving this room than in staying in it," remarks Fallataal.
"Ah. You're thinkin' of Amrod," notes Cob. "He just wants to sulk. He's Hirgalad's older brother, but things ain't worked out for him. Hirgalad got Oakley by marryin' first, and now he'll get three towns for havin' the first child."
The Lanthilo nods understandingly, and talks drifts to stories of London, and then to some description of Lanthil. "Chaffer would be interested in Lanthil, seein' as it's self-made. He's of the beetle folk, y'see. One 'o them was supposed to be self-made." She holds up her string; it is now a bizarre topological construction with strange connections. "The Vespers, now, they're wasp folk."
Fallataal thinks of their set of cakes and of Dittany's request for mead. "They're really wasps? And there are others?"
"Oh my, yes. Lots o' were-houses around here. Even the Oakleys. Yup, with a runnin' start, they could turn into oaks. And a fair number o' alflings. That companion of yours, that little fellow who's almost a halfling - what's he?"
Angel! Fallataal hasn't seen Angel all afternoon, and now it's after sundown. Upstairs, he finds that Angel isn't in his room. He checks the other rooms of the party, but there's no Marginalis in any of them. But he consults a passing maidservant, and learns that she had seen Angel in Tintilasea's room, talking with her.
Robbie thinks about Daphne, changing size with just a thought, and determines to find out if he can do that. He thinks, and, yes, he's now the size of a squirrel. Or a toy soldier... The house is even more interesting from this vantage, and he starts exploring. In the next room is Nanny Cob, playing string games. He continues on down the hall. A squirrel confronts him, chittering angrily. He gives it an acorn, and flies up towards the ceiling, where he catches a pleasant scent. He follows it to the kitchen. Oh. He zooms out to the gardens, and returns to his normal size. He looks around, and his attention is caught by a glow on the northern horizon.
Fallataal hesitates to interrupt Tintilasea, who may find Angel charming, or an easy introduction to small children. The view out a window catches his eye. There, in the north, both in the forest and above it is a light the color of fire. He peers more closely, but can see no smoke, and very little of the flickering one would expect of a fire.
Another servant is passing by. Apologetically, he reminds her that he is a stranger here, and not familiar with things, but is that a fire out there in the forest?
"Fire," she says. "But not by us. Not the forest." She speeds away without another word.
Thoughtfully, the elf walks slowly back down the stairs to the main hall. There he finds Galentarma looking at the sky glow. "Is it a fire then?"
"Yes," he says. He seems distracted.
"Where I'm from," Fallataal hesitantly suggests, "we work collectively to put out fires."
Galentarma agrees that that's what his people do as well, but gently explains that none of the Oakleys will work on this fire, since it is an inauspicious time. He says the fire won't expand. He continues to watch the glow in the sky. "You could learn more."
"Perhaps we, the other people from Lanthil and I, could help? Even if the Oakleys... can't?"
"Yes, you could help. You can do it in safety. More or less."
Fallataal thanks him, and starts looking for any of his companions. He finds Robbie and asks him to contact Gannar or Markel for transportation. Robbie has Gannar get the car and bring it to the front. He goes back to admiring the neat "aurora." "No," corrects Fallataal. "It's a fire."
Startled, Robbie pings Kate who was restlessing in her room, "[There's a] fire [burning to the] north." She rouses everyone with the information, changes clothes, and flies out to join them.
Daphne discovered Nanny Cob playing with string, and joined her. She learned some string games, and in turn showed off her electric hat. When she gets the telepathic alarm from Kate, she tells Cob. The old fay assures her that it would be acceptable if the pixie joined the others in going to the fire. Daphne thanks her, and darts outside.
Markel explains to the others that he flew over "that hill" earlier in the day, and describes it and its environs to the others. Fallataal contributes his conversation with Galentarma, presenting the idea that they could gather information on their trip. We agree to split up to gain as much information as possible. Daphne turns off her hat; this is business.
Markel and his dragon fly directly toward the fire. The others ride in our aircar with Gannar driving. Our first clear view of the scene reveals that fire is streaming out from under the round hill. Robbie steps out of the car in mid-air, and pops out his third eye. He sends its images to Kate, who relays the images to everyone. It is not an illustion; there is a gap of some ten feet between the land and the hill, and fires fill the space between the two. Fallataal is silent, but he thinks he knows just what we are observing.
Gannar lands inside the treeline, and he and Fallataal slip off, with the trees for cover. Robbie flies around to the back of the hill, leaving his third eye in the front. Daphne also heads towards the back. Kate, wary of getting too close to an elf hill, circles close to the hill, moving to her right. Markel flies over the hill and hovers there, trying to watch in all directions at once.
Daphne is concerned about the nearby trees, but she finds that their life energies are not disturbed by the fires. Soon she spots the same fluttering among the trees that Markel had seen earlier, and identifies it as butterflies. She reports this over the net. Fallataal informs that others that there are many were-houses in the area, and that some of them are insectile. Robbie sends his eye in close, and sees only a lot of normal-looking butterflies, with purple, brown, black, and white patch-y wings. They aren't drawn to the flames, nor do they seem bothered by their heat.
He re-directs his eye to the hill. It seems that it is held up ten to twelve feet above the ground by hydraulic pillars-no, those are tree trunks. The fire separates out into bonfires everywhere under the hill, and there are figures, some looking human, dancing around them, and others just standing and watching. He sends his eye under the hill. Someone grabs for it, and he jerks it away. This happens again, and he puts his eye right up against the underside of the hill, among the roots. He can see butterflies dancing around the fires now, and people dancing in rings. Many are translucent; others are skeletons.
Gannar is sure there is some significance to the butterflies, but before he can delve for the answer, Kate tells him. "Butterflies are souls." Other contacts confirm that.
"Are these folk that haven't come back yet?" asks Daphne.
The people look happy, so Robbie walks in among the bystanders just under the edge of the hill. "Hello, friends." He says, and gets many "Hello"'s in return.
A pretty, translucent young girl, whose skeleton is showing through, smiles at him, and says, "Tell the little lord time is on his side."
Another person, who is clearly a member of the Oakley family, looks at Robbie and says, "Tell the little lord you can't pick your relatives."
Robbie, uncertain of what is happening, asks, "What little lord?"
"The one who is to be born" is his answer.
Fallataal is uneasy with Robbie's casual attitude, and warns him that there are many rules here, and that he should not ask questions. Daphne makes her way to Robbie's side. A skeleton says to them both, "Tell the little lord better a crust in peace."
Markel has landed safely away from the hill, walks to the edge, and watches everything with his second sight.
Kate has walked about a quarter of the way around the hill when she sees a trio of soldiers chatting together. One is in a uniform from World War II, one is from one of the twenty-first century consolidation wars, and one is from the Psi War. Fallataal can perceive that almost every figure under the hill is a fay, and tells the others. He adds, "Things of import may be said to the envoy." Kate cautiously steps to the very edge of the hill.
An elvish man says to her, "Tell them Anglas is moving on."
A woman leans towards Daphne with "Tell the little lord being owed can be worth more than being paid off."
A fellow in a great woolen cape and old Celtic brooch tells Kate, "Tell the little lord to beware the Fomorians."
"Don't tell him that!" The voice comes from under the hill, but Kate can't identify the speaker. Perhaps it is the skeleton dancing in the fire and burning.
Daphne scans the life force of the crowd, and reports "[Lots of these [people] are] terrible hurt [but they still] seem alive [in some sense]." She sees a skeleton that is made of wood, and exclaims, "You're made of wood!" Grinning (not that it has much choice), the skeleton nods, and continues dancing. Robbie sees another wooden skeleton with his usual vision, and his third eye spots squirrels dancing up among the roots at the bottom of the hill. Some of the squirrels are skeletons too.
Markel is told by a figure in old clothing, "Tell the little lord he'll see me soon, his Uncle Ornattar."
A girl dances by, and tells him, "Tell the little lord not to miss Earth."
Kate is told, "Tell the little lord not to miss Faerie."
Fallataal is told, "Tell the little lord to remember Arloth."
Markel is told, "Tell the little lord 'Welcome.'" Beyond the gravely offered message, he hears a shouted "Bugger Alffarin!" off in the distance.
Robbie decides that one more question won't hurt. "Are you people Oakleys?"
"Of course," is the prompt reply.
Emboldened, Daphne asks, "Are you coming back?" and receives the ambiguous "Sometimes."
Daphne offers an acorn to the speaker. It is taken immediately, with a "Much thanks." Robbie does the same, and also gets a thank you. They each offer all the acorns they have, and all are taken with thanks. One is even snatched up by one of the squirrels.
Fallataal receives the last message, "Tell the little lord don't court the flame but don't fear it."
Kate finishes circling the hill, Robbie reabsorbs his eye, and Fallataal lets his feet touch the ground once again. Markel returns to the hill and his dragon, who waits in a tense crouch, with his eyes very wide. They fly back to the house. The others gather by Gannar and return via aircar.
There are elves looking out the windows at the fiery hill. All the senior elves they have met are there, including Hirgalad. Quietly, they slip inside.
Meeting in Kate's room, Fallataal suggests that they write down all the messages, and give them only to the appropriate person. The form and format are decided on, and Swinburn is found and asked for writing instruments, paper, and envelopes. While the others are learning how to write "I was told" in Elvish, Kate finds the parents- and grandparents-to-be, and gives them their message about Anglas. She returns, and writes her own "I was told's," and Fallataal writes down each of the messages.
It has been an interesting afternoon. We wash, and dress for dinner.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.