Chapter 56: Ungulate Bar
We left our heroes in the depths of Faerie, in Elvencrown itself, having
just checked in at an inn called "The Dancing Bear." We tip the dwarven
porters, unpack, note the fresh seals on the toilets ("Disenchanted For
Your Protection"), and generally flop and rest until time for dinner.
Still experimenting with his new body, Robbie pops out a flying eyeball and asks Gannar to try to detect any radio link between it and him. Gannar can't. Nor can Tom feel any particular psychic connection. But then, that might be like trying to observe a glow-worm in a burning building, around here.
Robbie sends the eye over to "The Golden Stag," another inn across the way, which we were more or less warned against by the Herald. He arrives in time to see some party checking in. They have a number of ... mounts. Some are horses, but others are deer-like things, and one, though four-legged, has a beak. There are goblins of some ilk, carting luggage. The folk doing the actual checking-in are tall, brusque, elvish sorts, though lots of them have horns and antlers of various types.
Robbie now notes that this eye doesn't have any audio pickup; he can't hear what anyone is saying. He tries turning it on, but fails. He is able to pop a new eye with audio, and send it over to the Stag. He then tries to pop a flying ear, but fails, we are happy to report.
Meanwhile, back at the Stag, the mounts are being pestered by little fluttery things. No, wait. They're being guarded by petty fays. They are like tiny, winged goblins, rather grotesque in appearance, their wings like oak leaves. They carry various little weapons. One has a crossbow. It notices the second eye arriving and featly shoots it out of the air. Several of them descend on it, and Robbie loses signal. They do not, however, notice the first eye, the one with no audio.
An ogre comes out to see what the petty-goblins are up to. He talks to them, but we have no audio, remember. The ogre looks around for more eyeballs, fails to notice them, and leaves the petty-goblins to continue.
Robbie tries to recall his eyeball at the first opportunity, but seems to have been spotted. A little owl chases him through the air. He shakes it by diving the eyeball into a bush, whereon it goes back to the Stag. Robbie then moves the eyeball to another bush, so that, when the owl returns with some of the petty-goblins, they find nothing. The petty-goblins swat the owl for its pains, and they all fly off. Robbie leaves the eye parked in the shrubbery.
It is now time for dinner. We go downstairs and are shown to a large table with special accommodation made for the cat and the gargoyle. A dwarf maitre'd takes our orders; no menu is needed; the cook is very creative. They are well used to things like the pixie's humming-bird metabolism, and thoughtfully provide the gargoyle with a side-dish of pebbles. Dafnord orders a Viking-sized haunch of venison and plows in. Robbie's old body had fuel cells that could process food; he tries drinking some wine, and finds he gets a real charge off it. He makes a quick systems check and feels really fine. Hm.
We look at the other diners in the room. There's a stout couple that could be Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on summer holiday. There's a group of giggling elves over by the fire. There's a solitary reader at one table, who combines features of the King's and the Queen's Own Goblins. There's a trio consisting of (1) a man with short horns, in Robin-Hood dress, (2) a woman with platinum blonde hair, a high hairline, and very fine scaling, and (3) a man who looks fay but also elderly, and wears spectacles. There's a nine-foot giant who out-does even Dafnord, happily feasting on what looks like a quarter of rhino.
After dinner, several of us go off to the main lounge to see the Dancing Bear himself. The bear comes out on stage, without a trainer, and does not talk, or anything overtly sapient, but appears to count house. A dwarven band joins him and starts to play. The bear then goes through a ponderous but ably-executed routine, displaying a number of dance styles, including jig, a horn-pipe, and an adaptation of a Russian kick-dance for someone with unhuman knees. It gets a good round of applause, bows, and leaves.
Tom sees that the trio of horned man, old man, and scaly woman are in the audience and decides to strike up a conversation with them. After admiring the performance and the inn generally, Tom asks why we would be warned against the Golden Stag. The scholarly old man looks Tom over, remarks out loud that Tom is from the mundane realm but has been here quite a while, then finally gets around to answering: the Stag can get rather rowdy.
Tom asks about the oak-leaf-winged petty goblins in the Stag's yard. The old man tells him they are minor guards, and adds a generous slab of lecture on how fay society is heavily hierarchical, even down to the guards and who guards what.
Tom then asks what the local news might be. Well, the biggest news is a big gathering down south, the ramifications of which are still being worked out. (So we are already the big news here, even before we arrived. Well, foundings of new fay realms are rare and major events.)
Robbie joins in the conversation and learns that the horned man and the scaly woman are the old man's assistants. He himself is here in Elvencrown to consult... (He beings to fumble for terms.) ...an expert on the traditions of craftsmanship. There's then a lot of discussion over whether this expert is a philosopher. The old man's thorough dissection of terminology is at least academic, if not philosophical.
Daphne, the pixie, then asks the old man what he himself does. He answers, in very condescending terms, as to a small child, that he's a very specialized glamourist. Tom, noting the way Daphne is flipping her wings, steps back. The cat hides. When Daphne actually refuses some chocolate Robbie offers her, Tom changes the subject of the conversation and brings it to a rapid close.
Brunalf makes a call on the bear, accompanied by a dwarf interpreter, who translates from Ursine to Sindarin for the cat. Brunalf enthuses about the performance and asks how many years the bear has been dancing. The bear politely points out that chronological questions are gauche here. Oh, right, right. The cat asks more questions and learns details like the bear is of a long line of dancing bears, studied with the Kodiak Ballet, etc. The two discover a common interest in fishing.
Dafnord, meanwhile, has decided to investigate the Golden Stag. He gathers up Daphne, the gargoyle, and Markel, and departs. The petty-goblins aren't in evidence in the courtyard. They enter the common room and a hush falls, just like in those tense barroom scenes in gritty westerns. As his party settles down at a table, Dafnord notes the serving wenches are prong-horned and exhibiting a certain doe-like nervousness. The horned party at a table near the fire shoots glares at their table and grumble something about "mixers" and "mongrels."
A waitress comes and takes their orders. Dafnord looks over the non-horned people in the room. There are some dwarves, some petty-fays of various descriptions, and other kinds of semi-animal were-folk, along with some Low Elves that, in some cases, look goblinish. The only major fay group not present are High Elves.
The horned men get louder (some of them, anyway, while a ram-horned man tries to keep them quiet). Phrases like "children of pride," "mixed blood," and in grim humor "shed a little" drift around, getting louder. Daphne starts whittling with studied insouciance. When the drinks come, Dafnord tells the waitress to send a round to the ungulates' table and wonders if "children of pride" means they've taken him for a nephil. An informative conversation could come out of that.
When the waitress delivers the peace-offering drinks and tells where they came from, Dafnord smiles across the room at the ungulates, who deliberately dump the drinks on the floor with ostentatious contempt. The grumbling gets louder, with phrases like "know their place!" and "children of the plan!" and "children of delusion" (the gargoyle?).
Finally, one of the ungulates stalks over to Dafnord's table and demands, "What's your business here?" He replies, "I'm having a drink. Won't you sit down and join us?" He then introduces himself as "Dafnord of Lanthil" and goes on to introduce the others. The ungulate ignores this and demands if Dafnord has a "token of passage," which we've never heard of before. Dafnord says "We're from Lanthil," as if that explained everything, and says we're expected, according to the Herald. They don't believe it.
The verbal abuse continues, escalates to spitting in Dafnord's ale and dumping Markel's, at which point Dafnord rises, shoving the table forward into one ungulate's midsection. "Have I introduced Umbra?" he asks, unsheathing his sword.
Melee, of course, ensues. There are about five irate ungulates -- two stag-horned, one prong-horned, one ram-horned, and a satyr. They all have long knives, some have swords, and of course all have horns.
Dafnord is good but outnumbered. The gargoyle is strong and immensely tough, but slow and, in the event FALLS on his main attacker, which takes both of them out of the action. Markel gets KOed early. Dafnord KOs the ram with the satyr. Daphne flits up to the rafters and shoots arrows into the foe's faces, which works quite well. During a very brief breathing space, Dafnord collects his thoughts and telepaths a distress call to Tom, back at the Dancing Bear.
Tom raises the telepathy net and soon help is on the way. Meanwhile, the pixie and the satyr throw mugs at each other. One stubborn and battle-frenzied ungulate has been clambering up on chairs and tables, trying to hook Daphne out of the rafters. He eventually succeeds, but not before she has shot out both his eyes. He collapses on a table, still clutching her.
Then Robbie comes flying through the window, bursting out the glass with a feet-first entrance. Kate follows, broadcasting telepathic menace messages all over the room. The two of them and Dafnord set to work freeing Daphne, Kate going so far as trying to cut the man's hand off. The blinded ungulate parries -- with Daphne.
Tom and the cat then arrive. About the same time, Markel wakes up and the gargoyle finally manages to rouse. The footing is awkward, though, being a foeman, so he sort of pummels it, to make it softer...
The other ungulates are beginning to rally. Robbie starts firing with a blaster, but hits Dafnord by mistake. Fortunately, the thing is on stun.
The blind man throws Daphne at the cat, who is screaming battle yells. Kate, not seeing he's blind, tries to shoot him and gets shot herself, in the back, by a bystander, who yells "No fair!"
Tom looks around and sees that the foe appears to be down -- as are a number of us. Only some of us and the onlookers are left. Gannar arrives and gets sent back for the autodoc. Only that blind man is still going, trying to get up. Tom gestures at him and commands "Sleep!" Murmurs of approval rise from the onlookers. These die away when Tom makes the guy "sleep" by embedding his head in a solid green globe of ectoplasm. Never saw a sleep spell like that before... After the thrashing stops, Tom vanishes the globe; it's an unpleasant way to knock someone out, but Tom didn't really want to kill him. Quite.
Brunalf, meanwhile, had a pixie thrown at him -- a heavily wounded pixie, by now. This is no ordinary cat, of course. This cat has been genetically engineered for high intelligence. This cat is a test pilot for interdimensional craft, from the far future. This cat undoubtedly knows all kinds of sophisticated first aid.
Unfortunately, this cat rushed away without his strap-on thumbs and is reduced to linking Daphne's wounds. At least he's able to not abrade the pixie's skin with his scratchy little tongue...
Gannar returns with the autodoc. Some quick triage and Daphne is the first into it. The autodoc is beginning to suspect that warning messages are a complete waste of processing cycles, with these users, but it remarks that:
1) Local conditions make all readings anomalous. (We're in Faerie.) 2) The patient is an exotic semi-humanoid not described in its database. 3) The patient is covered with cat-spit.
Typically, we tell it to do its best, then we go away. We tend more wounded, including the ungulates. Some bystanders start pitching in, including a brown-skinned, greenish-haired fellow who removes the pixie arrows from the blind man's eyes by rendering them new and soft. Tom considers burrowing in the guy's mind until he finds his True Name, then extracting some kind of return geas in payment for fixing his eyes in the autodoc, but magical healing seems to be up to this challenge, so he drops the idea.
Gannar stops Tom from accidentally injuring Kate's spine while removing the arrow. The fellow who removed the pixie arrows also removes this one. Kate should be next in the autodoc.
Dafnord, conscious again and waiting painfully for his turn in the autodoc. The goblinish proprietor comes in and demands "What's all this about." "You'll have to ask them," Dafnord retorts, indicating the fallen ungulates. The owner mumbles something about "misunderstandings" and Dafnord ironically apologizes for not reading the (non-existent) sign on the door about who's welcome here. The proprietor exists.
A bit later, Dafnord flags down a trembling prong-horn waitress and hands her a bag of gold. "For damages," he explains. "It's mortal gold," Tom remarks, sarcastically adding, "specially enchanted to not turn into leaves in the morning." She carries it away as if it might detonate.
Things are sorting out, when a fast horse is heard to gallop up. A figure makes a flying leap through the broken window, rolls, and comes to a ready crouch. It's Morniesul!
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.