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Mother Goose Chase

Chapter 11: Sing a Song without Sixpence

by Ann Broomhead

New Blood Logs:

Tom Noon's Tale


In Chaos

Voyages of the Nones



Mother Goose Chase

Ancient Oz


Adventures of the Munch

Lanthil & Beyond

Before anyone can get restive, Swinburn appears and announces that light refreshments are being served in the dining room. The masses all obediently swarm downstairs, leaving behind only the parents and grandparents. Nanny Cob leads the way to the buffet table. There is a slight check in the group's flow as one of the Vespers' Cakes is observed looming at one end of the sideboard. Daphne makes a beeline for it, and hacks off a great slab. Kate follows her, and pares off a slender portion, before picking out a nice selection of crudites and twenty-sixth century pickles. The others ignore the cake and concentrate on the cold cuts.

Talk is light and general, concentrated on the baby. Soon beaming grandparents trickle in, bearing holo shots, some with sound ("Kootchy, kootchy, Koli"). Our group is faintly bemused by the picture of the baby, both parents, and all the grandparents; we wonder if the picture was taken by magic or a servant.

Daphne makes her way to Mallammen. She expresses her great admiration of Quirky, and asks how it was done. The new grandmother explains that motile trees are the work of masters, work which is best begun when the subject is still an acorn. The pixie has visions of a chocolate tree companion, and Mallammen soon learns from her that we were responsible for the introduction of chocolate fruit into human-space.

Their conversation meanders from the Vesper's Cake and into child development and learning. Daphne finds out that it is considered unwise and/or haljid to give too many skills to a baby by magic, and that Mallammen is less than happy about that driving skill.

The vicar announces that she must return to her girls. Some family members drift off, ever so coincidentally including Laskalen and Narion. Kate is able to signal some of the party that we should leave. Daphne continues her chat; the two have too much in common to make the hour seem late. Megilriel and the Vespers remain, so Dafnord stays to be sociable.

He remarks that the food is a lot better here than on Outback. Megilriel agrees, but suggests that it's better on Aten. Our Acro admits that he has never been there, not even when he was in the service.

"Service? Military?"

"Yes. I got tired of seeing the same green fields overhead. I wanted a change." His remark seems to puzzle her, so he explains. "I'm from the Jack."

"Ah!" says Megilriel, enlightened, "the found place."

Fallataal meanders out to patrol the grounds as a matter of habit. He finds a dragon bedded down in the rose garden, but he expected that. It briefly casts a golden eye over him before returning to sleep. Quirky is looking more tree-like, but still has four trunks. He strolls on, and meets Tam Brightman coming the other way.

"All quiet?" asks the half-elf.

"Yes," replies Fallataal. They continue their patrol together, Tam testing the wards on each door and window.

Tam starts a conversation. "What are your plans, now that the ceremony is over?"

"Well, our lady Katherine seems to be planning on us leaving tomorrow. And yourself?"

"Well, I was here on business, and that's done."

"Like us."

"Yes and no. Your work has been diplomatic, while mine was just administrative. Still, it's nice to do a high-elven baby. Beginnings are haldennin."

"Yes," agrees our elf. "Our land is new, and I find that's so."

"Let me see. Your queen has three children? Or is it four?"

Fallataal tries to correct him politely. "She doesn't think of herself as our queen, but more as an equal who's had to lead a lot. She has twin girls. My brother married one of Daewen's grandchildren, and this has made me part of her family. We just have a broad definition of 'family'. For example, most of the Silver Council are considered Mithriel's parents."

Tam nods as if he understood, though question marks float almost visibly over his head. "We have very extended familes, too," he remarks, then warns, "More of the Oakley family will be coming, er, out of the woodwork soon."

"Let me ask you another question," Fallataal says. "I've heard that, after they die, the fay of the Summerlands come back. What happens to them here in Tighmark? Our little investigation of the Oakleys' ... hill brought it to mind. You see, where I came from, we had stories of... trouble... with barrows."

Tam nods. "Yes, thank you for your help there. Those folk in the Oakley barrow are on their way back, and it takes them centuries. If you think about the description of a ghost, it always amounts to an ... imperfect presence. Invisible, intangible, or something like that. When the fay dead start to come back, they show up as ghosts, then slowly improve until there presence is complete, and then, they're back. Sometimes, there is one may "move on." That can mean a ... change in familial ties. Such a one may come back and still be an elf, just not necessarily an oak elf. And the fay dead vary a lot on where they come back. The Oakleys come back there mostly, of course" Tam gestures toward the barrow. "Others come walking out of the Chaos Marches, or show up where they died, and so on. What of your afterlife?"

Fallataal shrugs, and says, "Our people thought that our souls went west, over the seas. Sometimes, people would set out bodily, in boats. I've since discovered that our world was actually artificial, so I've sometimes wondered what happened to those folk.... It was made by the Worldbenders; I've mentioned them to you before. In fact, the Lady Daewen is our leader largely because she didn't want to leave her family behind in a Worldbender place. So she came back for them, and then the first lot wanted to go back for their relatives. We've had three or four rounds of these rescues, now, and it looks like it will go on."

Tam nods. "Congratulations on getting your family out of... a bad lot. The more I hear, the more I think I would like to visit Lanthil sometime."

"Yes, things are coming together now, so we can appear to be welcoming, as well as being welcoming, now that we've solved the food problem."

"Ah, yes. You had mentioned your problems with stowaways and trespassers," remarked Tam as he checked another door.

This reminds the elf of a question he had meant to ask earlier. "Do you have to guard here? Are there special problems?"

"Oh, no. It's just habit. And that matter of the Hedley Kow."

"The what? What kind of cow?"

"Ah, no. It's the name of a shape-shifter. The h-e-d-l-e-y, k-o-w. It's shown up here twice, and seems very interested in your... Officer Salimar. Its behavior has been very... unmannerly, even haljid, and - what is Salimar?"

Fallataal is disconcerted by this question. "I'm still learning things, and one of them is that there are lots of other worlds, that are... balls in space?"

"You mean, planets?"

"Yes. She's from one of those."

Tam interrupts. "So she's an alien?"

"Yes," he is relieved to admit.

"And she's also a KaiSen liaison officer, right?"

"Yes. Though I don't know what KaiSen is, but I gather it, or he, is important. Though sometimes it seems he just runs a message service..."

Tam Brightman tries to explain: Each star is a sun. Many suns have worlds around them. Many worlds have people on them, though they may look very strange, the people of each world looking different from those of any other world. KaiSen is a whoel race with but a single mind, so communication is very important to it. As a result, it runs a message service between worlds. Its liaison officers extend its reach.

Now Fallataal has a better understanding of his encounter with a Tenul, a fluffy [ink ball with eyes and hands, which came through a door into Lanthil. Tam is distantly aware of the species, and tells the full elf what he knows of them.

Fallataal is apologetic. "I arrived in Vinyagarond for Lanthil, fresh off the boat, as you might say. I went from Westron to Anglic reasonably well- but all these new words!"

"Yes, aliens are fond of gadgets, and you need new words for all the gadgets," Tam explains sympathetically. "Here, it's like oil and water. You either use magic or gadgets, but never both."

"Ah, well. That's very different from our group. We have something called the Map of Here. It's magic, and shows you where you are, and what your landscape is, but it also shows transdimensional events nearby, and when they occurred."

Tam is all startlement. He's never even imagined such a melding of the two fields. Fallataal rummages though his pockets, and finally finds a card for Lorelei McHerron. He gives it to Tam, and explains how it could be useful. By now, they have reached the front door, and part company, with a pair of "good night"'s.

Upstairs, many of the party have turned in for the night, but not our Mr. Roberts. His reading about familiars has continued, and his efforts to turn his former third eye into a working familiar have progressed. He found he could program his little soldier, and then he attempted to spawn an agent into it. That worked, and he now has a true familiar, which he sets to exploring his room.

Daphne bounces in on them, burbling about Quirky and walking chocolate trees. Robbie calls over his familiar, waist-high to Daphne, and shows him off. The pixie is gratifyingly enthusiastic. She has a talk with the little soldier.

"Robbie, it's wonderful! How did you do that?"

"I learned it all from a book."

"I learned something today too," she said, showing him her acorn purse. "It's lots bigger on the inside."

"How big is it?" Robbie wonders, and sends his familiar in to explore. It finds scarves, acorns, a polished stone, and wrapped candies. It re-emerges, and reports all its findings back. It then returns to exploring the room.

The sound of shouting deep in the house penetrates the guest wing. In a few seconds, the Lanthil party is awake and pouring out into the hall. Daphne takes the squirrel paths towards the sounds, while the others tear down the stairs to the main hall. This time Dafnord keeps Umbra.

There is indeed action in the lower hall. An armchair runs across it, hotly pursued by a razorback hog. Robbie embeds the armchair in a mass of ectoplasm, immobilizing it. Daphne warns him that the hog may be Swinburn, but he finds no trace of Swinburn in it, and embeds the boar in ectoplasm too. It is still struggling, and seems to be melting the ectoplasm, so Kate telekinetically lifts the beast, and turns it upside down. A settee gallops into sight, and Robbie freezes that with ectoplasm too.

Off in the family wing, Fallataal has come upon Nanny Cob bawling out a maid at an open closet door. Hirgalad pounds down the stairs, demanding "What the hell is going on?" The servant and midwife both offer explanations that involve the word "stolen." Hirgalad looks in the closet, roars something incoherent, and dashes towards the commotion in the hall.

Once there, he looks around, points to the boar, and demands, "Get him out of there!" It must be Swinburn after all. Whoops. Kate returns him smoothly to the ground, but Robbie fails to strip him of his ectoplastic coating.

The maid has slunk away. Fallataal asks Nanny Cob if he can help. "Yes! Find the thief!" With an angry gesture, she shows him the open, empty safe in the back of the closet. "The sixpence are gone."

"The pocket with the grain and coins in it? The promises?"

Cob nods, and continues. "It must be the Hedley Kow; the furniture went. Then he followed." The elf raises an eyebrow as a question. "Swinburn followed," she elaborated. With a gesture, she places a giant cobweb across the opening to guard the safe.

Robbie finally gets the ectoplasm off. Hirgalad gestures at the pig a few times, and it turns into a naked butler, gasping for breath. Quickly, Swinburn reaches into a nearby and extracts a dressing gown. As he is putting it on, we learn that the magic six pennies have been stolen.

Immediately, Salimar reaches out to the tag she placed on the Hedley Kow, only to find that it is blocked. She feels under the robot psi on the captured furniture, only to find that both the settee and the chair are blocked. She then tries a retrocognition on the corridor. This works. She backtracks along the corridor to the closet, and watches the original theft.

A human-ish, male figure that is difficult to see comes down the stairs from the family wing. It opens the closet, opens the safe, reaches in, and pulls out something small. It makes a gesture, and two pieces of furniture start galloping north as it goes south. Then a boar, moving fast, races out from another door, and also heads north.

Salimar relays her images to the others through Kate, who remains standing in the front hall.

Meanwhile, Markel has gone out to his dragon, who is now wide awake. The dragon can smell fire, fairly far away, and there is running happening there too. Markel mounts, and they head towards the sound of running. There's a quick burst of flame back in the east garden. As they come closer, there are more flares, and Laskalen's voice, shouting, "Stop him!"

Kate directs Robbie to track the thief by infrared, pointing along the corridor to where Salimar's retrocognition placed him. The trail leads him into the back garden, where he can see intermittent flames illuminate a strange elf. Markel can see the flares are produced by Narion, but doesn't recognize the elf being lit. The stranger dashes into the grotto at the back of the house.

The dragon dogs him. Markel jumps down as the dragon approaches ground level, and follows on foot. He sees a faint glint as a knife digs into the strange elf's leg. Via Kate, Markel knows that Fallataal has made it to the roof, and threw the knife from there.

Swinburn recognizes Kate's blind look as telepathic concentration. "You know what's going on?"

"Yes," she replies absently, pointing directly at the grotto. "He went down the hall, through the back garden, and into the grotto." But Swinburn, now sporting tusks, has followed her finger, not her explanation, and dashed for the grotto with its gate into the Chaos Marches.

The mysterious elf opens the gate despite the blade in his calf, but can do little more. He is shot by Markel, flamed by Narion, and glopped by Robbie. Dafnord refrains from cutting him in two with Umbra, and starts to examine the view beyond the gate. It is churning and roiling like fast-moving, localized bad weather. It's not just Chaos, but disturbed Chaos.

With a sinking feeling, Markel realizes that the incapacitated body on the ground is definitely an Oakley. He has shot a member of the family. Fallataal arrives, and reaches the same conclusion. He has stabbed a member of the family. He urges that the elf be moved inside. Dafnord easily lifts him and, after closing the gate with his foot, heads for the house.

Robbie removes the ectoplasm. In addition to glopping a member of the household, he has glopped a member of the family. He turns his attention to the Chaos, and then to a bit of solidity just beyond the gate. When he picks it up, he can easily see that it's the little green velvet bag, but its contents are only some rye. He flies off to the house with it.

Dafnord, with his slack burden, steps out of the grotto, onto the main level of the garden, to be met by Laskalen. "Why, it's Amrod!" she exclaims.

Ah. Hirgalad's elder brother. The one who lost out on the inheritance race because of the baby's arrival. "Where shall I take him?"

"His house... his room... who shot him?"

Before Dafnord can answer, Robbie arrives, and shows Laskalen the little bag, and explains where he found it.

"Erk," says Laskalen.

Tam Brightman, sporting red and white striped pyjamas, arrives at the grotto. Fallataal explains to him about finding the bag, and the missing six pennies. Tam races directly to the gate, and starts to examine the area arcanely. He explains somewhat abstractedly as he works. "Someone has been tampering with the wards and the house magic... The old road into Chaos needed power... Someone has been trying to start it up again... but didn't get far."

"Did the sixpence affect it?" asks Fallataal.

Tam whirls to look at him. "The geas coins?!" Apparently, that bit hadn't penetrated his mind until now.

He gets an unhappy nod from Fallataal in response.

He turns back to the gate, pauses in thought for a moment, then opens it again. There is a lot of cloud there. He kneels down, and starts feeling the ground and creeping forward. Robbie hands him the end of an ectoplastic rope. As he explores, inch by inch, we can see the start of a path through the swirling fog. In only a few paces, however, it turns into churned dirt and ends.

Dafnord contacts Fallataal. "[What]? [You're out] there, [aren't you]?"

Fallataal responds with "Yes, but [I can't go inside because I've] wounded [a member of the] Oakley [family, and]..."

Robbie returns to the grotto with the bag, and Kate tries to dowse for the coins with it, but can feel nothing. Fallataal and Daphne join Tam in his crawl out into Chaos. Robbie calls his new familiar out to him, and has it scour the grass for the coins. It collects more grains of rye, but no metal. Daphne tries looking a little farther afield.

Dafnord takes Amrod into the dining room, where he finds Swinburn. "Damn," says the usually imperturbable butler. He turns on his heel and leaves, to return in a moment with Nursey Cob. By then, Dafnord has taken off the table cloth, laid Amrod on the table, and removed the knife from his calf. Cob seals the wounds, and then webs the elf to the table. (Cob knows how many beans make three; Amrod is not leaving before people have had a long talk with him.)

Dafnord stares at the webbing and remarks, "I have a gun that does that." This earns him only a sardonic look from the bustling Cob.

By now we are certain. There are no coins nearby, nor where they could have been physically tossed.

Robbie contacts Gannar, and has him bring Angel to the grotto.

Salimar uses her third sight to feel her way to the belief that our culprit sent the coins down the bit of road through Chaos to Very Far Away. She also gets an impression of "road magic" but has no feel for what that would be. We could probably use the bag to lead us to the coins.

Angel arrives, remarks on the "pretty fire," and heads out into Chaos, which becomes less chaotic where he is. Daphne joins him. Fallataal pulls some twine out of his pocket, ties it to the grill of the gate, and heads out down the road as well. He explains to Angel that it would be good if the path through Chaos led to the coins. The Marginalus nods. It's not clear if he takes this as a statement or an order, but there seems to be a bit more path around here now. The two walk down the emerging path about ten meters.

Robbie and Tam have been watching from the gate. Robbie asks if there are any witchwalkers available in Tighmark. Tam tells him that they are rare, and it is the Warders who are supposed to deal with Chaos. He steps through the gate onto the path, and says, "You've made the road longer."

"That would be Angel," explains Robbie, walking beside him.

Trying not to be distracted, Tam asks, "Angel? Why?"

"Why, he's a Marginalus. They make things out of Chaos." Robbie flits to another angle. "Do you have Marcher ponies here?"

"Yes, somewhere, but not here, around Oakley." They have reached the others at the end of the path.

Fallataal turns to Tam. "Now we have to decide. Is speed more important, or is surety?"

"The road is stable now. I think speed is less important than being prepared."

Nothing has been said, either out loud or on the net, but the message is clear: We will be going after the geas coins. Gannar faxes a request for Marcher ponies to the royal offices in Tyley. The request comes from Katherine Carter, the Envoy of Lanthil, Fallataal of the Silver Service of Lanthil, and Tam Brightman, Warder of Tighmark. Gannar reports that the ponies will arrive by morning.

Salimar, realizing that a pantope would be more than useful, tries to raise Tom. When she fails, she contacts Brunalf, who tells her that Tom is off in the pantope, mapping the borders of Lanthil. The other pantope, the Fast Times, is not available. It is just us and the Marcher ponies.

Fallataal announces that he, Angel, and Daphne will remain at the end of the path, anchoring it, until we can start in the morning. Daphne, ever practical on such matters, notes that they'll need food, both for tonight and for the upcoming expedition. Soon, Swinburn appears with a large thermos and a heavy picnic basket. He is followed by footmen with chairs, blankets, and pillows. Fallataal asks the butler to convey his apologies to Amrod. Swinburn assures him that his apologies are more than enough for Amrod, silently conveying the message that it will be a long time before anyone will feel sympathy for the misbehaving uncle of Aldamir.

We start making preparations in earnest. Markel returns to his room, packs his saddlebags, and returns. He ties one end of a rope to a tree, and he and his dragon walk to the end of the path. Gannar brings out his own bags, and the rolled-up autodoc. Robbie and Kate pack up everyone else's belongings, setting aside a few things that the Oakleys will have to keep for us. Kate shreds the list she had been making; the vails would have to be redone anyhow.

We're moving out.

Updated: 7-Oct-06
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.

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