Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 16: Omelet a la Colchester
We have retrieved the "fairy coin" from its caretaker, a Scottish solicitor, and returned to our lodgings to pack, preparatory to leaving. Kate brings up the question of money; we don't have a lot, and what we do have is neither local nor contemporary. The others are more sanguine, and would prefer not to worry about it until it actually becomes a problem. Kate goes to check out, along with Fallataal, who has a very nice topaz which has a certain value.
The innkeeper refuses to accept our foreign money. We don't press the point; Roman coinage from the south of England is pretty durn foreign in Scotland. We then offer him the topaz, and watch his honesty overcome his greed as he balks at accepting that either. Then Kate asks for, and gets, directions to the nearest jeweler. She and most of the others stay behind, as an obvious form of surety. Dafnord amiably asks, "Do you have anything that needs lifting?" and is promptly directed around back, where he helps Sandy toss hay into the loft. Kate helps muck out the stables.
Salimar, Fallataal, and Robbie trot off to the jeweler. It looks a bit odd to the more modern members of the party, since there's no glass or discreet lighting. Instead, there are people working at craft benches, and lots of shelves. Salimar shows him a few of our coins, which are "old Roman coins, in excellent shape. Not even tarnished," as the jeweler remarks He pulls over a small scale and offers us the value of 150% of their weight in copper, in the form of small silver coins. We quietly accept it. (There is no current copper coinage, but we don't know that.) Fallataal shows the jeweler his gem, but is offered too small a price, and so takes it back.
We pay for our lodgings, and have a bit of silver money left over. We also didn't change all of our original specie, so Kate no longer feels absolutely uncomfortable about our finances. With the marcher ponies securely packed, we briskly leave Edinburgh behind, and make our way to Arthur's Seat. Markel, his mastiff, and Dafnord lead the way, and dig up our increasingly grubby picnic coolers. The marcher ponies are eager to tread a familiar path, so it is a slightly rushed crew that dashes into a rising mist, where we hear the reassuring song about sixpence.
We continue through the fog after the music ends, and then a new tune is sung, with a brisk and cheerful
As the lyric voices fade away, so does the fog, leaving us in the middle of three standing stones. They are three very familiar standing stones. There are no trees near them, only some brush. It's a cold, wet, drizzly English day, which Gannar says is June 17, 1648, at 6:05 in the evening and, yes, we are near Colchester. Gannar informs us that, for now, Charles the First is king of England, but that at this time the country is enveloped in a civil war.
We hear a booming in the direction of Colchester that could be cannon. Robbie lofts an eye up to the bottom of the cloud cover and over towards the city. He obligingly broadcasts his images, so we all get to see that the stones are now completely surrounded by farmland, and that the road has shifted north. Colchester has gotten larger, with more sprawling outliers ("Bang!") and a longer set of enclosing walls. There are tents ("Bang!") most of the way around the city, except where it approaches the River Colne too closely. In the vicinity of the tents are tall, gangly objects, which appear to be seige engines and trebuchet, and lots of cannon. ("Bang!")
Gannar now gives a thumbnail sketch of the current situation. The king's followers are the Royalists, called the Cavaliers, and they are inside the town. Their opponents are the Parlimentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell and called the Roundheads, and they are outside the town, besieging it. The common folk of Colchester favor the Roundhead side. Gannar says the siege lasts eleven weeks, and that it's only a week old.
We try to locate the coin, but no one can get even a whiff of its direction. Salimar suggests that the coin hasn't arrived yet. We are cheered to consider this possibility, although its downside is that we are a group with several able-bodied men and seven fine (Finer than anyone here could guess!) ponies with two nearby armies on the prowl. ("Bang!") We decide that our group is better off with Roundhead leanings, and bias our peasant garb in that direction.
We explain about the noises, and about cannon and pistols and muskets to Angel, who becomes increasingly unhappy. Robbie's eye reveals that both sides are firing cannon, so we decide not to approach the city unless and until we must. At the road, we turn southwest, away from the firing, looking for a barn or abandoned farmhouse in which we can spend the night, out of the rain.
Kate knocks on the door of the first farmhouse we come to (secretly hoping that its owners have fled). "Go away" comes a gruff voice from inside.
"All right," says Kate in her meekest voice. "But we only want to stay one night. In the barn. We can pay."
The silence ends with a dubious, "How much?"
Kate jingles the (thinner) purse.
"One night. In the barn."
We have our bargain, and our sleeping quarters. We enter the barn to find that soldiers must have gone through here like locusts; the sole inhabitants are one aging billy goat and two cowering dogs. We unload our stuff, and Kate beds down the ponies. There's nothing to eat, but that does not much concern us for ourselves; we've eaten recently.
Daphne wanders outside, examining all the trees. Soon she finds what she wants: a fruiting mulberry tree, its berries still small, green, and hard. With a little pixie magic, she coaxes the tree into ripening its fruit while she stands there. She brings us enough berries for us all to eat our fill, while leaving plenty for our hidden host and family.
We doze for a bit, as Robbie keeps watch. The cannon continue their earth-rumbling thumps, and large stone things occasionally crash in the distance. Eventually Robbie watches an exceptionally large chunk of wall come down, which starts some fires in the town. We rouse, and consider the possibility of entering the town in the chaos and darkness. Markel dowses, and now the coin is... there, near the west wall. We decide that, using flight and invisibility, now is a good opportunity for us.
The party shakes out into two groups, those of us who fly easily and those staying behind. Kate flies with some effort, but Markel offers her a place on dragonback, and she accepts the easier, more exciting ride. Salimar turns the mobile lot invisible, then turns into a stylized, elongated eagle-like raptor before becoming invisible. We lift into the mizzle, and reach the west wall of Colchester without incident.
Markel dowses again, and broadcasts that the coin is there, under the downed wall, very close to that large, broken cannon. The area is hardly empty; people are swarming there to put out the fires. We agree to land, carefully turn visible, help in the public safety effort, and await our chance.
Robbie dodges a man on his way in, but Daphne is not so lucky. Fortunately, she was almost on the surface of the rubble pile for the collision, and her victim stumbles on, snarling "damn cat." She even remained invisible despite the blow. Markel aims for a landing on a wide street, but there are people here and there on it, and as the dragon swoops in, it is sure to hit several of them, which would not be healthy, in either the physical or geas sense. Kate takes over with a massive jolt of TK, and brings the dragon straight down. No one else has any difficulty landing.
Salimar turns the dragon into mastiff-form before removing its invisibility, but before we can do anything else, Daphne spots the coin. It's down there in the rubble. She can see it, but it's well beyond her reach. It's not beyond Salimar's. The alien sprawls on the heap, and stretches her arm out into a slender pseudopod that reaches down and down through the cracks in the mortar to grasp the coin. She can't quite retrieve it, however; the cracks are too small for it. Robbie projects qui levitation onto the rubble, lifting it up and out, until Salimar can pull out her limb and our target.
Below us we hear a bit of conversation as soldiers struggle with the flames as they wrest chunks of broken cannon from the ruins. "Poor old Humpty Dumpty." "Aye, I don't see how we'll ever put it back together this time." For once, we understand the nature of a nursery rhyme, and how it came to be.
Those of us in the thick of things scramble away down to ground level. Salimar renews our invisibility, and we fly back to the farm. Markel and Kate are well to the rear; they had to make their way up to the roof of a large, sturdy building before the dragon could take off.
Exhilarated by our 'easy' success, we spend the rest of the night repairing the barn. Brute strength, levitation, and Daphne's wood magic work wonders on the old place. Daphne finishes things off by plaiting a very nice basket, and filling it with mulberries. We place it and a couple of silver coins on the porch, and steal away before dawn.
It's still raining, and our energy has flagged a bit, so it is more of a trudge than a walk back to the standing stones. We dig up our picnic baskets again, line up, and, as the mist obligingly forms, we march between the megaliths to be greeted by a song of sixpence. Markel and Angel lead our way through the swirling mists as another bit of verse bursts around us.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.