Mother Goose Chase
Episode 3: The Tough Go Shopping
Before us, still over a hundred yards away, looms a wall, complete with guards. The party angles towards the apparent door to the left of us. The door is flanked by a pair of guards, with one guard standing on the top of the wall above the door, and two other guards on the wall converging on the door. Daphne summons up her barkskin protection, and flies up for a closer look before Kate can stop her. Her problem is compounded when Robbie shoves Angel at her and lofts to join Daphne.
A hawk that had been lazily circling in the air stoops on Daphne. The tension breaks almost immediately as Kate realizes that the hawk will miss Daphne. "[Attacking] hawk! No. [It won't be a problem.]" she telepaths. The hawk brakes in mid-air and hovers in front of Daphne. "Land at the gate," it commands. "All of us?" Daphne asks in her best naive child manner. "Land at the gate." She and Robbie angle down toward the gate.
Once there, they can see the guards and doorway up close. One guard is a man, the other a woman. Their uniforms are the identical: ruddy brown on the right half and khaki green on the left. There is a crown above the lintel, gold on a shield with the right side red and the left side green. Looking more closely at the uniforms, they can see a crown embroidered in gold thread over their breast pockets. "Is this Tighmark?" asks the irrepressible pixie.
"Please wait while the rest of your party arrives."
A gloomy Kate and Fallataal, deep in the uniquely elvish humiliation caused by the haljid behavior of Daphne and Robbie, lead their band up to the gate. Others in the party perform a little grooming; Salimar puts on her cloak of office.
One guard intones, "State your business."
"I am Katherine Carter of Lanthil and the New Blood, here on Lanthil business, and to visit Lord and Lady Oakley." Never had her voice seemed to her more like the harsh cawing of crows.
The guard relays this information on her radio. After a moment, the response comes, and the guard stands to one side, saying "Please enter."
They enter a tunnel, again in pairs, with Markel leading a scrunched-up dragon at the back. The ceiling of the tunnel is interesting. They can spot a portcullis, murder holes, and several scanners. The tunnel itself turns and turns again, finally admitting them into a large room, with more standing guards, and one sitting behind a large desk. He is clearly the ranking person here, and seems to be a mortal man, with the face of an old-line Yankee merchant, leathery, dour, and devoid of surprise. He informs them that, if they are the party from Lanthil, they have been expected, and he asks them to give their name, and rank or title.
"Katherine Carter..." She pauses, wondering if "citizen" would sound haljid.
The guard/merchant asks, "You are the envoy?"
He gets the name and perhaps a few words of description from each person in the party, now a diplomatic mission. He almost doesn't blink when Salimar explains that she is a KaiSen liaison officer to Lanthil.
He then explains that all those who would enter Tighmark from Faerie must accept a geas. This is a term that many in the party need to have explained. A geas is a magical compulsion to fulfill a promise. If you violate its terms, the punishment is magically implemented. The geas on us would be to refrain from showing any magic to people who might be mundanes, and the punishment would be some sort of psychosomatic illness. The nature and severity of the illness would depend on the seriousness of the violation, and on whether or not the action was intentional.
Uncertain as to what, in a 26th century land with active psionics, would seem like "magic" to anyone, the party asks for examples. One is that Daphne can only fly without the appearance of wings. Then everyone looks at the dragon, which is hard to miss, as it crouches down, its wings pressed against the ceiling. The official admits that the dragon is a problem, but one they've dealt with before. He examines the beast more closely, spots its size glamour, and shrinks it down to "only" a fawn-colored mastiff.
Fallataal's difficulty is that he has spent all his life in an arcane realm; he doesn't know what is and isn't mundane. The official brightly informs him that things have become easier since the humans developed their psyonic skills. He recommends that people avoid shapeshifting (Everyone looks at Salimar speculatively. She's a shapeshifter - but she's an alien and it's natural for her. Everyone looks away from Salimar.), casting illusions, and any thing that is very bright, like fireballs. He ends with a reassurance that there is a brochure available.
Daphne is very clearly a pixie. She's only two feet two inches tall, with a bluish cast and definite diaphanous blue wings. The official walks around her, makes some exploratory gestures, and then she's transformed into a slender, blonde human child, only four feet four inches, but without any wings. Dafnord looks thoughtful for a minute, then promises her that he will take her shopping, since none of her original clothes will now fit.
Our last possible problem is Robbie, our Velveteen Robot. Well, to the official he is not a problem, or at least not his concern.
He explains that the geas is put on with an oath, and will be taken off when we return to Faerie. He then administers it to us, reading it off a card. "I <name> solemnly swear that I will not expose mundane people to arcane influence." There's a little 'snap' that we feel on the telepathy net, and we hear musical Quenya chanting in our heads. We can make out words and phrases like "power", "it shall be", and "laws" and then the poignant music fades. We have heard the Covenant. (Faerie has The Tree; Tighmark has The Covenant.)
The ceremony is complete. The official turns again to Kate. "You are the envoy?"
"You are the godmother, then?"
This was unforeseen, but Kate accepts the nomination. "Yes."
"And this is for the Oakley child."
"Yes." That's easy.
"Then you are the authoritative godmother?"
Kate questions the term "authoritative." Surely Lanthil is not providing the only fairy godmother. The official reassures her; there is indeed more than one authoritative godmother; he meant the authoritative one for this party.
He reports in via s'phone that the Lanthil delegation has arrived. "An elvish woman, ma'am, who sounds as if she's from the Elizabethan era of Earth, an elvish man, an Acro (Dafnord is surprised to be correctly identified in a fay realm), one human-looking fellow with a tame dragon, now a large dog-" There is an interruption from the other end. "It's a fawn mastiff now. It's fine, ma'am. ... A mastiff; it's fine. There are two human-looking women, one a KaiSen liaison officer." There is another interruption. "Yes, ma'am, but she was mentioned as being present at the Lanthil Council. Yes, ma'am, of course I will notify the prime minister's office, but it will get more prompt attention if you notify them, too. Thank you, ma'am." He continues. "A pixie, an android, a Djinnish eidilon in the form of a robot --" (Robbie is startled. Of course Gannar is obviously an android, but isn't he equally obviously a robot? But being a Djinnish edilon makes sense; he's magic, after all.) "-- and a halfling of some sort, perhaps one of the Edge-Folk reported to have been at the Lanthil Council."
Everything official has been done. Two guards escort us the rest of the way through the wall. One guard ascertains that we do not have transportation, and volunteers to get us something. We accept. We have started examining the "Advice for the Western Traveler" brochure (a.k.a. "Advce for the Hopelessly Arcane"), and the roadmap of Tighmark when he returns to say that a car will come in two hours. When we ask about payment, he explains that it is an official car from the Tighmark government for the use of the Lanthil delegation, and not a rented vehicle. The guard has even more useful information. The currency here is the Earth mark, and we can access banks of the mundane realm. Good. We have money. There is a pub down that path, and there are good hotels in Lincaster, the nearest town.
Kate checks Gannar's wrist, and learns that it is 10:20 GMT March 25, 2517. We should try to leave the pub by 12:00. The pixie leads the way at top speed through light woods to a low stone building with a thatched roof. We enter, with several of us ducking, and Dafnord definitely bending to get in. It is definitely a country pub. The weasels in the corner are quietly arguing local politics. A badger in a bartender's large apron bustles over, asks us what we want, and doesn't seem to listen to the answers. He leads us to three tables and hands out grubby menus. Almost everyone is stopped dead by entries like "Bubble & Squeak" and "Toad in the Hole". Undeterred, Daphne asks for fruit, bead, butter, honey - The badger brings them. - jam, cheese... Kate asks for ale, and others ask for cider. The badger brings them, The pixie brightens, and asks for top milk. The badger brings it. We ask for bacon and eggs, corrected to streaky rashers and eggs. The badger brings them.
We eat. We watch a toad in tweed come in and get his usual. We study the road map, and learn that we came in on the south road from Faerie. Lincaster is more of a city; it's halfway between the capital of Tyley and the border. Oakley is beyond Tyley, on the eastern border. We listen to the weasels agreeing that "Vote Stoat" is a catchy slogan but a bad idea. The bill comes. The badger is an excellent publican, but a terrible mathematician. The total on the bottom is 65 even, in whatever units they have here, but the itemization really comes to 67.32. Kate paws over our money, and gives him a large gold leaf - more jewelry than currency. He snorts approvingly, and leaves. Well. We leave a large silver coin as a tip, and leave. We should be in plenty of time.
The car is already there. It is something to behold. The fenders are green, the body is red, and it is marked with that gold crown. Gannar slips into the driver's seat, and the rest of us pile into the back. Our luggage is already stowed.
Gannar interfaces with the car, and we head to Lincaster, keeping some twenty feet above the ground. The initial landscape is forest, punctuated by occasional people. One group is three human-looking people and four ordinary animals. Another is two dressed animals. It is only 50 km to Lincaster, and we are soon approaching the city. Although there are still farms, there are - as we suspected - no more dressed animals to be seen. Aircar traffic increases, and Gannar brings us down to travel on the road and so into downtown.
Lincaster is clearly an old European city brought carefully into the twenty-sixth century. There is a lot of foot and bike traffic, and the people all look like ordinary humans. Gannar accesses Information Services, and, with only two wrong turns, brings us to a bank. Robbie hops out and communes with the ATM and our bank on Hellene.
Soon, we all have ready cash, a lot of travelers' cheques, plastic, and a transfer account so that we can use this bank as if it were our own. We take Daphne shopping. We get her two nice outfits, and wonder whether we should get her a third one here, or in Tyley. Gannar mentions the itinerary, and we all stare at him. Ah. He hadn't mentioned the itinerary on the front seat, had he? Oops, sorry. Well, the first entry on it is to contact the Prime Minister at the palace at 6 P.M. tomorrow, before the reception. We decide that we should go to Tyley, check into a hotel, get more clothes, and call the Prime Minister.
Tyley is another sixty klicks east, right in the center of the country. It is centered on a very nice castle, in excellent repair, which rises like an elongated Windsor Castle to a more than mortal height. We can spot two or three rings of city around the castle, eventually becoming parks mixed into suburbs. Checking with I.S. again, Gannar finds us a hotel that meets our modest requirements, that it be nice, that it take pets, and that it be near a pastry shop. We get the top floor, apparently unpopular because of the landing deck on the roof, all to ourselves; everyone gets their own room, except that Angel rooms with Robbie. We unpack.
Robbie opts for a trip to the library, but for the women, it's feed pastries to the pixie, then find our way to a good modiste to get her a formal dress. Soon Daphne is outfitted in a very becoming blue dress, low cut in front, calf length, but slip up to the hip on one side. The modiste tweaks the back even lower, allowing for the invisible wings that we all pretend are not there. We soon learn that it is very helpful to mention that we have come "from the West." Daphne asks for a belt that "could hold a lift unit." The woman nods, and provides her with a wide silver belt. The disguised pixie then asks if a tiara would be suitable for a reception. The woman says that such things are sometimes still worn. When she learns that the event is a diplomatic reception with the Prime Minister, her answer becomes a firm Yes, and advises that we should try Bergomot's.
Salimar finally decides to seize this opportunity, and gets a classic black dress. She asks what jewelry she should get with it, and receives a chorus of "Pearls!" Urged by the others, Kate yields to her lust for beautiful clothing. After studying Kate for a thoughtful minute and finding out that she has gowns in burgundy, and blue and burgundy, the modiste soon has Kate arrayed in a dark vivid green slashed with gold silk that hovers between the medieval and Renaissance styles. Salimar gets a mental call from Robbie, hands over her dress, and leaves for the library.
The other two work their way back though the crooked old streets to Bergomot's Fine Jewelry. There, Mr. B. himself bounces up to us and our distinctive shopping bags. Daphne, who can look this tiny man square in the eye, asks for a tiara, to complement an outfit in blue and silver. Not one to let such an opportunity slip away, Mr. Bergomat places her firmly in a velvet and gilt chair in front of an exceptionally fine mirror. He produces a tiara of shaped silver laurel leaves. It's perfect. For Kate, there's a necklace and matching earrings in malachite and gold with diamond chips. Somewhere in here, we also take the opportunity to murmur that we have come from the West. An eyelid flickers in understanding. We describe Salimar's coloring, and display her dress. It must be golden pearls, declares Mr. B, and shows us two strands. Kate contacts Salimar, and visualizes the choices to her. She thinks the shorter of the two necklaces is the better color. The ever-helpful proprietor notices this, but says nothing. Instead, he suggests some dangly, baroque earrings. With a quick glance out the window to make sure no one can see, he glamours up an image. Lovely, is Salimar's remote judgment. Mr. B. says they will be ready if we come back at one o'clock tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Robbie has faced slow going at the library. The only thing he can find out about godmothers is the Church of England rule: girls get two and boys get one. There is more to learn about Oakleys. The Oakley family lives at Aikenyard in the town of Oakley. (Shades of Carrolls and Rudbecks.) A lot of the Oakleys mentioned have Anglo-Saxon names. With a certain amount of diligence, he uncovers a social note in a periodical to the effect that Lady Oakley is expecting.
Learning about the Covenant is even less satisfactory. He begins by asking the reference librarian for something on the history of Tighmark, especially the Covenant. She eyes him sideways, then looks around the room, and agrees. She gets some very old looking books, leads him into a reading room, and closes him in with them. The books are in three categories: historical, legal, and thaumaturgical.
He starts with the last named category, only to find that the books are written in different elven languages, and he only knows one alphabet, Sindarin. Sounding out what he reads is not useful. He uses his phone card to call Gannar, but the android can't help him. He calls Salimar, who agrees to come over and help.
She learns that the Covenant was sung into being, and that it continues to be sung, somewhere in Tighmark, at all times. That must be what we heard when we accepted the geas. She ascertains that this is not, in itself, a magical book. This, she considers, is unfortunate. She does a retro-cognition on it, and finds that many magical things have gone on around it, over a long period of time. She decides that it must have an endurance spell on it, since it dates back to the last Ice Age, but is still in existence. She delves back into it, and learns that the Covenant is dualistic; it is both geas and charm. Robbie makes ectoplastic copies of some useful pages.
They briefly look through the five books on the legal history of Tighmark. No, there's nothing of interest there. They check out the historical books, which are a set of six big, thick books. They spread out the first volume, and learn that Tighmark was founded by Angloth and Laurecen, and that they are kin to Alvirin and Didana. There is something obscure about objections.
They return the books to the reference librarian, and ask about the concept of "charm." The librarian has long since figured out that these strange people have come in from the West, and after the usual quick check of the room, explains that it applies to people from the East. She further suggests that we could get more help at the local kirk. Ah.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.