Mother Goose Chase
Chapter 9: What Rough Beast
While Markel indulged Vicar Grey and her girls, the rest of the crew
split up after the impromptu ceremony to while away the time to lunch.
Kate unaccountably finds herself with a bad case of nerves, and decides to work it off by walking down the main road to the gate and back. Within a few paces, however, she is running at top speed. She passes a topiary cluster as she dashes down the verge. From within it, she hears a shrill "eep!" in a vaguely familiar voice, and catches two figures out of the corner of her eye. When she reaches the gate, she turns in time to see Narion striding away. Mentally, she compares the little exclamation with Laskalen's voice, and decides the two match. She continues running.
Dafnord, feeling the need for a good workout, leaves the house for a nicely wooded area, which happens to have a lot of well-groomed paths, and trees with doors in them. He hangs his shirt on a branch and starts with his warm-up calisthenics, then begins his real work by performing a series of chin-ups using another handy, low branch. Soon he develops the feeling that he is being watched. Yes, up there are two elven women, one standing on a branch and the other leaning out a window in a tree. They smile and wave. He smiles back at them, gives a wave of his hand, and continues with his improvised regimen.
Robbie chooses to investigate the astonishing hill, but finds little evidence of the previous evening's activity. There is no seam or disturbance to indicate where the hill split from the earth, and only our footprints and perhaps a few ashes to hint at anything at all. He tries to examine the area with cyberclair, only to find that nothing registers, not even he. Philosophically, he reiterates to himself, "That's right. I'm magic," and sits under the nearest of the trees. Soon his attention is drawn to the fluttering multitudes of butterflies. They appear to be the same ones, patchily colored in purple, brown, black, and white, that populated the scene the day before. He easily catches one, and places it in an ectoplastic cage. Satisfied, he flies back to the house.
Salimar heads for Tintilasea's suite of rooms, and encounters Nanny Cob just exiting the door with the remark, "It's easier'n boilin' them in water," and trailing giggles. Salimar catches the topic but, lacking nipples of her own, fails to understand the humor. With the arch of an eyebrow, Salimar inquires about the baby, and gets Cob's reassurance that the baby is ready, so the birth will be soon.
She inquires further with "Does he know what he's getting into?"
"I sartainly hope not," replies the midwife, before hurrying off.
Tintilasea happily welcomes her in, and they have a pleasant chat. Tintilasea asks if Salimar is a parent. No, but Salimar offers her thoughts on bilocation and traumatic mitosis. Somehow, it's not the same thing.
Soon, with a careful extension of requests and permissions, each is examining the other arcanely. Salimar finds a small, but healthy and psionically active baby; there is no hint as to what Tintilasea makes of her investigations.
They chat some more, and it turns out that the mother-to-be is fretting about her friend Megilriel, and that they never sent her an invitation. Salimar gently hints that our group is primarily time travelers. Soon, the penny drops, and Tintilasea shyly asks for a favor. Salimar pings Daphne, who asks Chaffer, who tells the pixie where Swinburn is. Daphne then takes the squirrel runs across the house, and through Tintilasea's room, to find Swinburn in with Hirgalad, just next door.
She announces, "M'lady needs Swinburn," and the butler swiftly moves into the next room. Hirgalad mildly informs her that she is not required to run errands, but receives the reassurance, "It's okay. I was bored."
Perceiving an opportunity, Hirgalad offers Daphne permanent possession of The Hat. She delightedly accepts. The father-to-be reflects on the thennin of the acquisitive meeting the purgative. Daphne then asks directions to his father's rooms.
Swinburn learns that the young mistress needs an invitation to the lying-in, and its envelope. He bows himself out, and soon returns with the required materials. While Tintilasea is addressing the envelope, Salimar pings Tom back in Lanthil. The anxious young elf hands her the envelope, saying that it should have been mailed from London three weeks earlier. Without looking, Salimar passes the invitation through a glowing green "mail slot" in the air over her shoulder. It disappears. She says, "It shall have been done."
Very much elsewhere, Tom puts the invitation in a larger envelope, with a note saying that it must be mailed from London in two weeks, and sends it off to Eldacur Technologies on Helene five weeks earlier.
Daphne follows the squirrel runs to the room of Galentarma and Domelothe. Oops, wrong grandparents; she really wanted Tintilasea's folks, Mallammen and Minargalad. Which doesn't mean she can't pass through here; after all, the household squirrels can.
She pokes her head out into their room and spots them bent over the desk. Something on the desk goes "chink" and they smile. Hesitant but curious, the pixie blends herself in with the wood. The couple looks briefly around, perhaps at the sound of her entrance, and Domelothe remarks that it must have been a squirrel. Galentarma nods, saying, "I shouldn't keep taking them out." With comments about how difficult it is to negotiate with one of "them," and of favors owed and favors given, he puts something into a little green bag. With a final, "They'll really like it when they open it" comment, he slips the bag into his vest.
"Oh," remarks Domelothe, looking out the window, "what's that coming down the driveway?"
Distracted by a possible novelty, Daphne withdraws to another room, where she too can look out the window. It's a red and green truck, with the Tighmark coat-of-arms on the side in gold. In an instant, she's out the window, and onto the roof of the truck, from which vantage point she looks in the windscreen at the driver.
"Auggh!" screams the driver, and hits the brakes. "Sorry," says Daphne, and sits up. It's only a mail truck. The driver, recovering, pulls up to the door, hands a single letter to Swinburn, turns, and leaves. The pixie shifts her attention from the truck to the letter. Swinburn places it on the silver salver held by an attentive footman, and retreats into the recesses of the house. The footman, after a single glance, takes his tray and its contents upstairs into the guest wing, knocks on a door, and after a discreet pause, opens the door and places the letter on a dainty desk.
Daphne learns that the letter has been repeatedly forwarded, and is addressed to a "Margaret Thorn" before the door closes, and the footman directs his attention to her. "May I help you, madam?"
So much for that antidote to boredom. "Where's Minargalad's room?" she asks, and is directed to his and Mallammen's room.
At their door, she knocks, and is invited in. After an awkward moment, Minargalad opens the door, to find the pixie swinging from the doorknob, which was just too high for her to easily use. She explains that she and Salimar would like to visit the Dower Grove, as promised. After a little rudimentary telepathy by Daphne, to summon Salimar, the little group heads out for the guided tour.
Once in the grove, they find Dafnord, performing slow, deliberate, one-armed push-ups. He somersaults erect. "Oh, good morning. I'm sorry, am I in your way?"
Salimar replies, "Oh, no. We're looking at the trees here. Would you like to join us?"
Dafnord politely declines. "That's all right."
She coaxes him into it with "Oh, do join us."
He puts his shirt back on, and there is a faint sound, as of leaves rustling or of elf maidens sighing.
The elf couple shows them into a tree, where they can finally see for themselves that the ground floor room inside is larger than its enclosing tree. There are several pieces of oak furniture, and a gracious spiral staircase inviting them upwards. Mallammen begins by explaining that the tree is never cut; the heart of the tree is still present, just not ... manifest. Windows are formed by the tree reshaping itself; it is never pierced. She goes on to say that most trees have eight to ten rooms, one above the other. Daphne notes with awe that only heavy applications of second- and third-order glamour could produce this effect. The two elves agree, and Minargalad reveals that the tree itself no longer believes that it was ever different; its current structure is now reflected in its genes.
The group mounts the stairs, with Daphne excitedly probing every aspect and detail of the tree's modifications. Mallammen readily detects this, and is happy to show the various features rather than merely tell about them. In Daphne, she has found an appreciative audience for the family art, and she concentrates on displaying it to its best effect.
Fallataal changes into his second most inconspicuous outfit, and goes out to informally patrol the grounds. He soon finds the dell that leads into the Chaos Marches, and makes a special note of it. He spots Tam Brightman, the Warder, who is apparently also patrolling, and goes over to meet him and trade impressions. Brightman is clearly not a high elf, and could easily be a human. Fallataal introduces himself as Fallataal of the Silver Service.
Brightman introduces himself, and explains that he is waiting to put the baby under the geas, since it is easiest to do at the beginning of someone's life.
Fallataal asks about the borders of Tighmark, gesturing at the gate in the dell. Brightman assures him that the realm is thoroughly guarded, especially towards the East (Earth). Fallataal explains that Lanthil connects to both the Summerlands and the Dreamtime, and is on the open sea, and that he worries about its connectivity. The warder nods understandingly, and explains that he has studied Lanthil somewhat. He personally would not worry about connecting to arcane realms, only to mundane ones.
Fallataal explains that Lanthil's misadventures in connectivity mean that it has acquired some accidental human population - American Indians and frontiersmen and some other strays from past ages - which is worrisome. Brightman smiles and points out that he, himself, is half-elven and that Tighmark has a considerable human (like the Vicar) and semi-human (like himself) population. These migrations need not be a long-term problem. Fallataal is heartened.
Brightman asks about Mr. Markel's dragon, and is reassured, from Fallataal's description of the arrival of dragon and rider, to learn that it is not Patalan.
Brightman explains about the gate. In years past, the Oakleys had displayed their prominence by having their own private road to Earth. However, it had joined to another Earthward road first, and this had created extra geography, so the road was "discontinued" and only the gate is left. "The wards are still up; I checked them yesterday."
Fallataal then describes our encounter with highwaymen on our approach to Tighmark, causing Brightman to happily make a note that, for a change, Tighmark might send notice to the guards of Faerie to "shape up" a bit. Fallataal smiles sympathetically. He will have to report to Grandmother, and mentions how Lanthil has to worry itself about Worldbenders. The warder is unfamiliar with the term. The elf does not explain, but is moved to give Brightman one of his business cards, with the advice that if he ever wants to get in touch with Fallataal, all he has to do is tear the card in half. Brightman gives him a hard look, and carefully pockets the card.
They start clockwise around the house, chatting about the Summerlands (a manicured garden) and Lanthil (old, untouched forests) and Tighmark (pleasantly tinkered with).
After her run, Kate had taken a long, hot shower, changed her clothes, and headed back downstairs. Here she encounters Robbie and his caged butterfly. The hair on the back of her neck rises, but she manages to ask him calmly where he got the butterfly. She recognizes the ectoplastic cage as his creation. Upon learning that, as she feared, it came from the special hill, she tells him to take it back. The eidolon is at a loss to understand her difficulty, and why her teeth are clenched.
Galentarma is passing by, and stops to help Robbie's understanding. He examines the captured creature, explaining that these creatures like the area around the hill. He then says that it is not a butterfly, but more like art or history or tradition... Robbie can't detect that it is not a butterfly. Galentarma suggests that he think of it as a familiar, in the form of a Purple Emperor butterfly. Robbie thanks him, releases the little thing outside, and heads for a library to learn more about familiars. Kate thanks him as well, for instructing Robbie so nicely. Galentarma smiles and meanders off. Kate goes outside for another walk to soothe her nerves. For all she knew, the thing was an elvish soul...
Robbie soon finds and settles in with a book on familiars. Reading that a familiar is "a psychic projection of the owner of the familiar," he concludes that his third eye is a sort of familiar, and starts experimenting. He pops it out, and shapeshifts it into an iron butterfly. That worked perfectly; he now sees out of its two tiny eyes. He makes his "butterfly" rise, and flap its wings. He derives a drunkard's walk for it, and it starts moving in that familiar, unpredictable fashion. He directs it out into the garden. Clink. He opens the library window and directs it out into the garden, and onto a branch.
He reads, "the true familiar may be given instructions, and will act independently to carry them out." He directs his butterfly to watch for someone coming, and reads more.
As he and Tam Brightman stroll around the house, Fallataal occasionally stops and picks up a fallen acorn or two. Brightman asks, "Do you have oaks in Lanthil? Are you gathering stock?"
The elf looks down at the capped seed in his hand. "I hadn't thought of it. It's just handy to have pocketsful of interesting things."
They watch Markel and his dragon circle in and land. "Is the dragon safe?" asks the Warder.
"So far." They walk closer as Markel unsaddles his mount. "Where did you go?"
Markel speaks without pausing in his work. "The girls' school in town. You know it?" he asks Brightman, and gets a nod, although the latter does not take his eyes off the dragon.
Not too hopefully, Fallataal asks, "Have fun?"
Brightman is thoughtful. "Is the dragon happy?"
"Not with me." Markel jerks his head, and the dragon flies up to the roof ridge. He gathers his tack and heads indoors.
The other two continued their walk, planning to take the French doors directly in to the dining room. As they pass a solitary oak, it gives a shudder, and, creaking, develops deep flutings down the entire length of its trunk. Fully arrested, they watch the leafy top of the tree flatten, and come to a point, as the flutings become columns, and one of them lifts out of the ground. The two find themselves looking at a leafy megatherium, with tree trunks for legs, walking towards the south wing. They have never seen anything like it.
Nor has Markel. He scrambles out onto the roof, and runs across the roof parallel to the creature's path. Kate, spotting it through the dining room window, dashes outside, and does the same thing at ground level. Markel hops down onto the balcony that the tree beast seems to be aiming for.
Fallataal scans the building, looking for an open second story window over a balcony. He runs across the lawn and up the wall onto the balcony, where he nearly knocks over Hirgalad. Hirgalad is bellowing, "Nursey! Nursey!" alternating with "Dammit, Quirky, heel!"
Fallataal remembers Laskalen trying to coax a tree on the lawn to come over to the window, and asks, "Is it a pet?"
"Sort of," replies the distracted Hirgalad. "Nursey!"
The call for Nanny Cob becomes general. Salimar observes Swinburn answering it, dragging the old woman along a corridor of the north wing, in the correct direction but towards a blank wall. With Salimar's help, the fairy butler abruptly joins the hallways of north and south wings, and the midwife is thrust into Tintilasea's parlor in jig time. Swinburn darts into the next room, returns with Hirgalad, and together they disappear into Tintilasea's quarters. The architecture relaxes back to its normal state.
Salimar joins the suddenly-there Fallataal just outside the door. She is probing the deciduous pet when Cob hustles Tintilasea out of the first room and down the hall. "Her water's broke" floats down the hall after the retreating pair. A maid and footman with mop and bucket appear and enter the room.
Minargalad and Mallammen are in the conservatory, showing Daphne how to turn an acorn into a purse, with more space inside it than out. Looking out the window, Daphne asks, "What's that?" of the passing oak.
Minargalad apologetically says, "I don't know which one."
Seeing the pixie's deeply confused look, Mallammen explains that it's one of their pet trees.
Through the window, they can hear a masculine voice calling for
"Nursey." Suddenly the two grandparents-to-be are gone from the
conservatory. Daphne, still clutching her new acorn purse, steps out the
window to commune with, yes, a deeply enchanted oak. She ignores the
squirrel desperately clinging to one branch and radiating the thought,
The tree is worried. It is looking for Her. It only wants to find Her.
Daphne flies on board and sets about trying to sooth it.
The trickle of people coming up the stairs towards Salimar and Fallataal
becomes a stream. The grandparents sweep pass without a pause. Uncle
Malinalda pounds up the stairs, demanding to know if the midwife has
been found yet. All three Vespers dart along the corridor, humming
excitedly. Salimar makes some benches, while Fallataal reassures them
all that Nanny Cob is with Tintilasea, and everything is going well.
Malinalda sinks onto one bench, and Mallow perches on another.
Fallataal, noticing something, steps into the next room, and lets Markel
in through the window. Tam Brightman makes his way up the stairs.
Fallataal thus can explain to both of them at once, "It turns out that
it's a pet."
Just as they're starting to relax, Hirgalad bellows again, "Damn it,
The warder immediately sits down.
Megilriel is the next on the scene. By now, Fallataal has a standard
spiel: "You'll be glad to know that all is well. Please sit down."
There is a brief lull. Markel heads down to the kitchen, to inform the
staff of the current situation, and to get sandwiches sent up. Megilriel
smiles at her new friend, Fallataal, and makes small talk. She explains
that she was looking at her invitation, which had finally caught up with
her, when she heard all the commotion, and arrived... here.
Fallataal smiles back, and invites her to look out a window at one of
the special pets of the Oakleys.
"You mean Quirky?"
(It may interest readers to know that the Latin name for the oak genus
Kate mentally contacts Daphne, and learns of her self-appointed mission
to calm the pet oak. She suggests that Daphne project an image of
Tintilasea making an enormous, wonderful acorn. The pixie tries it, and
thinks that it almost might have worked if Quirky had not been so intent
on its very particular worry.
Salimar, part of the background telepathic web set up by Kate, provides
her own assistance. She lobs a calming brain-cocktail at the tree. It
works a bit; the "toes" become more like roots.
Nursey Cob comes out of the lying-in room, and gratefully wolfs down a
sandwich. "It'll be a while before the next contraction."
Finally, the voice of an exhausted-sounding Tintilasea is heard. "Sit,
The oaken beast pulls its nose out of the window, and its top becomes
less pointed and more tree-shaped.
Daphne really wants one.
The tree is worried. It is looking for Her. It only wants to find Her. Daphne flies on board and sets about trying to sooth it.
The trickle of people coming up the stairs towards Salimar and Fallataal becomes a stream. The grandparents sweep pass without a pause. Uncle Malinalda pounds up the stairs, demanding to know if the midwife has been found yet. All three Vespers dart along the corridor, humming excitedly. Salimar makes some benches, while Fallataal reassures them all that Nanny Cob is with Tintilasea, and everything is going well. Malinalda sinks onto one bench, and Mallow perches on another.
Fallataal, noticing something, steps into the next room, and lets Markel in through the window. Tam Brightman makes his way up the stairs. Fallataal thus can explain to both of them at once, "It turns out that it's a pet."
Just as they're starting to relax, Hirgalad bellows again, "Damn it, Quirky! Sit!"
The warder immediately sits down.
Megilriel is the next on the scene. By now, Fallataal has a standard spiel: "You'll be glad to know that all is well. Please sit down."
There is a brief lull. Markel heads down to the kitchen, to inform the staff of the current situation, and to get sandwiches sent up. Megilriel smiles at her new friend, Fallataal, and makes small talk. She explains that she was looking at her invitation, which had finally caught up with her, when she heard all the commotion, and arrived... here.
Fallataal smiles back, and invites her to look out a window at one of the special pets of the Oakleys.
"You mean Quirky?"
(It may interest readers to know that the Latin name for the oak genus is "Quercus.")
Kate mentally contacts Daphne, and learns of her self-appointed mission to calm the pet oak. She suggests that Daphne project an image of Tintilasea making an enormous, wonderful acorn. The pixie tries it, and thinks that it almost might have worked if Quirky had not been so intent on its very particular worry.
Salimar, part of the background telepathic web set up by Kate, provides her own assistance. She lobs a calming brain-cocktail at the tree. It works a bit; the "toes" become more like roots.
Nursey Cob comes out of the lying-in room, and gratefully wolfs down a sandwich. "It'll be a while before the next contraction."
Finally, the voice of an exhausted-sounding Tintilasea is heard. "Sit, Quirky."
The oaken beast pulls its nose out of the window, and its top becomes less pointed and more tree-shaped.
Daphne really wants one.