Mater has started a fitness regime to make sure she lives long enough to make the milestone. She said if it had all happened a couple of years ago she wouldn’t have minded whether she popped off or not, but now that she was this close, she wasn’t going to be robbed of her glory.
It was hard to see the glory in that lumpy old flesh wobbling around the front yard, or why anyone would be interested in robbing her of it still less, but she was determined, and there was no putting her off. And it’s not just the jogging. I thought we had a swarm of bees on the porch yesterday and went out to investigate and it was Mater, sitting there on the wooden floor in an awkward parody of a guru pose babbling some Om sounds and humming. And that wasn’t the worst of it either, she was wearing a fuchsia pink leotard.
May took the brat down to the kitchen and gave him the pot of cold spinach to play with while she slipped outside to send a coded message to her fiance, Marduk. Barron happily commenced smearing globs of green mush all over his face, mimicking his fathers applications of orange skin colouring paste.
“We have a window of opportunity tonight,” May wrote. Actually she said “hu mana sid neffa longo tonga bafti foo chong“, which meant the same thing. “Slopi sala ding wat forg ooli ama“, which she knew Marduk would read as: “The kid will be in a big pot of spinach by the gate at midnight.”
“Forg ooli ama? keni suba?” he replied. With an impatient sigh May texted back “Sagi poo! And bring a spare set of clothes and a wash cloth!”
Now all she had to do was pack her suitcase, and keep the kid occupied for the next couple of hours. What she wasn’t expecting was a visit from Norma, who plonked herself down at the kitchen table, and started a long story about how underpaid and underappreciated she was.
May tried to hurry her along with the story, but there was no rushing Norma. She was firmly planted at the table for the duration of the evening. May did some quick thinking, and slipped a couple of fast acting laxative pills into the glass of wine that she handed to the maid, frustrated that no sleeping pills were easily found. They usually worked within a couple of hours, and with a bit of luck May could coincide her exit with Norma’s inevitable rush to the lavatory.
“امیدوارم که مؤثر باشد” May said to herself, and seated herself at the table to endure Norma’s long winded complaints. One hour and 43 minutes to go.
WIB (workman in blue) opened his lunch box and unwrapped a sandwich. He sighed when he saw it was cheese and pickle again. It had been cheese and pickle all week, a sure sign that WAH (woman at home) wasn’t giving him the attention he deserved, throwing the easiest thing together day after day instead of planning a nice roast chicken dinner, with the prospect of a couple of days of savoury chicken sandwiches to take to work. She hadn’t even bothered to boil up a few hard boiled eggs for a bit of variety. He loved egg sandwiches. He wasn’t a hard man to please, he ruminated dolefully, chewing the cheese and pickle.
He reached for his flask to wash it down with a gulp of tea, and noticed with some surprise that she’d bought him a new flask. His old one had a few dents in the screw on cup, and this one looked all shiny and new. Anxious to wash down the cheesy lump in his throat, he unscrewed the cap and poured the flask over the cup.
But there was no tea in the flask, nothing poured out of it. He peered inside and shook it.
“That woman’s lost her marbles!”
It was the last straw. He stood up, shook the flask above his head, and roared incoherently.
“Everything alright, mate?” asked his work colleague mildly. WIB2 was contentedly munching a juicy pink ham sandwich. He even had a packet of crisps to go with it, WIB1 noticed.
“No tea? Fancy some of my coffee? Pass yer cup. What’s in the flask then, what’s rattling?”
WAB1 sat back down on the low wall and upended the flask, pulling at a bit of black stuff that was protruding from the top.
““Maybe it’s full of banknotes!” WIB2 suggested.
“It’s a fucking doll! What the..?”
“Why did your old lady put a doll in your flask instead of tea, mate? Private joke or something, bit of a lark?” WIB2 elbowed WIB1 in the ribs playfully. “No?” he responded to WIB1’s scowl. “Maybe there’s something stitched inside it, then.”
“Lucinda, where is this going?”
“I don’t fucking know, Helper Effy.”
“I thought as much. Perhaps we’d better go back to the beginning.”
It was good of them to do it I suppose, but you know me and new contraptions, it’s hard to summon up the courage to deal with a new one, no matter how seemingly simple it might be to a mind more attuned to that sort of thing. There were a couple of glaring spelling mistakes the last time I used it, that I know I couldn’t possibly have made, so I suspect the damn thing has gremlins, like all these contraptions seem to have. Always doing inexplicable things.
At first I was worried about those two women who hadn’t come back out of the old mine yet, and cursed old Sanso for blinking right out like that, but I had the feeling that Sanso was on the case and not to worry. What could I do about it anyway? I reckon one day we’ll hear the story, one way or another.
I’ve had enough to think about here with Mater’s latest drama.
I couldn’t offer Sanso a drink, as there wasn’t a drop of anything in my room, so I sent him down to the dining room to get a bottle of gin, and a couple of glasses of ice. I was a bit reluctant to let him out of my bedroom at such an early stage of the proceedings, but felt he was a man of his word when he assured me (with an engaging twinkle) that of course he’d be back, in just two shakes of a mongooses tail. Odd expression if you ask me, but then, where does he come from? Hard to say. He had a slight accent, but it was impossible to pin down to a location, and it had a changeable quality, too.
He wasn’t gone long, and said that the only person who’d seen him was Prune, but that was inevitable, he said. That kid sees everything! She’d be a fount of valuable information, if she didn’t put such a unique spin on everything.
I sat on the bed, and he sat in the wicker chair by the window, and after we’d clunked glasses and said cheers, he came right out and asked me what my mission was. Well! Mission? I asked. I’d never really thought about it in terms of a mission. Then a funny thing happened. I could hear myself speaking but hadn’t thought about what to say, you know how it is sometimes.
I said, “my mission is a glorious infinite wandering, threading multicoloured silken skeins of clues and riddles, people and places, weaving them in and out of time and to each other…”
Sanso laughed. “He said “That’s my mission, too!” and we raised our glasses in honour of that, and then he got serious. No, not like that. I mean, he started going on about the mines, and how we really had no time to lose because there were two daft tarts in extreme danger down there, and they needed rescuing. I rolled my eyes as you can imagine. I’d already started semi reclining in anticipation.
“It’ll be fun,” he said.
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
Granola is popping in and out of the stories, exploring interacting more physically with her friends through Tiku, a bush lady focus of hers.
Luckily (not so coincidentally) Maeve and Shawn-Paul were given coupons to travel from their rural Canada town to the middle of Australia. Maeve is suspicious of being followed by a strange man, and tags along with Shawn-Paul to keep a cover of a young couple. Maeve is trying to find the key to the doll that she made in her secret mission for Uncle Fergus, which has suddenly reappeared at her friend Lucinda’s place. She’ll probably is going to have to check on the other dolls that she made as well.
Jerk continues to administrate some forum where among other things, special dolls are found and exchanged, and he moderates some strange messages.
Lucinda is enjoying Fabio’s company, Maeve’s dog, that she has in her care while Maeve is travelling.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
The mysteries of the Flying Fish Inn seem to unravel slowly, like Idle’s wits.
Long time family member are being drawn inexplicably, such as Prune and brother Devan. The local bush lady Tiku is helping Finly with the catering, although Finly would rather do everything by herself. The totemic Fish was revealed to be a talisman placed here against bad luck – “for all the good it did” (Mater).
Bert, thought to be an old flame of Mater, who’s acted for the longest time as gardener, handyman and the likes, is revealed to be the father of Prune, Devan, Coriander and Clove’s mother. Mater knew of course and kept him around. He was trained in codes during his time with the military, and has a stash of potentially dangerous books. He may be the key to the mystery of the underground tunnels leading to the mines, and hidden chests of gold. Devan is onto a mystery that a guy on a motorbike (thought to be Uncle Fergus of Maeve’s story) told him about.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
Mandrake & Albie after a trip in the bayou, and looking for the dragon Leormn’s pearls and the sabulmantium, have finally found Arona after they have emerged from the interdimentional water network from the Doline, to the coast of Australia in our reality, where cats don’t usually talk.
Albie is expecting a quest, while the others are just following Arona’s lead, as she is in possession of a mysterious key with 3 words engraved.
After some traveling in hot air balloon, and with a local jeep, they have arrived at a local Inn in the bush, with a rather peculiar family of owners, and quite colorful roster of guests. That’s not even counting the all-you-can-eat lizard meat buffet. What joy.
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
Ms Bossy is looking to uncover the Doctor’s surely nefarious plans while her newspaper business isn’t doing so well. She’s got some help from Ricardo the intern. They have found out that the elderly temp worker who’s fascinated by the future, Sophie (aka Sweet Sophie) had been the first subject of the Doctor’s experiments. Sophie has been trying to uncover clues in the dreams, but it’s just likely she is still a sleeper agent of the Doctor.
Despite all common sense and SMS threats, Hilda & Connie have gone in Australia to chase a trail (from a flimsy tip-off from Superjerk that may have gone to Lucinda to her friend journalist). They are in touch with Lucinda, and post their updates on social media, flirting with the risk of being uncovered and having trouble come at their door.
Sha, Glo and Mavis are considering reaching out for a vacation of the nursing home to get new free beauty treatments.
In his secret lair, the Doctor is reviving his team of brazen teafing operatives: the magpies.
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
Not much happened as usual, mostly an entertaining night with Inspector Melon who is quizzing Liz’ about her last novel about mysterious messages hidden in dolls with secret keys, which may be her best novel yet…
DRAGON 💚 WOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Before Rukshan goes to the underworld land of Giants, he’s going to the cottage to gather some of his team of friends, Fox, Ollie etc. Glynis is taking care of Tak during Margoritt’s winter time in the city. Margoritt’s sister, Muriel is an uninvited and unpleasant guest at the cottage.
Tak is making friends with a young girl who may have special powers (Nesy).
The biggest mystery now is… is the loo going to get fixed in time?prUneParticipant
It all started to feel insanely crowded and agitated in the Inn, it took me a while to check whether I was tripping on some illegal substance.
Truth was, the funny chicken was doing alright until Finly and Idle came back in a hurry, tried to make me puke and feed me charcoals, as if I’d been poisoned or something.
I overheard Aunt Dodo when she shouted at poor Finly “why would you put my stash with the lizard leftovers! It’s me-di-cine you old cow, not some bloody herb seasoning!”
Finly looked indignant, but she knew better than to argue. Besides, I’m sure her face was speaking volumes, something in the tune of “with the bloody mess of your stuff all over the place, why do you think?” Sure, there was some other profanities hidden in the wrinkles of her sweet face, but she would leave that to Mater to spell them out.
Anyways, I just maybe feeling juuust a little funny, but with years of bush food regimen behind me, my liver is surely strong as an ox and pumping all the stuff out of my system like a workhorse.
So, yeah, I was maybe tripping a little. So many new people came in at the same time, it felt like a flashmob. They were probably real and not just hallucinations, since Dido dashed out to greet some of them.
I went upstairs and spied on them from there. I’m making also a list, mostly for Aunt Dodo, because if her heart is in the right place, her brain probably isn’t (or it’s a tight one).
So there, I wrote on a yellow sticky note:
Dido, if you're paying attention, here are the guests at this moment: - Not counting PRUNE, and DEVAN who just texted me he's coming!! - A jeep-full of loonies: A GIRL with red and white track pants and a hijjab, a black CAT and a GECKO (wait, you can forget about the gecko), a weirdo GUY in a fancy ruffle shirt and a little redhair BOY. TIKU is here too, helping FINLY in the kitchen. - Your old friend HILDA, and her colleague CONNIE - Two townfolks Canadian tourists who argue like an old couple, but I don't think they are, MAYV(?) and SANPELL(?) (sorry, couldn't catch their names with their funny accent)
I guess breakfast is going to be lively tomorrow…
Distraction always worked best when one was trying hard not to try too hard, and luckily for Lucinda, it came easy. She was a natural. It wasn’t that she’d forgotten her mission to find out more about those mysterious dolls and the twelve addresses, but the Roman themed birthday party was today, and that gave her plenty to occupy herself.
The costume was easy, just a folded white sheet and a number of nappy pins. The birthday gift was another matter. She still hadn’t bought one, and had left herself no option but to buy something on the way to the party on the other side of the city. Counting the money left in her purse, she decided to travel by bus rather than taxi. She would have to change at the central bus station, which conveniently had a craft and antique market on in the nearby park. If she left home a couple of hours early, she could have a look around the market.
Not to look for dolls! she reminded herself, her mind already imagining unlikely scenes.
Checking the mirror one last time to make sure her toga was securely arranged, Lucinda left the flat and made her way to the bus stop on the other side of the park. She had debated whether to take her costume in a bag and change when she got there, and decided to just wear the toga. It was a diverse multicultural city, and there were often people dressed as if they were going to a fancy dress party, in biblical looking robes and scarves, or exotic coloured sari’s. If anyone wondered about her outfit, they’d probably just think she was from one of those foreign middle eastern places.
It had been a day of full work for Ricardo, rather than his frequently dull work at the paper.
Connie and Hilda were crazily busy bouncing off bits of odd news to each other and it was a sort of playful banter that even had Sweet Sophie come out of her pre-lunch-post-lunch slumber that occasionally trailed until tea time.
News of the Rim had been scarce, there was no denying. Honestly, he wondered how Bossy M’am managed to still pay the bills and their wages, however meager those (or his) were. He giggled thinking about how she probably scared the debt collectors off their wits with her best impersonation of Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow playing Tootsie meets Freddy Krueger.
Speaking of which, he couldn’t help but eavesdrop, while pretending to clean the coffee cups and the butter knives full of vegemite and scone crumbs.
“Dolls! Are you daft? What about all those crop circles in France instead?”
“Listen, you decrepit tart, I’m telling you there’s plenty to investigate about this Findmy stuff group. Secret dolls scattered around the world, masonic occult secret symbols…”
“Hardly matter for an insert on 4th page, dear. While on the other hand, elongated skulls, secret underground bases in Antarctica…”
“We talked about this! Conspiracy theories are off limits! We only want the real stuff, the odd happenings that hits your neighbour that you wouldn’t have known about without us reporting it! But dolls! that’s something, no?”
“Flimsy at best…”
“What else then?”
“I don’t know, seesh, what about Hundreds attending two frogs wedding in India ?”
“Already covered, too mainstream…”
“What about the Mothman of Tchernobyl?”
“We stopped cryptozoology, remember, after that pathetic chase after the trenchcoat ape that got us torpedoed in the other paper rags when we reported it without checking our facts?”
“Facts! FACTS! Don’t you get me started about FACTS!”
Suddenly, they both turned simultaneously at Ricardo, seemingly realizing his presence.
“Ric’, this cuppa isn’t going to make itself, dear.” They both said like a couple of creepily synched automatons.
The old woman picked up the box of giraffe shaped cookies from the supermarket shelf. She looked at the box wonderingly, bemused at why she’d chosen it. She almost put it back on the shelf, but a couple of tears had rolled off her nose and onto the package. She put it in her basket, sighing. She couldn’t very well put it back on the shelf now, not with her snot all over the box. What did it matter anyway, she thought, sniffing. Now that the Ministry of Transport building had burned down, what did it matter.
“Is everything ok, love?” The old woman looked at the kind expression on the woman’s face, and started to sob. “Oh dear, whatever is the matter?” Maeve asked, noticing the giraffe shaped cookies illustrated on the damp packet.
“It’s the terrible news!” the old woman replied. “The Ministry of Transport! That beautiful old building! Such a testament to man’s ingenuity! Gone, all gone!”
“But it’s not the only one though is it?” replied Maeve, wondering if the old dear was a pew short of a cathedral. “I mean, there are others.”
The old woman pulled her arm sharply away from Maeve’s gentle hand on her shoulder and glared at her.
“How dare you say that! There’s nothing like it, anywhere!” and she strode off up the aisle, angry steps making a rat tat tat on the polished floor. Her outrage was such that she forgot to pay for the giraffe shaped cookies, and marched right out of the store.
Jerk, who was watching from a security spying monitor, sighed, and heaved himself out of his seat. The one thing he hated the most about his job was apprehending decrepit old shoplifters. I bet she smells of cat wee and rancid cooking fat, he mumbled under his breath.
“Oh hello, Jerk!” Maeve intercepted him on his route to the main doors in pursuit of the aged thief, noticing his disgruntled expression. “What’s up, you’re not upset about the Ministry of Transport building too, are you?”
Nonplussed, Jerk stopped for a moment to consider the unexpected question, giving the elderly shoplifter time to hop on a bus (that symbol of man’s ingenuity) and make her escape.
Bea absentmindedly glanced over at her trash can as she sipped her coffee. Not much in there to rummage through, just a couple of paper handkerchiefs and several thousand of the minute flying ants that accumulated daily on her desk. No clues in there for nosy staff to sneak a look at, she thought to herself. Wastepaper baskets, what a waste of space.
“I’ve just had a letter from one of my characters,” replied Liz. “Here, look.”
Dear Liz, it said.
Henry appeared on the same day my young niece arrived from Sweden with her grandma. My mother had already arrived, and we’d just returned from picking them up from the airport. A black puppy was waiting outside my gate.
“We can’t leave him out here,” I said, my hands full of bags. “Grab him, Mom.”
She picked him up and carried him inside and put him down on the driveway. We went up to the house and introduced all the other dogs to the newcomers, and then we heard howling and barking. I’d forgotten to introduce the other dogs to the new puppy, so quickly went down and pulled the terrified black puppy out from under the car and picked him up. I kept him in my arms for a while and attended to the guests.
From then on he followed me everywhere. In later years when he was arthritic, he’d sigh as if to say, where is she going now, and stagger to his feet. Later still, he was very slow at following me, and I’d often bump into and nearly fall over him on the return. Or he’d lie down in the doorway so when I tripped over him, he’d know I was going somewhere. When we went for walks, before he got too old to walk much, he never needed a lead, because he was always right by my side.
When he was young he’d have savage fights with a plastic plant pot, growling at it and tossing it around. We had a game of “where’s Henry” every morning when I made the bed, and he hid under the bedclothes.
He was a greedy fat boy most of his life and adored food. He was never the biggest dog, but had an authority over any plates of leftovers on the floor by sheer greedy determination. Even when he was old and had trouble getting up, he was like a rocket if any food was dropped on the floor. Even when he had hardly any teeth left he’d shovel it up somehow, growling at the others to keep them away. The only dog he’d share with was Bill, who is a bit of a growly steam roller with food as well, despite being small.
I always wondered which dog it was that was pissing inside the house, and for years I never knew. What I would have given to know which one was doing it! I finally found out it was Henry when it was too late to do anything about it ~ by then he had bladder problems.
I started leaving him outside on the patio when we went out. One morning towards the end, in the dark, we didn’t notice him slip out of the patio gate as we were leaving. In the light from the street light outside, we saw him marching off down the road! Where was he going?! It was as if he’d packed his bags and said, That’s it, I’m off!
Eventually he died at home, sixteen years old, after staggering around on his last legs for quite some time. Stoic and stalwart were words used to describe him. He was a character.
A couple of hours before he died, I noticed something on the floor beside his head. It was a gold earring I’d never seen before, with a honeycomb design. Just after he died, Ben went and sat right next to him. We buried him under the oak tree at the bottom of the garden, and gave him a big Buddha head stone. Charlie goes down there every day now. Maybe he wonders if he will be next. He pisses on the Buddha head. Maybe he’s paying his respects, but maybe he’s just doing what dogs do.
Eleri nodded off to sleep after a warming bowl of Alexandria’s mushroom soup, followed by a large goblet of mulberry wine, and woke up to the warmth of the flickering fire her friend had lit while she’d been dozing. They sat in a companionable silence for awhile, and even the little dog was silent. Alexandria smiled encouragingly at Eleri, sensing that she had things on her mind that she wished to share.
“I had an idea, you see,” Eleri began, as Alexandria topped up her wine goblet, “To do something about Leroway. I fear it may be considered intrusive,” she said with a little frown, “but I expect it will be welcome notwithstanding. Drastic measures are called for.”
Alexandria nodded in agreement.
“The thing is, since I had this idea, I’ve remembered something that I’d forgotten. Hasamelis It’s all very well turning people into stone statues, but I must ensure they don’t reanimate, and there was the issue of the vengeful emotions on reanimation. Luckily that damn rampaging reanimated guy never caught up with me, and we don’t know where….”
“Oh but we do!” interrupted Alexandria.
“You do?” exclaimed Eleri. “Where is he?”
“He’s behind you!”
Eleri slopped wine all over her lap and she jumped up to look behind her. Sure enough, Hasamelis was lurking, thankfully immobile, in the dark corner of the room. Eleri looked at Alexandria enquiringly, “Is he..?”
“Oh yes, don’t worry. He’s quite rigid and immobile again. We found the spell you see, Yorath and I.” Eleri swallowed a frisson of jealousy as her friend continued, “ Yorath got a clue from you, when you brought the bones home. I provided the missing ingredient by accident, when I spelled Hasamelis wrong.” Alexandria chuckled merrily at the memory. “I jotted down Hamamelis instead and when Yorath saw it he said that was it, the missing ingredient: witch hazel! Witch hazel and ground bones to reverse a reanimation.”
“I say, well done!” Eleri was impressed. “But how did you administer it?” She could not imagine getting close enough to him, or him being amenable to ingest a potion.
“We ground the bones up and mixed them with distilled witch hazel and rolled them into little balls, and then catapulted them at him. I’m not very good with my aim, but Lobbocks was brilliant. We had to run like the blazes afterwards though, because it took some time to work, but Hasamelis did start to slow down after a couple of hours. He was heading this way, to your cottage, and eventually came to a standstill right here in this room. We managed to push him into that corner, out of the way.”
Alexandria gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth.
“If I turn Leroway into a statue, I don’t want him reanimating at all. I wonder if we incorporate the witch hazel and the ground bones into the elerium in the immobilizing process it will prevent any reanimation occurring in the first place?”
“I think you need to speak to Yorath,” suggested Alexandria. “But where is he?”
It had been weeks since Annabel looked at the old notebooks again, but when she did, she couldn’t help but marvel once more at the synchronicity. Her partner had a couple of dental appointments in the coming days, and a number of teeth were to be extracted ~ more than Annabel would be willing to lose in one fell swoop after her singularly unpleasant experience with an extraction of two adjacent teeth, but her partner Dalgliesh didn’t seem unduly worried.
Annabel felt an affinity to Liz as she perused the yellowing pages of the notebooks, although thankfully she, Annabel, still had most of her own natural teeth and had not yet resorted to plastic, despite that they were a similar colour, indeed a perfect match, to the yellow notebooks.
It wasn’t the first mention of yellow that day, either. Annabel had painted a wall purple and was surprised to find that it made her feel gloomy to look at it. The green accessories looked pleasant enough against it, but she strongly felt there was a need for yellow as well. And yet the idea of that seemed repugnant. Lavender, blue green, and yellow! It sounded ghastly. Annabel was avoiding looking at the wall for the time being, thinking the best solution was probably to repaint the wall a safe neutral scream.
Annabel meant cream, naturally, a safe neutral cream, but the astonishing typographical error was duly noted, in case it was related to the other mention of yellow, which was when not one but two of the local guru’s suggested she be sure and twirl her purples with her yellows, whatever that meant.
Meanwhile, Annabel was giving some thought to the idea of a safe neutral scream, which had rather a catchy ring to it, despite it’s accidental appearance.
Rukshan went into the forest and looked carefully for a particular creature. It was almost nightfall and there should be some of them already out on the branches. The air was cooler in the evening, thanks also to the big trees protecting them from the scorching sun, and Rukshan couldn’t help but think that the climate was really going haywire. One day cold, one week hot and wet. And this bad omen feeling that everybody seemed to get recently. He knew it was time to go, and despite the comfort of Margoritt’s cottage, he was starting to feel restless.
He was making a lost of noise, stepping on every dry twigs he could find. A couple of rabbits and the crowd of their offsprings jumped away, a deer looked at him as if he was some vulgar neighbour and the birds flew away, disturbed during their evening serenades. But this was the kind of noise that would attract the telebats, small nocturnal animals that you could use for long distance communication.
He found one on an old oak tree. It seemed to be in resonance with his cracking twigs. Rukshan hurried and caught it before the spell of his steps would dissipate.
“Rukshan to Lhamom: Hope everything’s fine. Stop. Something happened. Stop. Need help organise trip to mountains. Over,” he whispered in the sensitive ears of the small animal. The telebat listened carefully and opened its little mouth, making sounds that no normal ears could hear. Maybe Fox could have, but he would have found it as annoying as the cracking twigs. Then Rukshan waited.
The answer wasn’t long to come. He knew it because the ears of the creature vibrated at high frequency. He listened into the creature’s left ear where he could hear the answer.
Rukshan responded with “Thanks. Stop. Hope everything well with Father. Stop. Have safe trip home. Over.”
He hung up the telebat on the branch where he found it, and gave it a moth that he had found on his way.
Rukshan frowned. He have never met Drummis. He wondered if he could trust him.
In the past twenty days since he got out of the forest, backtracking on his steps, Rukshan didn’t have much luck finding or locating either of the six others strands.
At first, he thought his best hint was the connection with the potion-maker, but it seemed difficult to find her if she didn’t want to be found.
So, for lack of a better plan, he had come back to Margoritt’s shack and was quite pleased at the idea of meeting the old lady and Tak again.
Her cottage had been most busy with guests, and in the spring time, it was a stark contrast with the last time he was there, to see all the motley assemblage she had gathered around her.
First, there was Margoritt of course, Emma the goat, then Tak, who was a very convincing little boy these days, and looked happy at all the people visiting. Then, there was Lahmom, the mountain explorer, who had come down from her trek and enjoyed a glass of goat milk tea with roast barley nuggets.
Then there were a couple of strange guests, a redhair man with a nose for things, and his pet statue, a gnome with a temper, he said. Margoritt had offered them shelter during the last of the blizzard.
With so many unexpected guests, Margoritt quickly found her meager provisions dwindling, and told Rukshan she was about to decide for an early return to the city, since the next cargo of her benefactor Mr Minn would take too long to arrive.
That was the day before she arrived to the cottage with her companion: Eleri and Yorath, had arrived surprisingly just in time with a small carriage of provisions. “How great that mushrooms don’t weigh anything, we have so many to share!” Eleri was happy at the sight of the cottage and its guests, and started to look around at all the nooks and crannies for secret treasures to assemble and unknown shrooms.
While Yorath explained to Margoritt how Mr Minn had send him ahead with food, Margoritt was delighted and amazed at such prescience.
Rukshan, for his part, was amazed at something else. There seemed to be something at play, to join together people of such variety in this instant. Maybe the solution he was looking for was just in front of his nose.
He would have to look carefully at which of them could be an unknown holder of the shards of the Gem.
He was consigning his thoughts on a random blank page of his vanishing book, not to store the knowledge, but rather to engage on a inner dialogue, and seek illumination, when some commotion happened outside the cottage.
That can’t be another coincidence Rukshan thought, recognizing the two new guests: the reanimated god statue of the tower, and Olliver, the boy who, he deduced, had managed to wake up the old teleporting device.
“You can go to bed,” said Gorrash. “I’ve been used to spend the whole night alone with only a couple of shrews, insects and crying bats when I lived in that garden.” He sounded more bitter than he had wanted, so he smiled. But even his smile was forced.
“Yes, you’re right! I won’t be of such good company at that late hour,” said Margoritt. “I’m afraid your friend also need some sleep for now. He’s exhausted.” They looked at Fox who was sleeping soundly in a side bed. Tak was looking after him with curiosity in his eyes. As if he had recognised the touch of Gibbon in him. Margoritt had helped remove the blizzard curse before she let Fox entered the house. It was a mild curse which he had certainly caught as they passed the melancholic spring the day before. Gorrash wasn’t affected because he was in his stone slumber at that time.
“I don’t know why, but lately visitors seem to always need some sleep,” added Margoritt. “Anyway, I know an owl of good company that often fly around the house at that hour. If you want to wander around, feel free to do so. I’ll let the door ajar so you can come and go as you please,” she said as she stood up. “Tak. Time to go to bed too.”
The young boy looked at her, then at Fox.
“He’ll be there in the morning, don’t worry.”
That seemed to be enough for Tak who went to his own bed. Margoritt went to her bedroom and the house soon became silent. Gorrash decided to have a conversation with the owl and left the house silently.
“Jingle has always been very precocious” her proud grandmother, Mrs Bell told Liz and Godfrey over nougat and peanut cakes. “She has read all your books so many times, and really was ecstatic that you agreed to have her for a couple of weeks.”
Ms Bell smiled at Godfrey “Obviously, it has nothing to do with it, but here is a generous donation that should more than cover the meals and lodging.”
“As well as a score of bills fallen behind, I reckon” thought Godfrey while smiling at the oddly bespectacled and bejewelled woman, while grasping the edge of his seat in case Liz’ would realize it would mean to have a moody teenager over the manoir for the next days.
“It is our dear pleasure to have this darling child,” Liz’ spontaneous answer astonished Godfrey by her graciousness. “Our Finnley will take care of her, she knows the ropes of writing better than my ropes of drying laundry, if you know what I mean huhuhu.”
Mrs Bell nodded with a look of lost perplexity on her smiling face.
It had been many years since Eleri left the service of Lord and Lady Teacake to make a life of her own in the woods, but she continued to visit Lady Jolly from time to time, arranging her visits to coincide with the Lord Mayor’s trips abroad. It was not that Lord Leroway wouldn’t have made her welcome ~ rather the reverse ~ in fact he found it hard to keep his hands off her. Eleri had no reciprocating feelings for the old scoundrel, but a great deal of affinity and affection for the Lady Jolly, a kindred soul despite their seemingly different stations in the life of a small rural township.
Lord Leroway Teacake had not been born a noble, nor had the Lady Jolly. Leroway had a dream one night that he had been made the Lord Mayor of Trustinghampton in the Wold, and in the dream he was asking his teenage neighbour, Jolly Farmcock, for advice on what to say to the villagers in his inauguration speech. It appeared that the pretty girl with the curious eyes was his partner in the dream, and the dream was so vivid and real that he set his sights upon her and courted her hand in marriage. Jolly was bowled over by his ardent attention, and charmed by his enthusiasm. Before long they were married and Leroway was ready to continue his dream mission.
Leroway was tall and broad shouldered, and prematurely bald in an arrestingly handsome sort of way. Despite his size, he had a way with intricate mechanisms; he had the manual dexterity of a watchmaker, and a fascination for making new devices with parts from old broken contraptions. Had it not been for the dream, he would have happily spent his life tinkering in the workshop of his parents home.
But the dream was a driving compulsion, and he and his new bride set off to find Trustinghampton in the Wold, as the feeling within him grew that the villagers were expecting him.
“Where is it?” Jolly asked.
“We will know when we find it!” replied Leroway. “Hold on to my coat tails!” he added a trifle theatrically. Jolly smiled up at him, loving his exuberance. And off they set, first deciding at the garden gate whether to turn right or left. And this is what they did at every intersection and fork in the road. They paused and waited for the pulling. Not once did they have a difference of opinion on which direction the drawing energy came from. It was clear.
They arrived at the newly populated abandoned village just as the sun was setting behind the castle ramparts. Wisps of blue smoke curled from a few chimneys, and the aroma of hot spiced food hastened their steps. A small black and white terrier trotted towards them, yapping.
“We have arrived!” Leroway announced to the little dog. “And we are quite hungry.”
The dog turned and trotted up the winding cobbled street, lined with crumbling vacant houses, looking over his shoulder as if to say “follow me”. Leroway and Jolly followed him to the door of a cottage with candle light glowing in the window.
The dog scratched on the cottage door and yapped. Creaking and scraping the tile floor, the door opened a crack, and a young woman pushed her ragged dreadlocks over her shoulder with a grimy hand, peering out.
“Ah!” she said, her face breaking into a smile. “Who are you? Well never mind, I have a feeling you are expected. Come in, come in.”
The door creaked alarmingly and juddered as it scraped the floor. Leroway scowled at the door hinges, suppressing an urge to take the door off the hinges right then and there to fix it.
“My name is Alexandria,” the woman introduced herself when the travelers had squeezed through the opening. She kissed them on both cheeks and gestured them to sit beside the fireplace. “We haven’t been here long, so please excuse the disarray.”
Noticing her guests eyes on the bubbling pot on the fire, she exclaimed, “Oh but first you must eat! It’s nothing fancy, but it is mushroom season and I must say I have never had such delicious mushrooms as the ones growing wild here. Let me take your coats ~ I say, what a gorgeous purple! ~ sit, do sit!” she said, pulling a couple of rickety chairs up to the table.
“You are too kind,” replied Jolly gratefully. “It smells divine, and we are quite hungry.”
“How many people live here?” asked Leroway.
“Twenty two now, more are arriving every day,” replied Alexandria. “Eleri and I and Lobbocks were the first to come and we sent word to the others. You see,” she sighed, “It’s really been quite a challenge down in the valleys. Many chose to stay, but some of us, well, we felt an urge to move, to find a place untouched by the lowland dramas.”
“I see,” said Leroway, although he didn’t really know what she meant by lowland dramas. He had spent his life in the hills.
He tucked into his bowl of mushroom stew. There was plenty of time to find out. He was here to stay.
It caressed the bottle it had stolen from the house, purring like a cat. Gorrash had never seen such a being before. Nor had his maker, as far as he could tell from the residual memories of the sculpting process. The creature looked somewhat transluscent and its movements felt unnatural. It reminded him of how water flowed from the surface of his stone skin during a rainy day.
Gorrash didn’t understand how it got the flask. Its paw had just flown through the glass and brought back its glowing prize without breaking the window. He had blinked several times before being sure the window had been closed.
That is interesting, Gorrash thought. He had never dared enter the house, fearing to be trapped inside.
The creature suddenly backed away and hid into a bush. There was movement inside the house. Gorrash returned quickly to his usual spot before she could see him. The human of the house was closing the window for the night. He didn’t understand that either. As far as he could tell, night was the best time of all, especially in winter when nights were longer. A couple of bats flew above him and as they became silent he knew there were a couple less mothes in this world.
Gorrash was still curious about the creature. He went to the bush near the window; you would be surprised how silent a stone dwarf could be. He moved the leaves apart and saw the flask on the ground. It was unopened but empty. The dwarf picked the bottle up from the ground. It was kind of wet. But no sign of the creature. He looked around the garden, with the moonlight it should be easy to spot. But the night was quiet and empty.
As he walked under the old oak tree, a satisfied purr from above attracted his attention. Gorrash looked up and there it was glowing and pulsing with flowing patterns of colors perched onto a branch like a christmas decoration.
Gorrash scratched his stone beard with its tiny hand. It was high for a dwarf. He had never climbed onto a tree, and he doubted he could do it one day. Mostly he feared the fall.
“Hey”, he called. The creature continued to purr and glow as if it heard nothing.
“Hey”, he called again. The creature continued to ignore him.
Gorrash looked at his feet and found a few pebbles. I hope it does not hold grudges, he thought before throwing the first stone at the creature.
It flew right through the creature’s body. Gorrash shivered thinking it might be some kind of ghost. He hesitated a moment, considering his options. But he had been alone for too long, even a ghost would be good company. He threw the other pebble which flew right through the creature again but this time he had calculated so that it would also bump into the bark of the tree.
It was enough to get its attention. The patterns of colors were pulsing more quickly, but were still harmonious.
“Hey! I’m down there”, Gorrash said. This time the creature looked down. The dwarf waved his hand. He was not sure but the rainbow creature looked a tad drunk. He wondered what was in that empty flask.
“You care to get down a moment ?” he asked.
“Mruiiii”, answered the creature with what looked like curiosity.
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