*For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Also there will be inconsistencies because until September or so, the timing on these is wonky, and I’ll forget stuff between posts. Eventually it will be cleaned up and fixed just before page is made secret/taken down and the book is published. At that time I will take lists of typos or volunteers to proof read. For now, it’s written in a hurry, usually an hour before it goes up. And, let me remind you, it’s free – SAH*
The Wolf Returns
Michael felt as though his head were reeling.
To an extent he — the part of him that was charitable at least — understood the frustration of the young man and how he wished they would simply do what he told them to.
To another extent– To another extent, the truth was that while trying to test one of his inventions, he’d been shanghaied into an adventure he’d not signed up for, and the idea that he should now risk his life on some ill-defined magical road for the sake of people so wholly unconnected with him made him feel both tired and put upon.
But he didn’t know how to express his problem without sounding rude, or as though he didn’t care for Al who had, in fact, saved his life twice over. Or had almost probably saved his life. While embroiling him in the most horrendous adventure, of course, but all of it — he was sure — unmeant.
As she told the young man how he was being rude, and sounded like she’d lost all patience, he put out a hand. “No, I understand,” he said. “It is just that I did not mean to be embroiled in any of this. I did not choose it,” he looked towards Geoff. “And it sounds to me as though your brothers, with far better knowledge of the situation just got lost, so I can’t understand what I can be expected to do.” He realized he sounded whiny, something he was prone to do, at least to his own ears. Chalk it up to being the much younger son of — de fact if not in law — three boys, whose two older sons were far more powerful in their own ways. He didn’t have to like it to recognize it. But mostly, he guessed he sounded tired, which he was.
Al must have picked up on the implication. She gave him the sort of look women were likely to give men when they over-exert. Michael had seen it from his twin, Caroline, who was bound to think she was much older than him — not a bare minute — and therefore entitled to looking after him as a second mother. But most of all, he saw it from housekeepers and nurses, and even maids, who all tended to think — he thought it was distributed as household rules to new hires — that he worked too much at his machines, and didn’t eat enough or take enough healthy exercise.
Al gave him that look, then looked back at her brother. “Before we can decide what to do or how, we must have a bath, and clothes, and food too. You must understand we’ve been precipitated from adventure to disaster for what I would judge to be whole day, and we’re not going to set off on any magical road without resting and eating.” She paused. “At least I am not. Lord Michael is free to make his own decision.”
Geoff looked angry, or maybe puzzled. Without knowing the young man better, Michael could not determine exactly what the frown that cross his face meant. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but what came out of his mouth was “blert.” It was exactly the same sound as you’d expect at the beginning of a trumpet fanfare.
Then, before Michael’s shocked eyes, the lad hiccuped, hiccuped again, made a sound that amounted to “blurt!” but which was not made by any vocal organs, but rather as if his entire body had imploded inward. And trumped again. Only the creature trumpeting now was a swan — had to be a swan, geese didn’t make that sound — standing in a welter of male clothes. He put out his neck, and trumpeted again, indignantly.
At the same time there was the found of footsteps approaching the cottage door, and presently the door swung inward.
Michael had once seen a portrait of Tristan Blackley. It was one of the very early portraits, where magic had first allowed the affixing of an image to paper, but it tended to fade and lose sharpness over a very short time. It had been copied, many times over, in pencil and woodcut, and appeared in every schoolbook, under the heading of “Tristan Blackley, the father of modern magic.”
It showed, sketchily, a thin man with a patrician nose and heavy eyebrows, and a mass of unruly, fanning out dark hair.
Add several decades, make the hair white, and emphasize the nose. Also give the nose a wound at the very tip that looked like someone had hit with a red-hot poker. Or a fireball. And you’d have the same Tristan Blackley. Michael suppressed a sigh and told himself that hiding behind Albinia would be a despicable act of cowardice.
The man looked upset, very upset. And his glare favored Michael, Albinia and the goo– swan with no mitigation.
To Michael’s relief, he was wrapped in a tattered, disreputable looking grey cloak. Seeing a legendary magician in the altogether was no part nor parcel of Michael’s ambition, frankly.
He said “Good evening,” but in the tone he might mean “The better to eat you with.”
The swan trumpeted indignantly and Blackley answered, in a mordant tone, “No doubt, Geoff, but I thought I was more suited to explaining what must be done and why.”
The swan made a half muttered “trumpet” sound that managed to convey sullen acquiescence.
Albinia, as far as Michael could see through the corner of his eye, without turning, at first looked surprised, shocked, then dejected and had now hunched into herself and become unreadable.
Tristan Blackley’s eyes, just as intelligent and piercing as in his portrait turned back to the pair of them, “I presume,” he said, “You got some version of our intent, but have not yet understood the whole.”
Michael cleared his throat, but before he could speak, Tristan hiccuped, and Michael fell back on his left foot, ready to leap in front of Al and protect her should this person turn into the wolf again.
Instead, Tristan covered his mouth, “Pardon me,” he said. “Voles. Worst part of this business, I swear. Very erratic diet. And now, what do you wish to know?”
Albinia stepped forward then, managing to project much older than her years, and said, “No, papa. Before we wish to know anything at all, we must have baths, food, clean clothing and probably a bed. Because you are violating every law of hospitality of simple humanity and this will not stand.”
Tristan opened his mouth, closed it and swallowed. Something like both shock and fear crossed his features. Michael expected him to say something unkind, but all he said was, “Oh, very well!” in the tone of a great concession.