*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*
Problem And Path
Michael had never thought of swans as particularly sarcastic. Which probably just went to show the limited understanding he had of poultry. Because, though he could not understand what Geoff Blackley said in swan blerts, as he led Michael up the stairs and — by use of his beak — opened a closet door to reveal much male clothing of varying sizes, Michael was sure there were sarcastic comments along the lines of “Help yourself, why don’t you?”
The same in the bathroom whose ingenious construction fascinated Michael, as there was piped in hot water, whose temperature you could regulate with a turn of a dial, and Michael was sure the swan-trumpeting about that meant “The old geezer had a lot of time alone here and pleased himself by making the place comfortable.”
But it was only as Michael carrying a change of clothing stood by the bathtub and stared at the swan and before leaving the swan made a particularly trenchant trumpeting, that Michael though thought meant “Right, I’ll leave. It’s not like I want to see you naked, bucko,” that he was absolutely sure that swan had a sarcastic turn of phrase.
After Geoff left the bathroom, Michael washed. The warm water on demand, and as much as he wanted, without having to worry about putting the servants out by making them carry endless buckets was an amazing convenience. Particularly as the first tubfull was gritty with glass particles from Michael’s hair.
He wondered if Seraphim had got home, and what he’d found after the Gather had broken his window and stolen his brother. He knew that Tristam Blackley had said that he was in a place impossible to find, but between Michael’s brothers, surely they would find him.
Then he sighed, because that was probably true, but it also meant that once more Michael would be rescued, and once more reveal himself the helpless younger brother who had to be rescued, yet again.
He wondered what had possessed Tristan to send the Gather to get him. Surely he knew it would bring retribution from two very powerful men.
On the other hand, considering the magician’s position, isolated and and with his sons’ missing, one by one, perhaps he was desperate enough not to care?
When he finally felt clean and dried himself on a towel also magically kept warm, and dressed in the really good quality but grey and rather bland clothes, Michael wondered how the clothes had got here. Had they been magicked in? He doubted that. He had some idea of what it took to magic objects past the betweener. He could just about believe a Gather, but anything else, particularly the parts to make the elaborate water piping or the material for these clothes…. no.
He had to talk to Tristan Blackley. He must be a transmuter of no common skill.
It was only when fully dressed that it occurred to him he’d taken an untoward amount of time, and that surely he was being ungallant. he should have let Albinia wash first.
He hurried out the bathroom and almost collided with Albinia, looking much as she had in the drawing room of The Darkwater town home: her hair properly dressed, and wearing a dark green dress.
He stopped, and felt once more afflicted with not knowing what to say or how to say it. So instead of speaking he cleared his throat, twice, finally managing to say in a voice not quite his own, “Oh I see you already bathed. I didn’t know there was another bath.”
She smiled a little. It was amazing how being washed and in fresh clothes made her look so grown up, like she knew more than a mere girl, like she was some ancient and powerful entity. “They have three other baths, here. Remember for some time there were eight people living here. It is more than a simple cottage.”
“So I perceive,” Michael said, and could kick himself for how stupid and supercilious he sounded. To make things worse, a divine smell of fresh-cooked food seemed to surround them, and his stomach growled most embarrassingly.
And almost immediately Tristan’s voice echoed up the stairs, “Dinner time, milord, and miss.”
And like that, on cue, the swan appeared, making a sound that could only be interpreted as “come on you ninnies.”
Albinia gave Michael an embarrassed smile and blushed under her freckles, which made him feel slightly better, as they followed the swan who moved at a pace just a little too fast for comfort.
He took them down the stairs, but instead of staying in the deceptively simple entrance room, they veered down a corridor, and into an ornate dining room, where Tristan sat at the head of the table, and three chairs slid back to allow them to sit. Well, Geoff simply jumped up on the chair, in front of a plate piled high with some sort of soft food that looked like meat with chopped greens.
“When I first got confined here,” Tristan said, conversationally. “There was only the front room, but I amused myself by adding to the house. For about ten years, there was nothing else I could do, really. So I had my fun. And then once the boys joined me… Well, I did what I could to make this a civilized inhabitation for the Blakley family.
He looked at Al, “I see you made something feminine out of the provided clothes. Not a mean feat madam.”
It was quite a compliment from Tristan Blackley, and yet Michael found himself wondering at that “Madam.” Like calling her “Whelp” in the letter, it was a very strange way for a father to refer to his daughter. Or to speak to her. He supposed there was no love lost between Blackley and Albinia’s mother, but really. Then again, it seemed to him, Blakley must be a very strange man.
As they sat, plates circulated, unseen, appearing at their side, as though being presented by accomplished servers. There were cauliflower patties, and lobster, and some kind of roast fowl which made Michael look askance towards Geoff, wondering if he’d take offense. Not that there was any logical reason he should. It wasn’t as though he were naturally a fowl after all. Just an enchantment.
“It is a very ingenious setup you have here, sir,” Michael said, trying to break the ice. “The kitchens, like the bath, I presume, run by magic. I would at some time like to discuss what spells you used and how. But–” He took a deep breath. “I’d like to know how you got the smog Gather past the in betweener–”
“What?” Tristam had been eating steadily, with manners but with what was obviously a great appetite. Michael supposed the transformation to and from wolf took a lot of energy. It normally did. Even when not voluntary. it was a great magic. But at Michael’s mention of the Gather, he stopped abruptly and let out that startled “What?”
He set his knife and fork down. “Young man, the Gather was no magic of mine. I’d not kidnap someone much as I need rescue, and I know your family is not one to trifle with.” He paused. “I merely sensed it, and controlled it to come here, instead of taking you back to my Lady wife.”
“But the In Betweener…”
“It’s the nature of this …. prison of mine,” he said. “Not as difficult as you’d think to pull things here. It’s not a full fledged universe you know? just a pocket one, existing within a few square miles. That’s how I built it.”
“Sir, I don’t understand.”