Witch’s Daughter, Installment 18

*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 Language Of Birds

“Fifi?” Lord Michael gave her the oddest of looks. Then looked back at the thing flying nearer.

“It’s a dragonette?

“My brother, Aaron got a dragonette and put it in my embroidery box.” She cleared her throat. “He…. set fire to the drapes.”

“There are no dragons in Avalon,” Lord Michael said. “Our world.”

“I know, but Aaron likes animals.”

And then Fifi was upon them, making sounds of great irritation and exhaling puffs of flame. And Lord Michael did the strangest thing, reaching out, with his hand cupped. She sensed the spell in the hand, but didn’t recognize it. His hand reached behind Fifi’s head and petted it.

The dragonette turned an eye towards him and blinked, and that eye caught all the reflections in the environment, so it looked iridescent. “Oh,” she said. “It’s beautiful. But I thought he’d be grown up.”

Michael looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Fifi is a he?”

“Aaron likes the name Fifi. He names almost all his animals Fifi.”

“I see.”

“What…. what did you use? We didn’t know how to stop him burning the curtains. Only when he was with Aaron he wasn’t destructive. The rest of the time….”

“I see.” Lord Michael scratched Fifi behind the little holes that Al thought were its ears. Fifi crooned, then perched on Michael’s shoulder and headbumped his chin.

“Is it…. what magic did you use?”

“Just a spell to make him feel safe.”

“Why is he here?”

And then they heard it. It was the trumpeting of a swan, and turning around Michael said, “Geoff?”

But the dragonette flew off Lord Michael’s shoulder to sit on the swan and at any rate, Al didn’t need it to, to know the swan, coming solemnly down the road towards them was, in fact, not Geoff but Aaron. It was the way he moved, the way he squared his shoulders.

And that’s when she realized she could understand exactly what he was saying with his Trumpeting, “Al, thank heavens. I’m starving!”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Al said, going to meet him, and hugging him awkwardly, because, even though he was larger than Geoff, he was still a swan, and so not human sized. “I suppose there’s nothing here you can eat? Or perhaps nothing here you want to eat?”

He trumpeted back, and it was obvious he was saying, “Nothing I could eat. It’s dangerous.”

“I see,” she said.

And then turning to Lord Michael. “Can we give him some of the cake, and perhaps some of the bread, and also, I think some water? He’s hungry.”

Lord Michael blinked. “You understand the language of the birds?”

“No, just my brothers,” she said, and thinking about it. “It’s his expression and…. the way he trumpets, you know….”

They fed Aaron, and then suddenly in the middle of eating, he gave a very startled squawk that made Fifi fly out.

And Aaron ran. He ran behind a tree, and there was some very odd rustling, before he emerged, wearing a suit that looked much the worst for the wear but was recognizably one of the suits the boys had had at home.

Oh, he was also human. Which was a good thing, because if he were a swan the suit would fit really oddly. “Al,” he said, and ran his hand back through hair that was much too long. He also had stubble. Well, frankly, an unruly over all beard. “You shouldn’t have come.”

“Well, that’s some fine way to thank me,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “I came out and I was …. captured by the first task I was asked to do.”

“Oh,” Lord Michael said. It wasn’t a question, but he made it sound like a question, anyway.

Aaron looked at him, then at Al, and Al realized that she had completely foregone introductions. Mama would kill her, if she knew. She hurried through the introduction, and Aaron looked confused. “Lord Michael,” he said. “I don’t know–“

“Too long a story to tell you,” he said. “If I understand you, like your brothers and father are under a spell where only one of you can be human at a time. So. you say you got stymied by the first challenge. Will you tell us what it is?”

Aaron bowed, then shrugged, then led them down the road, at a fast trot. A path led off from the one they’d started off on. He said “This is how you know you can leave.”

Al was conscious of Lord Michael doing something she wasn’t sure what, but she knew it was to determine that Aaron was who he appeared to be. He seemed to be satisfied, as he followed after Aaron.

The path climbed a steep hill. At the top of it, there was a castle. “In this castle,” Aaron said. “There lives a king, who has no servants and who is trapped in this pocket universe. He cannot return to his own world until all the wheat in these fields,” he gestured to acres vanishing into the distance. “Is bread in his larder. Until all the fish in that river,” he said, pointing to a creek running by. “Is smoked and stored in his pantry. And until all the game in that forest,” he pointed to the other side of the mountainn. “Is also smoked and salted and stored.” Aaron’s shoulders slumped. “I tried. I really did. but I could not do it. I kept changing into a swan, and I couldn’t even eat any of the food from here.” He looked on the verge of tears. “So, I’ve been stuck here, and unable to go on and save our father!”

Al looked around, and then she too felt like crying. “I don’t think it’s possible,” she said.

But Michael smiled. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I have an idea.”

72 thoughts on “Witch’s Daughter, Installment 18

  1. I know, Lord Michael, but where are we going to find a rubber hose and a duck at this hour?


    1. Depends on what he pulled out of the barbernator. What? It’s magic. Who says there couldn’t have been a duck involved?

      And if you can’t find a duck, you do have a part-time goose on hand…

  2. Encourage the game animals to eat the wheat, then do a control burn of the remaining wheat plants to scare away the game. Can’t think of anything for the fish though. No “game” animal that I can think of eats fish…
    At least, that is what someone with no magic would probably do…

    1. ….Well, if they want to set things on fire, they have a dragon who might be enthusiastic about it.

    2. Bears also are game animals, Iris. Their love for fish and skill at catching them is celebrated in song, stories, and photos.

      Also: Yay, a chapter!

  3. Oooh, a logic/riddle challenge! Now I really want the next installment. What can we do to keep you healthy and happy? And disaster-free?

  4. If magic paths can tailor their challenges to your personal weaknesses, then presumably they can take your abilities into account as well. And they seem designed more as tests than as actual security systems. Do they EVER throw an obstacle at you that’s truly impossible to overcome?

    1. Be an awful boring story if they could.

      On the other hand– the power comes from the idea that you CAN win. The more broken the challenge, the more likely someone will “untie the knot” by chopping it up.

      Or hacking the program.

      1. I’m just wondering what the in-universe rationale is for using a path to guard important things. Why use a form of security that’s intentionally designed to let you beat it?

        1. Why have a lock if keys exist?

          Think like a computer security guy– the only secure computer is the one that’s turned off and not connected to any network, and even then the sneaker network can at least in theory get there.

          1. I’m not sure that the tests are “security tests” but are tests to prove that you are “worthy of going forward”.

            1. What is worthy of going forward?

              A key that fits.

              So how do you get through the lock?

              By hitting, or avoiding, the correct tumblers.

          2. You misunderstood me. Recognizing that no security system is unbeatable is not the same as designing a system that intentionally makes things easier for the intruder. A magic path that knows your capabilities but only provides challenges it knows you can beat doesn’t sound like a good idea if you’re serious about stopping people. What’s the diegetic excuse?

            1. It’s a selection process– exactly like a physical lock, or a password, or multi-factor authentication. If the path didn’t select for things that can be done, then the people who are supposed to be there wouldn’t be able to access it.

              The whole path is the pins and tumblers of a lock; humans meeting the challenges are lock-picking it.

              The only perfect security would be useless– by making it so that the people who are supposed to be able to access it, cannot.

              1. Sure, but the first criteria a mind-reading system should select for is “Does he think has authorization to be here? If he knows he’s an intruder, don’t let him through.” Granted, this isn’t an impervious system either; you could trick someone into thinking you gave them proper clearance or use magic to edit your own memories. But it’s the obvious first thing to check for, and unless memory fails me our heroes know they don’t have permission from whoever set the path.

                1. Depends on if it’s actually mind-reading, rather than some form of a magical sensor.

                  Oooh, spinning off of your pointing out the flaw, that would leave the path completely open to anybody who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be there, which cuts your challenges by a third (if it’s one of the Three Challenges traditions) and further selects for a very magically powerful group, the innocent.

                  1. >> “that would leave the path completely open to anybody who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be there”

                    That one would be easy enough to check for; if they don’t know the area is restricted in the first place then they certainly haven’t been given authorization to go there.

                    Then again, even the cleverest antagonist can’t think of everything. Unless the person who set the path is supposed to be brilliant and/or an expert in security it’s reasonable to say that they just missed that loophole. And even if they are a security genius it’s still impossible to come up with an unbeatable system; you just have to go a level or two deeper to find something they could reasonably have missed.

                    >> “and further selects for a very magically powerful group, the innocent.”

                    Not necessarily innocent; you can be evil and still wander into a restricted area unwittingly. But having no specific intention to intrude might still be a factor depending on what the path is set to look for.

                    1. Non innocent could get in, yes, but the bigger problem would be the innocent.

                      Come to think of it, “knowing you should be there” could be gamed by the basic fairy-tale logic of “I need to fight the bad guy, this is how I GET to the bad guy, I SHOULD be there.”

                      Going off of the challenges? Phrasing would matter so dang (no man of woman born!) much that the just-follow-the-rule challenges have fewer false positives.

                    2. I have a sudden mental image of Sarah quietly taking notes while thinking “Thanks for the story ideas, suckers!” 😉

                    3. Hey, her subconscious could’ve planned on that.

                      We still haven’t figured out how to meet even ONE of the conditions for the challenge, in a way that makes sense.

                      Well, other than someone who pointed to sympathetic magic, which seems… iffy.


                      Language of birds.

                      There’s some where the impossible task is done because they’re nice to somebody– could Fifi be a route to ask the birds to help?

                    4. >> “We still haven’t figured out how to meet even ONE of the conditions for the challenge, in a way that makes sense.”

                      I can think of a way that seems very pedantic but logically correct, although I’m not sure the path would accept it. Take this part:

                      “until all the wheat in these fields… Is bread in his larder.”

                      The requirement didn’t say “BECOMES bread in his larder,” but “IS bread in his larder.” A thing can’t be both wheat in the field AND bread in the larder in the same time. You could simply burn down the entire wheat field and then say that there is no wheat in the field, therefore there is nothing that also needs to be bread in the larder. You could do the same thing with the game in the forest by burning down the forest.

                      And I’m just now realizing that I might be the wrong person to try fairy-tale puzzles on. The magic path might be better off just letting me go…

                    5. I have a sudden mental image of Sarah quietly taking notes while thinking “Thanks for the story ideas, suckers!”

                      If Sarah finds any ideas here, she’s welcome to them. Ideas are easy. Ideas are cheap. Everybody has boatloads of ideas, but few can wrap them in words to make an entertaining story.

                      I get occasional messages on FanFiction.net: “I’ve got this idea, just write the story and we can share 50/50!”

                      Right. ‘Just’ do 99% of the work for half the credit. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, bub. And, most of those ‘ideas’ are so obvious and trite that I’ve already had them, and threw them away.

                    6. If Sarah finds any ideas here, she’s welcome to them. Ideas are easy. Ideas are cheap. Everybody has boatloads of ideas, but few can wrap them in words to make an entertaining story.


                      I frequently run into shiny ideas.

                      I’ve only barely, and recently, managed to get them into multiple scenes– and it’s nowhere near a story, yet!

                      So I offer the materials to anybody who might be able to find a good use for them, now, since it’s not like they’ll get used up.

                    7. You REALLY might want to talk to Blake, Fox. She also writes in scenes, then somehow does magic and has a story.
                      This is so different from how I write, that I don’t know how to help her.

                    8. *wry* I’m not sure she’ll be able to forgive me for not having the least interest in the Pride and Prejudice era.
                      I’d imagine it’d be somewhat like trying to talk writing with someone who doesn’t Do fantasy.

                    9. Thus far, what seems to work is that I get to “know” the characters, and then keep going “and then what?”

                      Plus a lot of sitting down and just writing it for the bits I don’t have right, yet.

                      … needless to say, the limiting factor is time with spoons, at the moment.
                      The kids’ godmother — one of my aunties– collapsed two days ago, they think it was magnesium related, and she’s… pretty much that gal in Unseen Academicals, but more pushy and less used, so my mom is fussing even more than usual.
                      (Yes, the Martyr Syndrome runs strong in my family.)

  5. Attempt to reach Sarathered and Blake Smith, without email or messaging software– and incidentally raise the chance that I’ll ever get to read the result via infecting as many people as possible!– an out-of-copyright-or-file-the-numbers idea:
    What if John H. Watson was the main character in a harem anime?

    Thread is here and later comments:

    The funny thing is, it is a sort of fix-it fic for the iffy primary continuity; the number/identity/continuity of Watson’s wives, his variable war-wound, even a reason for him to be writing up all this stuff in such a very much not magical thank you very much! manner.

    …plus, like I said, I totally want to read this, and I neither know light novels, nor the social expectations, nor frankly have the writing skill to manage it. I know Blake already does romance novels set, what, fifty years earlier, and Sara-no-H writes Sherlock fanfic, and I think you both know anime.

    1. A few thoughts on the Watson’s Harem idea is raised by a question (in the linked article) about Holmes knowing about it or not.

      Holmes does know about it and Watson knows he knows of it.

      First, Watson isn’t going to write about this in the Holmes stories he’s selling to Doyle.

      Second, Holmes’ deductions are aided by his own magical abilities/knowledge which Watson knows about but again won’t write about.

      Third, the idea that Holmes isn’t interested in women is wrong. He’s very interested in one immortal woman who may or may not be interested in him.

        1. Watson does call Holmes a “wizard” on one occasion, and on another he says that Holmes is lucky to be around now and avoid being burned as a witch. (Or words to that effect.)

          Watson is probably some kind of pack-gathering or horde-gathering magical guy. I mean, sheesh, he knows everybody.

          1. The magical power of VETERAN!

            Peacemaker would probably be better.

            ….and now I’m wondering if one might name one’s walking stick. “Peacemaker” is a name for a weighted stick, right?

            Incidentally, my husband started watching Monster Girl Doctor and almost had to turn it off when I suddenly realized it was “What if Doctor Doolittle was the star of a fantasy harem anime?”

            It is…definitely on the “oh my gosh did you see what they just did there?” side, but one of the sections with the centaurs had me howling, I think they directly quoted horse husbandry books.

          2. I need more coffee.

            Suddenly envisioning Magical Girl Watson.

            Complete with medical bag in one hand, walking stick– still trying to come up with a good head for it– and his bowler tilted back as he turns in place, sparkles streaming from the walking stick….

            1. Well, I’m thinking that besides his “mundane” medical knowledge/skills, the good Doctor has some hidden (even from himself) magical healing abilities.

              There’s a magical bond between him and his Haram that brings forward his own magic. 😀

          3. I just realized one of the reasons I don’t want Sherlock to be magic— same reason I don’t want Batman, or Zorro, to be magic.

            Part of their awesome is that they’re just humans.

              1. *squeeing sound* Oooh, that would be a GOOD way to explain things, too– Watson can get broken in, he’s shellshocked, meets Holmes and sees him work…

                “I suppose you are a wizard, then? Or perhaps an elf, or something worse?”
                “No. Merely a human who sees what is there.” (I don’t have the intro story on hand or I’d paraphrase his mini-lecture on how anybody could do his stuff if they just paid attention.) And then he can explain that he is DEFINITELY not magic, below the human average, even, and he’s got it on good authority of the Grand Lady of London herself.

                Thus letting folks info-dump THAT situation.

                1. Hmm… You’ve tripped a childhood memory. There was an animated series called “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.” The premise was that Holmes took steps to have his body preserved after his death and eventually got revived by futuristic medical technology. Naturally, he resumes work as a detective.

                  Watson’s body was NOT preserved, so he’s gone for good. But at one point a robot assistant is ordered to study Watson’s notes and help Holmes as best it can, so the robot ends up taking on Watson’s appearance and personality. Holmes initially sees this as a mockery of his old friend and is revolted, but eventually accepts his new Watson once the robot proves its worth.

                  The robot isn’t magical, obviously, but it does have a few tricks that humans don’t (like built-in tools). So there is something of a “magical Watson, muggle Holmes” dynamic there.

                1. Chuckle Chuckle

                  I completely missed your mis-spelling of Holmes because I wanted to look up “knurd”. 😀

              1. *considers*

                You’re right.

                Which would also be why he’s so cranky.

                I wouldn’t say that I’m knurd myself, but I know that I– and a lot of the folks here– are about a drink low on the comfort scale, even if we don’t treat it.

                (Most epic invention of a description that people can go “hey! Wait, that’s REAL!” in modern times.)

  6. Turn the auto-barber into a reaper, teach Fifi to hunt, set fire to the stubble in the field then dump the river onto it, although that would produce more steam than smoke . . . First check and find out who this “King” is.

    1. >> “Turn the auto-barber into a reaper”

      Given his track record so far, I’m not sure letting Michael mess around with weapon-bearing magical AI is a good idea. He could end up creating the magitek version of SHODAN.

      Okay, I’m joking there; I can’t see Sarah getting anywhere near THAT dark with this story. But I’d still want Michael to get in some practice with AIs that can’t do any real harm first. Unless we’re going to make Michael’s creations going berserk a running gag or something…

  7. Heh, interesting twists in more ways than one. If you set fire to the stubble, then dump the fish on it, they will be smoked.

  8. I’m wondering if some variation of Sympathetic magic will come into play here.

    Michael doesn’t have to harvest all of the grain to make into bread. He just has to harvest some of the grain to make into bread and uses magic to take care of the rest.

    Likewise, he could do the same with the fish and wild-game.

  9. Would animals be deceived by an illusion? You could have an illusion of a fire to scare the land game away, or an illusion of a predator. Of course, what if the fields, stream and forest are actually illusions to begin with…

      1. Right now, I’m thinking that there’s something in that King’s home that would allow the tasks to be done if the person tasked with doing the tasks had the wits to see it. 😀

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