Actually, the black-furred Cani’s rejection left me rather baffled about how
to proceed. I went back to the pond for another swim (and got a glare from
the Orren I had kissed, and from an Orren woman who was probably his wife),
got out after a bit, and tried the trick of sunbathing on the boardwalk
wearing only my hat, cocked.
Sunbathing is not actually very warm, even in summertime. Firebathing is more
satisfying … but probably not advisable in Orren form. Either my disguise or
my fur would get ruined. So I manipulated my fairly powerful ring, reached
into the pocket universe, and pulled out the Quilt of a Thousand Neckties.
(It’s not a magical quilt, despite the name. It was my project in a quilting
course, made out of scraps used for neckties and cravats. It took
approximately forever to make — and that’s with generous use of
Tempador magic. It is a comfortable quilt for a Herethroy to cuddle up in, and
that means it’s an immense quilt for a Zi Ri to make. (The Herethroy got to
cuddle up in it for about two years, including the night before the day zie
died, and that’s a bit sad so I’m not going to talk about it any more now.))
It’s not a massive space-distortion on the scale of Vae’s best, to be sure.
But it has a good deal of force behind it, mostly potential rather than actual
in this case. Half a dozen people noticed, and at least glanced at me.
One glanced, and then stared.
I helpfully stared back. He was Rassimel: perhaps sixty [40 Earth years -bb],
brown-furred with thin black rings here and there, distinctly chubby,
thin-tailed. His eyes were huge, half again the size of a regular Rassimel’s,
and an alarming bright green. He wore a dramatic cloak embroidered with green
leaves, with a silver walnut as a clasp: the professional costume of a
tree-mage, and, if he could afford that much metal, a successful one. He sat
alone at a table at the next café over, with a chalice of wine and a
chalice of kathia. He fidgeted with his green bicorne hat, and smiled
It was time to either pounce or run away. And I didn’t feel like explaining
myself to Kantele and Jyondre if I ran away.
“Substantial spellwork there, O Orren,” he said. (I am going to count this as
me pouncing for the sake of explaining matters to Kantele and Jyondre.)
“A useful bit of Locador, if one is away from home and wishes to carry one’s
clothing and quilts into the pond,” I explained.
“Well … You look chilly. May I offer you a chalice of kathia, from the
excellent kitchen of the Café Triumphant?” he asked.
“With such a name, drinking any other kathia would be an admission of defeat!”
(Also to be considered pouncing.) I dried off a bit on the quilt, folded it
up, and shoved it back into the pocket universe. The Rassimel watched with
interest. I sat next to him, nude except for a somewhat rakish hat, and
ordered kathia with honey and cumin from a young and idealistic Herethroy waiter.
“I-edu-colo am Thenel,” he said.
“You-edu-colo may call me-[uninflected] Bluelark,” I said.
“The pleasure is all mine, Bluelark!”, he said politely. Then, in a quiet
voice, “But, by ’substantial spellwork’, I was not merely referring to the
Locador talisman which provides you with portable and private storage space.
If you will forgive the mention of the fact, there is a Mutoc Corpador spell
about you, with an shiny finish and crisp symmetrical undertones which
suggests that it not from a pattern spell. Quite elegant really.”
“Clearly, little escapes you, Thenel,” I said. “Indeed, there is such a spell.
Your perceptions are precise, and your descriptions are detailed. I take it
that you are a tree-mage of significant expertise and breadth of knowledge?”
He smiled a bit nervously. “I am the assistant master for the Srineian Guild
“Ah, an important position indeed, if you are second in a branch-wide guild!”
I said, because I know my guildmasters. “And, I daresay that, if you are
observant enough to tell the provenance of my Mutoc spell, you know what it
is?” Which is not quite a given, but mostly people who are that good at magic
analysis can make a good guess.
He nodded, and said, in quite a quiet voice, “I take it that you are not
simply the user of the device, but its author as well?”
“Your perceptions are keen indeed, if you can tell that! I couldn’t myself,
not without at least a glance at the device and some of the enchanter’s other
work,” I had to admit.
Thenel fiddled with his bicorne hat again, setting it straight. “I didn’t,
actually. You’ve just got so many bound spells around you that I can’t imagine
who else you could be. Well, presumably Vaisessasilmin couldn’t get through
the city wall without being noticed, and I don’t know how many bound spells a
nendrai could carry anyhow but it doesn’t seem like a very nendrai thing from
what I hear, so that leaves only one choice,” he explained.
Well, there is that. A good mage can carry a dozen or so bound spells, no
more. Thenel had eight; presumably he had others elsewhere, or maybe had had a
good day of sales. I’ve got forty-three at the moment.
“Oh, well done, sir, well discovered,” I said. “Forgive me for the deception:
but I wanted to present a bit less of a spectacle than I do as the only member
of my species on the entire branch, flapping blatantly through the city streets.”
“I quite understand. From time to time I do not dress in leaves and silver
acorns, even in my own city,” he said. “I admit that I was curious to meet
you, though I anticipated that it might more likely happen during the repairs
on your skyboat than discovering you sunbathing in the fur by Nupyup Pond.”
“Ah, well, the fame of Nupyup Pond has spread even to Ketheria,” I said.
“Though the Café Triumphant is not so famous. Perhaps because their
triumphant kathia takes so long to arrive.”
Thenel frowned. “The waiter is new. Zie does not understand who eats at her
café. Rather, zie knows who eats are zir café, but does
not understand that, as we are paying zir, zie must conceal zir disapproval.
Is this a problem for you in Vheshrame?” He glanced significantly at an
older waiter, who waggled her antennae and took our young and idealistic one
back for a brief lecture.
“I certainly have had trouble now and then over it … I do hope we’re
talking about the same thing?”, I said. The older waiter brought my kathia.
I picked up the chalice and lapped out of it. (Walking on two legs is no
longer strange to me, but picking up a full chalice I think I will
never get used to.)
“Yes, I’m sure we are, if there is any truth behind certain stories that have
been circulated, but for the moment, let us continue to refer to it
obliquely,” he said, and emphasized his point by making quite sure that his
bicorne hat was obliquely on his head. “For such are the manners of
So I obliquely described an incident of my youth, when I had made my home –
the future Castle Wrong, which was a rental house at the time — uninhabitable
by most of us, and tried to apologize to my housemates by getting them rooms
at a pleasant bed-and-breakfast. The proprietors were far ruder than the
waiter at the Cafë Triumphant: they served a Herethroy meat, for
one thing. (”And one should never sleep with one’s housemates, no matter what
the circumstances,” I noted.)
“A pan-arboreal precept of great wisdom, that!”, said Thenel, and told of the
doom that came to Ijith and Reneghell for violating that. He kept his
pronouns species-generic, using only the tags indicating that Ijith was older
“An admirable story, and I admire the fine points of your narration as well.”
I licked the bottom of my chalice clean: the triumphant kathia is as good as
any I’ve ever had.
Thenel swirled the last of his wine, and drank it.
“Bluelark, if you are finished, I wonder if I might bring you to my workshop?
I’m sure it is nothing compared to yours, but it is close, and private, and
there are no naïve waiters, or, for that matter, roommates.”
“I should be delighted!” I said. “I should like to find a private place for
donning my clothes; it is a personal quirk, or even a failing. Or, should that
not be convenient, a place where popping into a pocket universe in person to
change would be less notable.”
“Well, the café rents private rooms by the hour, but that would seem a
touch excessive for merely changing your clothes. May I offer the parlor of
my workshop, which, with heavy drapes on the windows and a substantial bar on
the door, offers all the privacy that one could wish? It is a mere block and
a half from the far end of Nupyup Pond.”
“Convenient, that. I shall be glad to accept.” I reached into nowhere and
brought out two Ketherian third-lozens (struck in Daukrhame and Oorah
Thrassen, as it happens), and left them: quite a large tip, but a message of
sorts to Herethroy and Rassimel alike.
My adventurer’s sensibilities suggested: 1/2 chance that he will try to
extract some wizardly favor from me; 1/3 chance that the evasive flirtation
that I was pretty sure we had been attempting would become less evasive; 1/6
chance that I will need some of the weapons or those forty-three bound spells.
These are excellent odds, really. I have worse ones every morning in the
Great Hall on Strayway.