I — by which I mean Bluelark, not Sythyry — knocked rather fearfully on the door of the Tree-Shaping of Thenel oa Iretario. A tall and very rose-colored Herethroy woman wearing a pale green leafy suit answered it. “Oh, good morning. Are you from the Ketherian skyboat?”
“I am, indeed. Is the tree-mage Thenel around and free, for me to talk with him?”, I said, in slightly awkward Srineian.
“La, you speak our language like a preffly!” she exclaimed delightedly. I obviously don’t, in some part because I have no idea what a preffly is. “I’m afraid he’s stepped out for kathia. He should be back within a third or two-thirds of an hour. Would you like to come in and have a seat in the parlor? Or shall I simply leave him a message if you wish to come back later.”
“I’ll wait, think you very much,” I said. She giggled just a bit. “Oh, I mean ‘thank’, don’t I?”
Waiting was a bit harder than usual. Ordinarily Zi Ri wait with elegance and grace: after all, in theory, we can outwait you for almost any value of you. But this was the parlor with the heavy drapes and tapestries, the parlor with the substantial and lockable door. The parlor where I had, a week and a half ago, quite happily given over a half-century’s chastity to the gentleRassy I was here to interrogate, or whatever I was here doing.
I waited seven weeks — or perhaps a third of an hour, though I certainly wasn’t fiddling with the flow of time. (Oh, and why did I not fiddle with the flow of time? Because I do not have a device to make time pass more quickly. I have spells for it of course. But I am very busy with enchanting, sometimes in sneaky ways, and I have actually been running short of cley and needing to scramble to get extra, which is troublesome for Phaniet and/or me. So I have been trying to avoid using spells.)
The Herethroy woman came back in. “I’m sorry, but Thenel isn’t back yet. Could I bring you a refreshment, a local cider or dried eel perhaps? Or maybe a selection of periodicals on technical topics, imported at a delay of only three or four months from countries which you probably visit regularly?”
“I should be grateful with some cider,” I said.
“Certainly! It is made from local apples and cherries,” she said, and filled two arkenwood chalices with cider from a two-gallon cask in the cupboard. One was for me. “I-low am Songuth, Thenel’s butler and general assistant.”
“I-low am Bluelark … I perform a variety of undefinable and generally unglamorous services for Sythyry. I tie ribbons around zir tail at need, and brush and tint zir feathers, and fetch books off of high shelves for zir, and am generally the one to run about when zie’s forgotten something.” (This is all true, incidentally. I also brush zir teeth, chew zir food, and take zir naps, but that would be too confusing to mention.)
“La, isn’t it true all up and down the tree, how lazy the masters are when there are servants about! Yet they’ve all the money and they’ve all the titles, and they wear the fancy clothes while you and I must go about in livery and wait on them hand and hand-foot and foot if they’ve anything they want us to do!” She lapped at her cider, so I lapped at mine. Sweet little bubbles went up my snout. It was delicious and crisp, and about as strong as beer.
“Oh, and what’s the most annoying thing Thenel has you doing?”
“I’ve got to dust the wicker walls! Any other house in Eigrach, and the wind will blow the walls clean and the rain wash them off. But for Grand Magister Thenel oa Iretario, that’s not clean enough! I’ve got to get a great big feather mop on a bamboo stick and climb about on ladders and swish them clean, thrice a year like clockwork. And then there’s all the sweeping and brushing, there’s no end of it.”
So we chatted — I used the Mystical Special Trick of asking about her opinions whenever the conversation flagged — and lapped cider, and waited for the Doom. Who took nearly two hours to show up.
Songuth popped up. “Thenel, Thenel, you’ve got a customer!”
Thenel looked at me. “Oh, no!”