Chapter 10 – Loose Ends in the Morning
The next morning, Sapphire and Rufus were first to emerge for breakfast, each waiting for their partners to get ready. They sat at a table in the empty front room of the inn, picking at Spamwich’s idea of a cross between a cinnamon nut roll, a meat pie, and a fruit pizza. They agreed that they needed more caffeine to wake up and face the pastry, and so looked around for Goldilocks to place an order, but were initially unable to locate her.
Then came the sound of Goldilocks’s raised voice, muffled by the door to the back room. She was shouting, “You really can’t be in here!” but the surprising thing was, she was shouting in the native tongue of mice! Both the adventurers were skilled animal talkers, and there was no doubt in their minds what they were hearing.
Sapphire quickly entered a light trance and used her clairvoyance to peak inside the back room. There she saw Goldilocks engaged in an argument with two foot-tall characters not unlike the stowaways that had been on the caravan, but these were brown-haired instead of gray, and were dressed in bright blue costumes. “Oh this is good,” said Sapphire. “We really must join this conversation!”
Sapphire and Rufus burst into the back storage room, saying in mouse tongue, “Excuse us for barging in, and we don’t want to scare anyone, but we couldn’t help overhearing your conver…..” They stopped and stared at the foot-tall mouslings, perched on a shelf, waist-high, facing Goldilocks.
The one in star-spangled blue wizard robes, holding a wand, faced the newcomers. “Who’s scared? I’m not scared of you biggies. What do you want, anyway?”
The one in the blue samurai robes tugged at his elbow. “Come on Flick, we’re in enough trouble. Let’s get out of here.”
The Wizard, Flick, turned towards his companion, shrugging off his grip. “We are not going just because she says we’re not invited anymore. Now get off!” He turned back to the adventurers. “And who are you, anyways?”
Sapphire gave a slight bow. “I’m Sapphire, and this is Rufus. We are both … um … practitioners of the arts, such as yourself. And you are…?”
“Come on Flick, we’ve got to go!”
Flick shrugged off his companion’s grip again. “I am Flicker, Master Outstanding Unmatched Sorcerer Extraordinaire, and this fellow is my friend and companion, Sticker.”
“Pleased to meet you. But why are you hiding in this storage room?”
“Hiding? No! Never! We simply took the best room in the inn. Plenty of extra towels, pillows, and blankets, and all the food a mousling can eat! Why should we go somewhere else?”
Rufus raised a hand. “But aren’t you the mouslings that have been out and about, tormenting Gorbag? And Delft?”
Flick squared off his shoulders. “Those two! Eaters of carrion! Tormentors of helpless caged animals! Have you seen what they do! The skins! The bones! I am here to see that justice is done! No more will the likes of them oppresss….”
“Flicker!” Sticker grabbed him bodily and spun him around. “You. Are. In. Enough. Trouble. Already. Stop! Don’t be talking to humans.”
“Would you quit, already!” Flick shook himself free again, and straightened his sleeves. “I heard you the first time!”
Rufus calmly cut in. “So, have you seen the other two mouslings in town?”
Flicker turned back, still fussing with his rumpled sleeves. “Of course. They came in with your crew. But they won’t talk with us. Unfriendly. I’d say downright uncivilized, if they weren’t clearly thieving alley rats from the city.”
“So you don’t talk with them.”
“No, of course not.”
“But you talk to Goldilocks here, and us.”
Flicker looked at Goldilocks, then the adventurers. “She’s different.”
“Flick, shut up.”
“Oh all right then!” Flicker gave a wave of his tall pointy hat. “Until another time.” Then the two mouslings disappeared behind the shelves.
Sapphire turned to Goldilocks. “So, are you a practitioner of the arts as well?”
Goldilocks shook her head. “No.”
“Talk with many animals?”
Goldilocks blushed. “No, just … mice.”
Sapphire put a hand to her chin. “Hmm. I see.”
“Well, I’d best be getting back to the customers. I hear more of you coming out for breakfast.” She quickly exited back to the common room of the inn.
Sapphire and Rufus exchanged glances, and headed out after her.
The rest of the morning was spent waiting for the Lord to make his public appearance at noon. The adventurers took the opportunity to follow up on a few other leads.
Sapphire and Grace tried to see Maude again, but couldn’t slip past the watchful eye of Mother Theresa. They spoke with the young nun and the friar, both of whom were giggly and in awe of the adventurers. They both expressed jealously of the exciting lives they must live outside the church.
At the south bridge gate, they ran across one of the summoned lawmen, standing uncertainly, staring up at the Withers mansion.
“Sapphire and Grace. Pleased to meet you. Planning a trip to the old mansion?”
Woody looked back up the hill and shuddered. “Why no, m’am, trying to decide how to slip past it unseen. I wanted to go out and visit the farms this morning – all those poor animals at risk. Are you heading my way? I could give you an escort.”
“No thanks, another time.”
Cleo and Rufus discussed the need for heavy lifting to fix the roads, and hit on the daring plan of trying to recruit the dragon to help. They went back and consulted with the mules.
“So, you bring things to the dragon and that makes him your friend?”
Shithead brayed excitedly. “Chrysophordia. Yes, he is our friend.”
“What sort of things do you bring him? What does he like best?”
“Shiny rocks, of course.”
They went back to Hound to try and get gems from him. Unfortunately, the supply of first quality gems had dried up, but they bought a few rough mineral samples from his displays. Back at the inn, they talked with Beryl, who offered a few rocks that customers had given him in lieu of coinage for their drinks.
With a bit of trepidation, they began to lay their plans for an expedition to speak with the dragon.
Flummox and D-Stract watched the surrounding hills and waters, noting the stationing of guards in the towers and at the gates. It seemed they saw faint lightning playing around the mountain tops, even though there were no clouds, but they could not be sure.
Animus worked on his nets.
None of them would have taken note of the fact that a black cat was studying them closely from the shadows, if it were not for the fact that it checked out every one of the adventurers in turn.
Spamwich offered them some heavily spiced sausages wrapped in pasta sheets, then deep-fried, with an accompaniment of hard cider.
Finally, the noon hour arrived.