Annet and Briony had just finished serving up a huge and delicious meal to the Interplanetary Biking Wyzards, who’d thawed out. One of them was busy telling an eager Robin all about their refuelling trip to a nearby black hole – which was why they’d got so cold – around his plateful of food. Jimson and Jimmy had filled up all the glasses and left a couple of jugs on the table ready for topping up as people needed. Jimson was just heading for the kitchen in the hope of a brew of tea before anyone else arrived when a determined-sounding tap on the front door distracted him. The pheonix couldn’t be back already, the cockerel Bugler was in the henhouse strutting his stuff for the chickens – were they expecting anyone else on wings?
He opened the door, looking down, and a white falcon made an imperative yarping noise at him from the doorstep. Automatically, Jimson held his arm out for the bird and she flew up to land on his forearm, considerately not sticking her talons right through his sleeve but balancing with half-spread wings and looking him in the eye as she yarped again.
She looked him in the eye.
“I think we’ve met before, and I think you’re with the elf warrior-wyzard, aren’t you? In which case, there’s trouble coming soon.” Jimson remarked to the bird, conversationally, “I’ve never known trouble anywhere but Seabhag’s hot on its tail and ready to help! Briony, could you go get a room ready for another guest, please? One elf, one falcon, one ermine, as I recall – am I right?” he added, and the falcon yarped, ducking her head. Briony came out of the kitchen, looking inquisitively at the bird.
“That’s a fine gyrfalcon! Where’s she come from?”
“She’s… ahh…. associated with a half-elf warrior-wyzard of my acquaintance, as is the ermine. As I recall, her name’s Ghearr.” Jimson held his arm out for the bird to cross to Briony, which she did quite willingly, “I’ll tell your aunt to get the Russian Caravan tea out – Seabhag prefers hot tea to alcohol when he first arrives anywhere.”
“You’re a familiar, h’m?” Briony addressed the gyrfalcon and the bird ducked her head and let out a trilling squeak, almost as if she was giggling.
“It’s a good question whether she’s Seabhag’s familiar or he’s hers!” Jimson muttered, heading into the kitchen, “Annet, Seabhag’s gyrfalcon just turned up – he’ll be here soon, I’d guess, and he usually likes Russian Caravan tea.”
“I’ll get the kettle on, it’ll only take a minute to make a pot.” Annet responded, “Seabhag mac Shealgair? The elf?”
“The one and only! And watch out for that ermine that goes with him – as I recall, the creature’s not so much a familiar as a presumptuous!” Jimson added, but poured himself a cup of ordinary tea, “Where’s Billy got to?”
“He’s gone to look for Sparky.” Annet spooned Russian Caravan tea into a big earthenware pot, “She’s gone off somewhere by herself, the little monkey!”
“It’s in the nature of young dragons to explore the world and get into trouble – young trolls, I’m not so sure about! Sending Billy to look for anything – it’s a gamble what you’ll get back!”
A tap on the back door was followed by a distressed-looking Billy entering the kitchen, managing to look woebegone while still leading Seabhag by the hand.
“I can’t find Sparky. And there was rum and biscuits by the river. And this is a wizard.” He began, jumbling everything together in his eagerness to get the news out, “Bully was there, he’s my brother, and –“
“Whoa, young troll!” Seabhag laughed a little, “All in order, otherwise you’ll have Jimson’s head going round on his shoulders! I saw the White Stag up on the hill, Jimson, he said I’d best come this way and see what I found. Good evening, my lady Annet.”
“You found Billy, obviously – but not Sparky?” Annet tried not to be flattered by Seabhag’s courtly manners.
“No, not Sparky. Someone had laid a trail of charcoal biscuits soaked in rum down the hedge and then put the bottle and a full box in plain view at the bottom of the field. By the tracks, I’d say your little dragon guzzled the lot and passed out, then a human and a large troll rolled her up in something and made away with her, down the valley. Billy here says the troll was his brother Bully, who’s a mercenary. So my question is, who would hire a troll to kidnap your baby dragon?”
Jimson sat down. Sparky – kidnapped! Oh my, what would her mother say? And there he was with a houseful of guests and a rescue mission to organise around them! Annet poured out a cup of tea for the tall albino elf and put it on the table, practically.
“Russian Caravan, Seabhag – we remembered you like it.”
“I do indeed, and thank you very much, Annet.” Seabhag half-bowed, then sat down and picked up the cup. The ermine slipped out of his pocket and poured himself sinuously onto the table, heading for a plate of fairy cakes at the other end. Jimson picked the ermine up absently before he reached the baking and Annet put a dish of chopped rabbit down for him instead. He fell on it with gusto.
“I can’t think of anyone who’d have that much of a grudge against Sparky, she’s only a few months old. It usually takes longer to develop enemies! If her mother has enemies, they’d be suicidal to take it out on her baby.”
“What about those silly pratts who tried to attack the White Stag?” Briony asked, coming back in with the gyrfalcon now on her shoulder. Seabhag rose to his feet politely and she paused, her eyes widening slightly as she took him in. Six feet of albino elf was a graceful addition to the kitchen’s population!
“My niece, Briony. Briony, meet Seabhag mac Shealgair.” Jimson introduced them, still distracted, and Seabhag bowed elegantly,
“I’m honoured to meet you, Briony.”
“The pleasure is mine, Seabhag!” Briony bowed back and Ghearr yarped, gliding off her shoulder to land on the table, where she helped herself from the ermine’s dish. He chittered at her crossly, grabbed a piece of meat and made for Seabhag’s pocket as the elf sat down again.
“If it was those three spivs, I sent them on to the Turf’n’Donkey. Hal, would you get onto Goibniu on the ethericnet and find out what happened with them?” Jimson asked, and Hal nodded and went, quickly, “But where would they take her?”
“It’s questing season in the south – the White Stag there would answer the question if it was asked of him.” Seabhag suggested, and Billy took a tight grip on his courage.
“I’ll go and ask!”
Everyone looked at him. Of all the people who would volunteer, Jimson thought, exasperated, Billy would be the first – and the least suitable choice! But how to say that without totally destroying the little troll’s self-confidence?
“It’s my brother who’s helped steal her. I should help get her back.” Billy insisted, seeing the dubious looks, and Seabhag sipped his tea,
“Since the White Stag sent me along here to help you read the tracks, Billy, perhaps you’ll permit me to join your quest to rescue Sparky?”
Jimson and Annet breathed matching sighs of relief – Billy’s over-confident clumsiness would be well-balanced by Seabhag’s abundance of experience and competance!
“Goibniu at the Turf’n’Donkey says those three wizards went off together with their car after they’d had a quote from him for repairing it – they couldn’t pay the bill.” Hal came back in, and Seabhag nodded.
“I think we’d better go south and try to find the White Stag there, Billy. Around here, the White Stag brings challenges and quests – but in the south, he rewards those who can find him with answers to their questions. I don’t know the country there as well I do around here – do you know anyone in that area who could help us in the quest, Jimson?”
“Yes – my cousin Owen Corbie, he keeps the Shapeshifter’s Arms there – he’ll know where the White Stag is there is anyone does! How to get you there quickly?” Jimson mused, then snapped his fingers and got up, walking into the dining room, where the Wyzards had nearly reached dessert, “Excuse me, gentlemen – we have a problem. The little dragon who was here when you came appears to have been kidnapped – I’ve a couple of friends here who’ll go search for her, but they need to get to the Shapeshifter’s Arms as quickly as possible to find the White Stag – would it be possible for one or two or you to take them that far?”
“What, that pretty little blue and white dragon? The one who went outside when we put more wood on the fire? Gosh, if we hadn’t disturbed her, she wouldn’t have gone out to be kidnapped!” Kevn sat up, a guilty expression crossing his face, “Of course we’ll take them to the Shapeshifter’s Arms!”
“Thank you very much – after dinner?”
General noises of agreement came from all round the table and Jimson went back to the kitchen,
“They’re about ready for dessert through there, and they’ll gladly give you and Billy a lift down to the Shapeshifter’s Arms. You’ll be there, oh…. allowing for time differences and the special exception to relativity the Wyzards use, about in time for brunch?”