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Deal 1045: Cats and Dogs Living Together

Well I’ve found one subject not to bring up to a cat.

I wonder when I’ll see him again. The look he gave me when I wondered if I’d ever see my dog again was priceless. I mean, I know the answer is never, but apparently just the idea that I willingly associated with canines was more than enough. I should probably try to apologize to the annoying creature, though. The dog in question was a childhood pet, and died at least a decade before I got sucked into this insane place.

If he comes around again, I might mention that. Or I might let him stew some more. The cat clearly is one of the many parties that want to manipulate me into doing something. Some of them seem to even want the same things. I haven’t worked out what the cat wants, but I strongly suspect he’s somehow using Gwen to get his way without being obviously involved. But what sort of hold he has on a dragon is something I can only speculate about. I promised Gwen that I would ask no personal questions. I came close to the line by asking her about the cat at all, judging from her reaction. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I crossed that line.

I had thought we were getting closer, but it might all have been my imagination. She still has not offered to show me her real form since that first encounter on the trail. Nor has she openly acknowledged what she is, just hints here and there.

I have had free run of the residence, the human-scaled parts at least. I still haven’t quite worked out how the servants come and go. I assume it is something mundane like an ample supply of service passages, dumbwaiters, and the occasional discretely placed doorway. Somehow my room does get made up when I’m out and about, and I’ve never spotted the staff at work. Even if it were Gwen doing it all when I’m not looking, I’d still expect to find some evidence of that. Nope. My room is always neat, clothes cleaned, bed made. Meals turn up on the patio, in the dining room, or occasionally in my suite. They usually turn up where I expect to find them, but again without any overt service staff.

Not that this minor mystery bothers me. I’m sure it is something no stranger than an elderly caretaker who simply does not want to be seen. I’m pretty sure it is not the cat, though.

But all of this is procrastination.

I am supposed to be spending this hour contemplating the question of the chicken.

I was given no further hints. I’m not sure if she was referring to the chicken and egg question, the road question, or the karmic question of what did the largest and meanest dinosaurs do exactly to survive primarily into our time primarily in the form of a chicken?

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Deal 1038: Exposition, and a Decision is Made

The next day, Sydney realized he was just as stuck in place as if he had succumbed to the trap set by the orchard. He awoke in a bed in a guest room. Gwen’s cave was far more luxurious than he had expected, and the guest wing for humanoids was very well appointed. It was certainly more comfortable than camping rough in the orchard.

The fishing at the lake had been marginally successful. He still had no clue what Gwen was up to, or what she wanted from him. He was no closer to finding a way home, either. They did catch something that looked a lot like a catfish, and it made a decent dinner later breaded and pan fried, and served with fried pickles.

After dinner he was left to entertain himself for the rest of the evening. He explored the guest wing, finding a library, a parlor, and several more guest rooms. None were occupied, and he never encountered any staff. The space was much too large for one person to maintain alone, so there must be some staff out of sight.

After a comfortable, if fitful, sleep Sydney knew he had to assert himself at least a little.

After breakfast (soft boiled eggs, ham, toast) he made an attempt.

“I appreciate the hospitality, but I must continue on my quest,” he began. Gwen just listened. “It has been weeks since I disappeared from my home, I must find my way back. Or at least find a way to communicate.”

Gwen nodded. “Your journey continues, now that you know you need to go. In truth, you have seen several opportunities already to learn what you need, but you turned away from each. I saw your plight, and offered to guide and mentor you. I have done this before.”

Sydney looked startled. “You arranged to meet me?”

“Yes. It was easy enough to bribe the frog to disturb you at the right moments. If I hadn’t bribed him, others might have and you would not like what happened then. There are many forces at play here. I don’t know who is capturing outlanders and dropping them without skills or knowledge, or perhaps more importantly, why they do it. I don’t know if any of us know for sure. Of course, we all have our suspicions, and we all have our own motives for getting involved.”

“Why?”

“Why am I involved? or why did I seek you specifically?”

“Both, actually. But let’s start with why you are involved.”

Gwen sighed. This was the most human she’d appeared to Sydney, her usual aura of aloof perfection broken to reveal she wasn’t entirely sure of something important. “I’m not human. And you know that, and have been polite enough not to press me about it. My people share this world with many other peoples. I suppose that none of us are really human as you understand the word. But some are more so than others. My kind can resemble yours and interact, even passing as human for long periods. But this is not the form I was born to.”

“The dragon.”

“Well yes, that too, but that also isn’t truly the form I was born to. The wings come in handy, as do the nigh invulnerability and the fire. But the dragon is hardly stealthy, and subtlety is difficult in a 100 yard long body.”

“I am human,” began Sydney, but Gwen interrupted. “You were human. Now, we aren’t so sure. The same magic that brought you here changed you so that you would fit it’s intended tale. We aren’t clear on what that tale is supposed to become, your role, your powers, or exactly what sort of near human you currently are.”

“My powers?”

“Surely summoning the archetype of all roosters to wake you conveniently is something you were not able to do wherever it is you come from?”

“Well, no”

“Then there’s one point of interest. You manipulated the Dreamlands and summoned a Power. Even more surprising, he did what you bid. You have powers. They are dangerous to you and to us until you understand their limits and gain at least some control over their use. What if instead of the Rooster you had summoned a Salamander and set the area on fire?”

“I imagine you have some powers in that department.”

“Well, yes I do, and that is really the answer to your question.”

“What?”

“No, why. You asked why I became involved. And that is the answer. You are safe here with me, but more importantly the world is safe from you because it is unlikely you can do something that I can’t control, guide, or contain.”

Sydney sat in thought for a bit, then sat up straighter and spoke more formally. “If I may, my lady Dragon, I would like to continue to impose on your hospitality for a while longer.”

Gwen smiled, in a way that was somehow both predatory and comforting. “It is no imposition, Questor. You are welcome in this place until all agree it is time for you to move onwards.”

“Thank you.”

“There are some rules. You have already recognized one. It is not usually polite to point out another being’s nature so bluntly. I first openly encountered you in another form, then this one. As a stranger, you seemed to already know that asking about my true form was not polite. As your host, I will tell you now that was the right assumption. Many peoples will be able to take forms that nearly pass as human. Even if you recognize this, it is never polite to point it out publicly.

“Also, many conventions of my world will be strange to you. In this place, any who enter to interact with you will know at least that you are not from here and will readily forgive minor transgressions. They may choose to inform you of your errors, and if they do, you should take the caution seriously and seek to not repeat the error.

“While you are my guest, you may not lie to me. You may, however, choose to withhold what you will. While I hope you will feel free to speak, you need not feel obliged.

“Those are the ground rules. Can you abide them, or should I return you to the main road with only a limited recollection of our encounter?”

Sydney considered. It was clear that Gwen was asking for a firm commitment, not just a casual assurance. By committing to her rules, he was choosing to accept her help. She hadn’t spoken of consequences to him should he break the rules, but whatever powers he did have were telling him that he did not want to be her enemy. A the same time, his powers felt sure that should he decide against commitment, she would not treat him ill.

All in all, though, there was only one correct answer.

“Yes. Yes I will abide by the rules as I accept your hospitality, and any guidance you might choose to offer.”

Gwen smiled.

“So it begins. Again.”

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Deal 1018: Strung Imaginings

I have a piece of string and an imagination.

The string could be used to sketch many things. The light color stands out on this black cloth, and easily forms words and figures. Their clarity depends on my artistic skill, of course, as much or more than imagination. Skill or not, string is forgiving. I can lay it down as a rabbit, and then as a carrot, and with a little practice and better vision, a rabbit again that we all agree is probably representative of a rabbit.

But a carrot is easier. And before griping about the color, there are heirloom carrots that are nearly as dark as this black cloth, or nearly as white as this string. And of course there are always parsnips, which I personally like more than carrots.

In fact, I will bravely state that there is little better in the root vegetable space than a pile of buttered roasted parsnips and carrots. Add a little salt and freshly cracked pepper, and you have a thing of beauty that is unsurpassed.

Of course, parsnips are completely out of fashion, and as a result are often only found in the sort of market that you have to save up for before you risk opening their doors.

Out of fashion or not, the parsnip stands the test of time. So this figure is a parsnip, and it is proud.

Imagine if you will the noble root standing proud in the soil, broad leafy greens standing up in the sun, driving sugars into the root as it sinks deeply into the soil, seeking water and other nourishment.

Close your eyes, and paint that picture on the inside of your eyelids. You can feel the coarse soil. You can smell it as you break the root free. You can vividly remember the first time you pulled a root from the soil. So vividly that you wish that root was here in your hands, to wash, peel, roast and eat.

That would be something, of course. But there are always obstacles. Tangles in the memories. Scent is an especially powerful window into your past. You imagined a vivid memory and could almost smell it. Close your eyes again, and do the same with a different memory. Some of you might imagine your first kitten. You can hear it’s plaintive “mew” as chases a string. You can smell its fur. It is that vivid.

Others might have chased frogs into a swamp and can remember the sounds of the birds crying out warnings, the feeling of nearly losing that new boot in unexpectedly calf-deep muck, the smells of the standing water and the swamp plants, the splash that a frog makes as it escapes your grasp, the larger splash that you made when you over-committed to catching the frog. I’ve been in swamps where absent a near perfect sense of direction your best hope for being home for dinner would be to unwind a ball of string behind you.

So from our tangled paths and memories, we come full circle. We have a circle of white string. And with a little imagination it can become anything at all.