Chapter Sixteen: Students of nature and magic
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
Marcus had a rule: never end up as someone else’s dinner. So when Ursula knocked over Jackie, Marcus didn’t bother to intervene. He just got out his blasting rod and aimed at the charging wyrm.
Geoff was the last one to this party, so to speak. He also whipped out his blasting rod. Only he pressed the end of it into Marcus’s neck. “Aim for the creature’s head, Marcus. I know. Do it anyhow or I’ll kill you.”
Katherine Swynford had ordered Marcus to cooperate, which is why, against all his better judgment, he did exactly what Geoff demanded, and fired.
Although it couldn’t pierce the wyrm’s magical shield around its head, the blast stopped the wyrm in its track. Startled and in pain, the wyrm reared back and let out a bellow. And then another. And then another.
Meanwhile Geoff had lowered his blasting rod. Marcus did the same and then turned to Geoff. “You want to tell me, MacAlpine, why you just did that? I want to put it on your gravestone.”
“We are not going to win tonight, Marcus. That thing is pregnant, and if we killed it we would never get the male to go back to sleep.”
“Holy shit!” Jackie had just managed to disentangle herself from Ursula when she heard what Geoff said. And then because a proper Southern lady does not swear, she covered her mouth with her hand in dismay.
Ursula was still on the ground. She was a bit dazed. The wave of emotions from the wyrm had distracted her when she was tackling Jackie, and she’d sort of lost track of what she was supposed to be doing. Now it was even worse. The female was calling for her mate. To Ursula, that was more powerful than spreading catnip in front of a cat. She wanted the two wyrms to be together. And without thinking why, she tried to make it so.
Seeing that Ursula was distracted, Jackie retrieved her rifle and stood up. She looked out to the wyrm. It was a lot closer than she remembered. But it was behaving oddly. “Why isn’t it moving?”
Marcus answered, “Probably waiting for the male to appear and kill us for her.”
“We aren’t going to do anything about this?” Jackie’s voice rose on every syllable.
“No,” was all Marcus said.
Calpurnia had changed into an old, ratty housecoat, figuring all she had to do was to tidy up a bit before going to bed. She was feeling a bit dejected. Although she was fairly sure she’d given the team a vital clue, she was disappointed she wouldn’t be there when they put the wyrms to rest. So she made herself some tea and sat at her kitchen table, thinking about the last few days. It was funny, the thought that kept coming back to her was the list of words in Sheba’s concordance to the Later East Anglian Chronicle. Trust Thomas the Cuckold to invent words that were neither proper Latin nor proper English!
She was startled by a knock on the door. Calpurnia was not expecting visitors, and she hadn’t thought the team would finish laying the wyrms so soon, so she was a bit anxious as she went to the door and opened it.
There, standing before her, were the magicians. They all looked a bit shell-shocked. Marcus was in the lead, and came stumbling through the door, made a beeline for the kitchen table, and sat down with a thud as if he’d been on his feet for an age.
Calpurnia counted them as they filed in. “Where’s Ursula?”
Geoff was pulling up a chair beside Marcus. “Gone to a party in London. That’s what she said, isn’t it, Marcus?” Geoff sounded weary.
Marcus barely nodded, gloomy expression on his face. He looked up at Calpurnia. “We didn’t get them.”
“Why not?” Odd the way the human mind works. As Calpurnia said this, she realized she was standing in front of all these people in her ratty housecoat. Trying to be graceful about it, she walked over to the couch where Jacintha has settled and sat down beside her, pulling a quilt to cover much of her housecoat and legs.
Jacintha piped up. “The female wyrm is pregnant.” To herself, she added, it would be pretty weird if the male wyrm were pregnant. The absurdity of the thought got Jacintha to smile, and then to chuckle, and then she couldn’t contain herself and just started laughing out loud.
Calpurnia didn’t get the joke. She looked over to Geoff and Marcus with a questioning look.
Geoff also had no idea why Jackie was laughing the way she was, but he launched into an explanation of what had happened. “Too dangerous to try to tackle two wyrms when they’re protecting their young at any stage. You must have heard the female bellowing.”
Calpurnia was beginning to wonder if they’d all taken a blow to the head. And then she remembered. “There was a loud noise about two hours ago. Thought it was some sort of explosion.”
Geoff and Marcus exchanged relieved glances. “Well, something’s breaking our way, MacAlpine,” Marcus sighed. “Let’s hope more people thought that.”
“So what happened?” Calpurnia’s patience was beginning to run out.
Jacintha had barely recovered from her laughing fit. She said, “The wyrms were going to attack us. And then your daughter, Cal, made them go off and have wyrmy sex.” And then she lost it and started laughing uncontrollably again.
Marcus sourly interjected, “At least the creatures had the decency to go back into the water. I did not want the image of wyrm sex to haunt me in my later years.” Marcus sounded so sepulchral that it sent Jacintha off into another fit of laughing.
Geoff was doing all he could to keep from breaking out in laughter himself. It was the tension and frustration, he had realized. It had gotten to Jackie, and he was close to the edge himself. Still, he couldn’t help but think Marcus sounded like an announcer for a bad horror movie.
Out of nowhere, Ursula popped into the center of the room. She was wearing a mature adult body, covered by a football jersey that came down to mid-thigh and nothing else. She saw Calpurnia and greeted her. “Hi, mum! Still wearing that tattered housecoat?” Jacintha almost broke into another fit of laughter until she saw how mortified Calpurnia looked, and then she leaned up against her and gave her a hug in sympathy, instead. Geoff hadn’t even noticed (he wore something even more disreputable around his flat), and now felt sorry for Calpurnia. The whole matter was beneath Marcus’s notice, so he said and did nothing.
Unaware of the effects of her last statement, Ursula glanced around to see who else was in the room. Happy to see them all, she passed along her latest news. “Hey, I was just having a slumber party chat with Kate. There’s been a change in their plans. She and Willy are coming here tomorrow.”
Geoff woke up the next morning to the smell of bacon and eggs. Guinevere Satterthwaite had just walked into the room with some bags which she had deposited on the small table at the far end of the room. “Get up, lazy bones, and eat your food,” Gwen chided him.
Geoff got up, put on his ratty housecoat and slippers, and ambled over to join Gwen for breakfast. Gwen knew his habits, and had picked up precisely what he wanted for breakfast. While he munched through his eggs, and Gwen picked at her fruit cup, Geoff got around to explaining to Gwen what had happened the evening before. It was one of the things Geoff liked about Gwen: she was a very patient person, and hadn’t badgered him with questions when he came back last night.
Gwen listened carefully. Since she hadn’t confessed her real identity to Geoff, she tried to hide her annoyance every time her father’s name came up. And when Geoff finished, she asked the obvious, “What are you going to do now?”
Geoff had finished his breakfast by this time and was sipping his tea. “Frankly, I don’t know. We can’t leave the female wyrm here to lay a clutch of dragon eggs. But any attempt to separate the wyrms will drive them both into a frenzy, and killing one of them will insure the other will inflict untold damage before it gets killed. And to top it off, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are arriving today, ahead of schedule. It’s a right mess, I tell you, June.”
Gwen/“June” thought a bit about Geoff had said. “So the immediate problem is that you need to lay the local wyrm and get the female out of here as soon as possible, without drawing too much attention or, for God’s sake, getting the most popular Royal couple killed. Dealing with the pregnant female is a problem, but must take a lower priority for now. Correct?”
“But you can’t figure out a way to separate the wyrms that doesn’t cause more trouble. Correct?”
Gwen was not much given to smiling, but now she wore a big, broad smile. She raised her hand, as if she were in class. “Professor MacAlpine! Professor MacAlpine! I think I know how to solve your problem for you.”
All I can say is: next chapter, the plan!