Chapter Seven: Unexpected help
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
Not all the worries she had could keep Jacintha from being excited at the thought of being able to photograph a wyrm! Indeed, her main worry was that the wyrm might not show this night, and she might have to wait another night.
Oh, it bothered her that Gertie somehow thought that she, Jacintha, had revealed Gertie’s organization. After all she owed Gertie, who had organized and trained all those military wives and daughters in magic! Knowing she wasn’t guilty, Jacintha was willing to wait for Gertie to recover her usual good judgment.
And Geoffrey MacAlpine had proven to be somewhat less than companionable when they moved her camp to a better location for espying the wyrm. He had cursed and glared, and muttered something about how he’d managed to avoid the Scouts and hadn’t expected to ever be dragged back into camping again. But now that they were settled and he’d had a drink, he seemed be mellowing out. Jacintha made a mental note to apologize for hitting him with a tent pole, later.
Besides, there was all this luscious equipment. Jacintha’s own equipment was in her estimation quite good. But her sponsors had gone gloriously overboard in providing her with waterproof camera equipment of amazing sophistication, suitable for shooting in thunderstorms or in darkest night, near at hand or at nearly astronomical distances away.
Best yet, she got to explain all this to Geoff. It was as if the man could not keep quiet, and kept pointing to yet another piece of equipment, asking her what it was and how she planned to use it. Jacintha enjoyed all this, especially since it gave her an opportunity to think of how a set-up designed to photograph birds could be applied to a wyrm.
Yet she wished the conversation were not so one-sided. She couldn’t quite think of what to ask Geoff. Finally, after he had picked up her night binoculars for the fourth time to experiment with their settings, she mentioned that she was married and asked him if he was.
Geoff gave her a bit of a stare, poured himself another shot of scotch, and drank it down before answering her. “No, not likely, and as you Americans say, it’s complicated. I usually have a magician or two in training, and it’s not uncommon for me to have a relationship with the female ones. But it always falls apart within a few years.”
He looked down at his lap, a smile on his face, before he continued. “Samantha, the healer who worked on Calpurnia, was in many ways the best.” He chuckled. “While we were still together, she ran into probably the worst lover I ever had, an American I had known years before. For the most part, they did not get along, which wasn’t at all surprising. And yet . . . they’re the two I most regret, the two I think of most. Which is one of the reasons I don’t call on Samantha unless it’s an emergency.”
Jacintha thought about her own life. She was long married, she was happy in that state. And yet, there was something attractively romantic, even if it was sad, about Geoff’s life. So she asked, “And what about the American? Do you stay in touch?”
Geoff gave an odd laugh. “No, Jackie, not at all.” He had decided, for no reason Jacintha could fathom, to use that nickname for her. “That’s her choice. In fact, no one’s seen any trace of her since 2007. But she’s out there, she’s out there. I’d know otherwise.” He shook his head and gave Jacintha a mysterious smile. “Just as well she’s not here. She’s a bit of a monster herself. I hate to think of what she’d do to a wyrm.”
That got him a stare from Jacintha. Just what kind of woman would be dangerous to a wyrm? Jacintha wasn’t sure she wanted to find out. So she switched topics. “What exactly are we going to do here, Geoff?”
Geoff grunted. “Keep from getting killed’s at the top of the list. Track the woman you saw last night. If she’s been enthralled by the wyrm, we can capture her and get some useful information out of her at much lower risk than going up against the wyrm itself. See if we can track the wyrm, to find out where it’s hiding when it’s not out roaming the Waters. Oh, and this.” He turned to the bag he had dragged along, pulled out a long bag, unzipped the contents, and handed it over to Jacintha. “Ever use one of these?”
Jacintha did not believe what she had in her hands! “It’s an . . . an AK-47, though I’ll be darned if I can figure out what variant this one is. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” She looked up at Geoff, who was smiling at her. “Where did you get this?”
“Can you use it, Jackie?”
“Of course I can! Take it apart and put it back together again, too . . . I think.” Jacintha was baffled a bit by the changes to the magazine and barrel.
“Don’t try. It’s meant to blow up if you tamper with it too much. It fires jet-propelled magical silver bullets. I got it from a magician friend in Military Intelligence who tells me it’s used as a deniable weapon for covert operations. Wouldn’t have thought of using it, I can’t shoot worth a damn, but my American contact said she thought Gertie Forbes probably trained her magicians with weapons. Guess she was right.”
Jacintha had been looking over the rifle, trying to remember everything she knew about the AK-47. She picked it up, pointed, and began sighting a target outside the tent through the front flap. Immediately, information began to flow into her head from the rifle. It was as if the rifle were now part of her. She was startled, but the rifle’s magic held her steady while she got used to the feeling of being integrated with the weapon.
After a few minutes, Jacintha put the rifle down. She felt it disconnect with a bit of sorrow. She looked up at Geoff and asked, “You’ve never tried this, have you?”
Geoff shook his head. “As I said, I can’t shoot.”
Jacintha burst out laughing. “You really should have tried it. It talks to you. You could be a complete goof and the rifle would . . .” And then she sobered down. “I can see why they wouldn’t want this to get loose. I can use it.”
“Good. But don’t unless lives are at stake.” Geoff scowled.
That surprised Jacintha. “You have a problem with killing this wyrm?”
Geoff nodded. “Yes, I do, Jackie, I do. The thing is obviously intelligent at some level. And we don’t really know that much about them. If we kill this one, that’s probably the death knell for the whole species.” Geoff smiled a little as he added, “Just think of it as a panda, just a larger fire-breathing aquatic panda.”
After years in which even her most energetic moments could be described as lethargic, Calpurnia was bursting with frustration at her situation. Laid up with her foot being magically reconstructed, and Geoff out there with some American magician of dubious qualifications!
Luckily, there was the Internet. Unluckily, one couldn’t borrow actual physical books over the Internet. (Calpurnia gave that some thought. Shouldn’t there be a way to do that with magic?) And so now she was dependent on Bathsheba getting her e-mail in a timely fashion, scooting over to the library before it closed, and getting her the one book she needed right this moment!
A knock on the door, finally. Calpurnia tried to get up on a crutch to unlatch the door, but Bathsheba walked in as if the door had been unlocked. She closed the door behind her, turned around, and came to a dead stop, staring at Calpurnia. After a few moments, she said, “You really shouldn’t play with fire, Mum.” And with that she swept into the room and began to unload her pack on the kitchen table.
Calpurnia would have been dumbfounded, but she’d had this experience before. Every so often, her middle daughter would know things she couldn’t possibly know. She once explained it to Calpurnia by saying it was the structure of reality that overdetermined every fact, an explanation that left Calpurnia none the wiser.
Rather than try to solve the mystery, Calpurnia looked at the pile Bathsheba was unloading. In light of what Bathsheba had said, Calpurnia was not surprised that she had brought various herbs Calpurnia would find useful in constructing an additional healing spell. But what Calpurnia was looking for finally came out of Bathsheba’s pack: the unabridged copy of the Thomas the Cuckold’s Later East Anglian Chronicle, which no one had transcribed or photocopied to the Web.
Calpurnia pounced on the book, and with accustomed eyes and fingers flipped it open to the passage she wanted, where Thomas described how the wyrm had been put down in 1397. It was there, right on the page where she remembered it. And it was still in Thomas’s horrendous Latin, a description loaded with words she had never seen elsewhere in Latin or English. Calpurnia looked through the whole passage. To think that their chances of laying the wyrm depended on this, and she’d never been happy yet with what sense she could make of it! She was tempted to slam the book shut and hurl it across the room.
“Calm down and drink up your tea, Mum,” Bathsehba told her, laying down a cup in front of her and taking a cup of it herself to the opposite seat on the kitchen table. “Tell me what the problem is.”
Calpurnia debated whether she could tell Bathsehba anything, since Geoff had pledged her to secrecy. But before she could make up her mind, Bathsheba got a knowing grin on her face. She said to Calpurnia, “Oh, so it’s some magical affair the Council’s called you in on.”
For once, Calpurnia was going to get an answer. “How do you know that?”
Bathsheba tilted her head and looked at her mother as if her mother should have figured it out herself. “Well, Mum, it was either that or you’ve started dating a man who has a foot fetish. And I can’t imagine how the Later East Anglian Chronicle would help with that, unless you mean to distract him by boring him.”
First, Ursula wises off to her, now Bathsheba. Calpurnia was wondering if she could get retroactive birth control. She counted to ten, and then replied, “It’s important to the job that I correctly translate a passage in the Chronicle.”
“So, what’s the problem? You’ve translated parts of the Chronicle before.”
“But it’s the words, Sheba, the words. Thomas uses a lot of unique words in the section of text I need to translate, and a lot hinges on getting them right.”
Bathsehba nodded. She understood. But she pushed. “You sure the words are unique to this passage? Thomas didn’t use them elsewhere in the Chronicle in a way that might reveal their meaning?”
“Hmmm.” Calpurnia had never come across the words in question elsewhere, but even she’d only tackled about 75 pages of Thomas’s magnum opus in the original. And then she threw up her hands in frustration. “But there’s no concordance. It would take forever to scan through the entire text looking for all the relevant words.”
“How many words are we talking about, Mum?”
Calpurnia glanced down at the passage again. “About twenty.”
Bathsheba reached across and plucked the book out of her mother’s hands. She glanced at the open page, closed the book, and hefted it. With a smile, she said to Calpurnia, “Should take me maybe two hours, hour and a half if I’m lucky. But you’ve got to keep me supplied in hot cocoa, Mum, while I do it.”
Calpurnia was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. She got up immediately. “I’ll get right to it, Sheba.”
Bathsheba was already flipping through pages. Without looking up, she said, “Remember, soy milk, Mum. And a touch of ginger.”
Let’s hope Calpurnia has stocked up on soy milk. Come to think of it, Jacintha would probably like some of that hot cocoa now. The scent of Geoff’s scotch is upsetting her stomach. Things seem to be moving in favor of our intrepid magicians. But what will happen when the wyrm shows? Find out in the next chapter when it is posted!
“He turned to the bag he had dragged along, pulled out a long bag, unzipped the contents…” A bag within a bag for an object the size of an AK-47?
I assume from your remark about the scent of Geoff’s scotch that he’s a single-malt man…
He also had a sleeping bag and supplies for a night camping out. And you don’t carry a secret weapon openly!
Geoff drinks pretty much any scotch. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet that’s Laphroaig he’s drinking in this chapter.
I’m loving it. Somehow (which may not be at all mysterious) this story has a different quality to your usual tales. I think it’s because you have a bevvy of well-rounded characters. Loads of backstory, loads of characteristics, etc. And it’s not simply because you took the patterns from we two friends, because you’ve deviated far from our biogs. Maybe the story is appealing to me more because of its English setting; because it’s somewhere I know . . and know that you (now) know. Whatever it is, full approval. And full marks.
I’ll not dispute any of your suggested reasons. And they are something to keep in mind with what I plan to do next with “Nightfeather.” But I think there is one other reason, which I will go into when the story’s over.
You do realize this was meant to be a short story I would bring with me to Great Yarmouth to give to you in person (and to Judy at the same time via e-mail)? Obviously, it did not work out anywhere near that way!
The fertile story that just grows and grows. Um, I think I might have experienced that, myself. Once or twice! 🙂