Chapter 13: Mommy dearest, Daddy dearest
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
My mother is surprised to see me in the evening. My visits yesterday got erased in the restructuring of my life. So she thinks I’m either here to give her an apology, or demand an explanation for why her arm wasn’t broken last week. She’s wrong.
“Hi, Mum,” I say as I push the door open and walk right past her into the living room. I take a seat on the sofa.
My mother closes the door, comes over, and says, “You’re still mad at me, aren’t you?” She’s standing behind a chair. She’s not really sure what’s going on.
“Yep,” I cheerily respond. “But never mind that. I have more important fish to fry. This is the way it’s going to be. You’re going to tell me who my father really is, of your own free will, or I will force you to tell me, regardless of what you want.”
My Mum is instantly on guard. She’s not stupid. So she tries a diversion. She shakes her head and says, “Vesta Fox must have hit you a little too hard on the head, I guess. I thought I heard you threaten me.”
I cheerfully agree with her. “You did, Mum, you did. But I’ll make it easier for you. Thanks to your cover-up of our parentage, All-Father is going to marry Agatha.” Eric the cat enters the room and makes a beeline for me. I hiss at him and mean it. His fur rises in distress. He turns tail and retreats to between my mother’s feet.
My verbal thrust definitely hit home. Mum didn’t know that! And she’s at a loss for a reply. She can’t say what she’d like without revealing that she committed incest and that All-Father is Agatha’s biological father, as she’s not sure whether I know that or not. So she looks aside as she says, “Why . . . that’s absurd. Although there’s no reason . . . no reason why he couldn’t, if he wanted to.”
“Good.” I stand up. “In that case I will go talk to him about it.”
“No!” My mother blurts that out without thinking, and then tries to recover. “I mean, that would be presumptuous on your part, not even being accepted as real part of the family.”
I laugh at that. “Oh, I think bastard step-daughter and future sister-in-law is close enough. Maybe I’ll ask him about my father.”
My mother stands there, speechless. She realizes I know. She must think she’s living a nightmare.
One more thing to topple her over. I say, “And just imagine how mad those Council members who think they know who my father is will be when they find out they’re wrong. I’m sure that will shake up the marriageable list a lot.”
I’ve shaken her completely. In a strained voice, she asks me to sit down, and then takes a chair herself. She is almost shaking. She tries to get her voice back to normal as she tries one last gambit. “Daphne, there are some things that you don’t know enough to meddle in. Be a good daughter. Leave this business to me.”
My own voice is flat. “Either you tell me or I go to All-Father, Mum.”
My mother surrenders. She knows she has no choice. “Your father’s name is Theo, Theobald Smith. He is a dwarf. The legendary kind.” She comes and sits down at the other end of the sofa from me. I glance at Eric, who’s been staying by her feet this whole time. He takes the hint and stays where he is, under the chair my mother just vacated. My mother takes several deep breaths and turns to me. “Now that you know, you must leave this matter to me. The furor this could cause on the Council . . .”
I interrupt her. “. . . matters not at all to me. I have no Council rights, remember? Meanwhile they are screwing up my love life, and they are doing it with your help. You told me you were trying to stop the Council, but you held back the one thing that would have stopped them dead in their tracks. All you had to do was tell the Council who my father was. But you couldn’t do that, could you? You and your precious goddam secrets!” I am yelling at her, I am so angry.
My Mum breaks down into tears. I sit there, silent, shocked at myself. I have never yelled in anger at my mother before, never, and hadn’t planned to now. A small part of me says, “It’s about time.” Twenty-three years, thirty-three if I go back to her lies about Agatha’s birth. It infuriates me. I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry before. Look what you did to us, Mum!
And yet, in the next moment, I understand it. My mother’s always been casual about her life, and about the truth, as long as I’ve known her. People like her that way. And I could see her having an affair with All-Father. It would have been fun, exciting, scary, and dangerous. Same thing with having an affair with a dwarf. I get the feeling Perfect Daphne would have ended up doing something similar, just to show her contempt for the Council. Me, I figure that since I’ve not been recognized as a demigoddess, have not even partial Council rights, the Council has no right to interfere in my life. Simple justice.
We’re all products of who we have been, what our situation is. Even the jerks the Council inflicted on me. They were just doing what was expected of them. I’d still like to bludgeon them all to death on general principles, but they’re pawns, not worth the trouble.
That’s something Perfect Daphne taught me: I do not want to be a pawn. And I’ll not turn my mother into one, either. I want her on my side as an ally, not a victim.
She’s finished crying for the most part and is drying her eyes. I tell her, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Mum. You were just doing what you thought you had to do.”
My Mum looks up and smiles for a moment. She reaches over, takes my hand, and says, “But you’re right. I didn’t do right by you. I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can do . . .” Then her eyes narrow, and she looks at me suspiciously. She realizes I didn’t just come here for information. I plan to do something with it. And that ends whatever contrition she may have felt. “You already have something in mind you want me to do, don’t you?”
“Yeah. But I think you’ll approve. Help me put Agatha on the Council without her having to marry All-Father. It’s what she deserves. And she’ll also get the Council off my case.”
My Mum’s jaw drops. “Where did . . . ? How . . . ?” She laughs. “You’re right. I think it’s a wonderful idea. But you have no idea what you’re asking.” She snickers at the end.
Far too many people just do not take me seriously. Maybe they were right before, but not now. They will learn. “That’s right, I don’t. That’s why I need your help. That’s why I recruited Vesta Fox.” Not exactly what happened, but it will do.
That sets my mother to thinking. She ponders a bit, and then looks at me narrowly. “Considering she was torturing us both only a few days ago, either you are a lot cleverer than I thought, darling, or Vesta’s pulling the wool over your eyes. How sure are you of her?”
I ignore my mother’s casual admission that she doesn’t think much of me. It’s old news. “Vesta does not want the problems a marriage between Agatha and All-Father would cause. And she’s already stuck out her neck by not bringing me in after I told one of my suitors to let the Council know I wasn’t going to cooperate anymore.”
My mother nods. “That makes sense. I’ve already received an earful about your conduct. Vesta definitely wouldn’t want to see the Council set against All-Father, not unless she knew who would win.” My Mum thinks a bit more. “Have you spoken to Agatha about this?”
“Do I look that stupid? Agatha finds out All-Father intends to force her to divorce Henry and marry him, and she’s at All-Father’s throat the next moment. That’s a losing battle no matter who wins. She does know that she’s All-Father’s daughter, though.”
My mother is nodding her head in agreement. “But we will need her at Council tomorrow when we spike All-Father’s plans.”
I emphatically shake my head to that. “Nope. There’s something else I have to do first. So you’re going to have to keep the Council off my back until then.”
My mother crosses her arms in disapproval. “What can possibly be more important?”
“Nothing,” I agree, “which is why I need to go off and find my father and bring him back. You think they’re going to believe me when I tell them I’m half-dwarf? Or you, who have lied about it for decades, for that matter?”
My Mum twists her face. I can tell how serious she is when she actually sticks to the subject. “You have a point. But have you thought about how difficult that will be?” She sees me wondering what she’s talking about and goes on. “No, you haven’t. Seen any dwarves lately? No? That’s because they all went into Exile over three decades ago.”
Shit. Wait! “How did you meet my father, then?”
“Through a portal that’s long gone. Which means it’s a damn good thing Vesta Fox is on our side, because she’s the one who has to get you into Exile.” My mother doesn’t wait for my agreement, but whips out her phone and places a call to Vesta.
An hour later, I am armed with a walking stick (from my mother) and a 20-shot pistol (from Vesta). And Vesta is fiddling with the only legal set of magical controls that will open a portal into Exile, which are hers as head of Enforcement.
“There we go!” she exclaims. She looks over to me. “Okay, here’s the set-up. I can’t open a portal in the dwarves’ main village per our agreement with them. So I’m letting you into Exile in a forest north of the village. Head south, and try to get out of the woods before it gets dark. There are several species of dangerous predators there. Make a fire or take refuge high up in a tree and you’ll be safe. And you’ll have to convince the dwarves to send you back. They still had the ability last time we talked to them about it. Got it?”
“Got it.” Vesta isn’t looking that encouraging, so I ask an obvious question. “You don’t think I’m going to make it back, do you?”
She looks uneasily at my Mum and then answers me. “Not exactly. But too many things can go wrong with this for my liking.”
My Mum starts to speak but Vesta angrily cuts her off. “I don’t want to hear one word out of you, Cynthia. You created this mess, and had years to clean it up. Well, now your daughter is taking your lumps for you. You damn well better be as proud of this one as you are of the other.” She turns to me. “I’m going to open the portal now. I can’t keep it open for long. Just go for it.” She flips a switch.
A circle forms just above the floor, one about six feet in diameter, ringed in fiery light. Abruptly a scene appears in it: trees, ferns, a sky turning to twilight. I watch my step so I don’t hit the rim as I walk through.
There’s a “pop” behind me. I turn around, and just see more forest. The portal is gone.
I’m in the woods in Exile. And I have no way of my own to get back home.