Fellyans (part four)
He raised a warning finger. “Scoter, go indoors. Whimbrel, go with your brother.”
Whimbrel had tiptoed to a spot, a particular flagstone of the walk, exactly at Scoter’s heels. Piqued, Scoter flung a dramatic aboutface, that skidded them both into Jorinda’s rosebush.
“Ow! Ow! What’s your trouble, Whim?”
“Not by the kitchen, we won’t go,” Whimbrel said, low. “Up the tower stairs. That Marshhawk.”
“Will you just quit pinching at me? What do you want with him?”
Whimbrel’s answer faded: “Ha! And ha, twice more! I tell you, he’s sniffing round Finch. You’ve seen how high and mighty he carries himself…?”
Bede and his visitor watched them out of view.
“I’ve been holding my breath. Are those your sprites? That night you had the turnip supper at Melchior’s, Langham came home all fired to bring them on as hands, shearing time. I thought it was nonsense.”
“Have I introduced myself?” Bede asked, for intimate talk requires its preliminaries.
“Mr. Dwale, aren’t you? I suppose Langham has never given you my name. It’s Coral.”
“Bede, please. Coral, may I tell you I’m sorry? I’d have been all in favor of having you…”
“And Langham would have said no. I’m not a mouse altogether…” she began, essaying a few steps in her armor. “Gracious, what a nuisance! How do you get on a horse?”
“With a pulley, or a ladder, and with the aid of squireage. But you don’t mean me.”
She stayed Bede’s hand, offered towards relieving her of the weighty helm, at least. “I can’t tell, by feel, what your little friend has me wearing under all this. We’ll go in, if you’re willing, and I’ll have Jorinda’s help.”
Through the few paces to the kitchen door Bede puzzled, why she ought to have said, “if you’re willing”; why Langham’s wife should doubt her welcome, why seem almost allowing of…
He bumped a solidness. It was his new acquaintance, frozen at the sight of Vincent. The Hutterer slouched against the doorpost, picking burs from a threadbare trouser leg. He stood, not straight. Astonishment bloomed on his face.
Langham’s wife cried out: “Say something! Let me be sure!”
Astonishment achieved a brief hold on higher ground, before a shove of bitter surmise displaced it. “They’ve got you collecting bounties, Coral? Can’t say that gear becomes you. Langham didn’t either strike me any toadier to the Queen’s law. I suppose he left you.”
“He didn’t. He looks after me.”
While this defense of Langham felt to him circumstantial, Bede felt again the need of a quick excuse to witness no more of this lovers’ reunion.
Alma’s head poked from a bedroom window.
Vincent, who was being told by Coral that his royal rags most certainly suited him to a tee, and were exactly the way she always pictured him, except that, of course, she never pictured him—
Said: “Oh? Well, I picture you just as often as I’d picture…”
“A sheep with purple fleece?” Alma called.
“Oh? Well, I picture you just as often as I’d picture…”
“One of Marshhawk’s spells coming off?”
Vincent, sour-faced, glanced up.
“One of the Queen’s messengers, riding over the hill yonder, on his swan?”
Coral said: “No. That doesn’t seem right either.”
Right or not, it was true.
The elf wore the short velvet pantaloons, cinched jacket, and heeled boots of his office, topped with the broad-brimmed hat, and its plumes of gold and rose. These bobbed, and the swan bobbed, its webbed feet coming flat and deliberate, its body rolling, its wings thrusting left, right, tandem, for balance. Every few paces, the swan went to earth breast-forward, appeared to take a strengthening breath, and got itself plodding again.
The elf kicked, but the swan did not fly. Time passed, the audience stared, and Bede remarked, “Why must they…”
“Why! To put themselves above it all. To act as patent fools, just so we know our places well,” Vincent said. “If the elves were competent, which, in their own circles, they are, we the people might imagine we deserved competence!”
“Next,” said Coral, lighting, “we might think of choosing our rulers! There are other lineages besides the Queen’s!”
Vincent, at this, did stand straight, a little wind catching his hair. Alma laughed. But she might have been laughing at the swan, just plunged into Bede’s farm pond, soaking the legs of its rider.
“You forget how graceful they can be.”
A shutter opened behind, and Marshhawk began to squeeze through. As he squeezed, he fastened a hat to his head—one like the elf’s, in the colors of the Queen.
“What I need, properly,” he murmured, “is a cornet, for a decent salute. Look at them, so many stumps in a swamp, no respect greeting Her Majesty’s what-you-call-it…”
Jorinda said this. Her arm, without ceremony, yanked the newcomer from sight. “Marshhawk, dear, we don’t have any papers to account for you. Do you understand what that means?”
The swan circled the pond, harassed by ducks. The dogs, even Gert, barked, skirting the margin. The elf made a face of dignity in resignation, lifted his baton, and was suddenly in front of Vincent.
“I am Mr. Dwale,” said Bede. “The owner. It’s me you want.”
“O-oh,” said the elf. “You do have that look of Being Someone. My mistake.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)