Fellyans (part five)
In Bede’s house was one parlor suitable for guests. His mother’s legacy lined its walls, kept safe from accidents by grillworked shelves. She had been a great collector of commemorative items, of porcelains in red and white (“It’s not class, you know, having a mishmash”), and peculiarities of silver, like the fat Varkhund, whose slotted body bristled with tiny forks. (“Those are for berries. The Elves eat them that way.”)
The best chairs were in this room…and the oddest. Thronelike, with seat and backs entirely beaded, and playing a musical chime when any rear made contact, they were Bunting’s conjuring—from an early day before Jorinda had known better how to answer, “Would you like those dusty sofas spruced up, at all?”
The messenger carried a scroll, three or four pages of a questionnaire, the import of which Bede and Jorinda feared to learn.
“Business at once,” she said, “or lunch? I’ll ask the sprites to carry down our elf things from the attic.”
“No, madam, I am not to hobnob,” the elf replied. He twitched two fingers, causing a short ladder to appear below the nearest shelf. “Why, I’d thought so! The Queen’s likeness on that great tureen. ‘Interlude’ is the pattern, we have one hundred and twenty-four pieces of it in the royal cupboard…”
“It had a lid. My son lied to me about how that vanished.”
“Um, yes,” Bede said, a touch pink. “I tried it for a battleship and it sank.”
His mother’s comments came, in fact, audibly, a miscalculated assist from Finch—
Jorinda had been teaching the sprites social conversation, at a time it seemed possible they could learn to mingle, and be sent on.
“Bede, be a helper. Sit here opposite Finch. Now, you are hostess…”
“Have I got a servant?”
“Mr. Dwale, will you pour your own?”
“I prefer it, Miss. Shall I take a cake?”
“Do,” said Finch, “as you prefer.”
Bede took two cakes. The chime sounded. He braced his sliding body on a footstool. Jorinda rustled, then appeared on his left, gesturing reminder to her pupil.
“Do you like small talk?” Finch asked.
Finch frowned for a long minute. “You may be wondering, then, where I got so many lovely things?”
Bede hid a smile. “Perhaps your mother left them to you.”
“Oh! I hope not! Does she need to be dead? I’ll cry!”
“No, no!” He observed his partner gaze at the ceiling. To distract Finch, he broke character, pointing out the Varkhund, the troll’s-head candlesticks, the bedbound person’s broth bowls, that his mother had got from a neighbor…
Zipping clear of the neighbor’s fate, he remarked: “I must try to keep these stories in memory…no doubt I’ve forgotten half already! If only my mother’s things could talk…”
“Was the tureen purchased hexed, and if not, is the spell registered? I don’t feel I have one such in my notes.” The elf inched his ladder aside, to test the weight of a broth bowl.
“The beak is a spout, made for sipping without spilling. And see how the eyes are holes to let off steam!”
“I asked Bede, when he rode into town to pay his taxes last, to pick up the forms. Did you ever?”
Thanking Jorinda, by averting his eyes from hers, Bede said, “My mind’s a blank. But, add the fine to any others you assess.”
“I’m glad you have money to pay them,” the elf said. And causing a plume and parchment to materialize, he wrote. “How many things altogether?”
“There is only one spell, however many things.”
“Madam.” The elf had caught Jorinda’s repressive note. He redoubled his. “Under the terms of the Queen’s law, the collection cannot be broken up. If you attempt to sell, destroy, or convert ownership of an enchanted item, one that shares its enchantment with another article or several, or is collaterally enchanted due to the enchantment of its immediate environs…”
“Here’s Coral, by the way…” Jorinda said. “Or I’d never interrupt.”
Alma’s head bobbed into view, as she pushed Coral across the threshold. Langham’s wife presented this time in brilliant orange, a floral gown from an upstairs chest. “Doesn’t that make a sight?” Alma, making certain of her point, tapped Coral on the cheek. “For someone’s eyes… I just love that frock to pieces!”
“I wish it were mine to give you.”
“It is, then,” Jorinda said. “Alma, you seem like a wonderful pitcher-in. Will you come do the lunch with me?”
Bede winced as he chimed, by way of projecting apology to Coral. Coral chimed twice; startled, then used to it. The elf—austerely—produced a chair of his own. He poised his quill.
“And you are the day guard? Mr. Dwale, I am not speaking to you.”
“Arrangements…ahem, sorry…are far from set, I was only going to…”
Unhearing of this mumble, the elf said, “You give your name as…?”
“I have a dwelling over the hill, called Lumpstone Farm.”
“On your records? Yes, the wife listed as Wilf Langham’s, given name Coral, and the person seated before you, bearing the same name, are one.”
The elf, at this fine language, heaved a sigh of contentment.
Bede sat in a labor to possess himself. He had known Langham decades, with never a whiff of this Wilf…
(2022, Stephanie Foster)