Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chapter the 23rd: Soup, Stealth, and Surprises

The large dining hall was hardly appropriate for serving four, so Hermann and the trio dined in one of the salons. The gold plate, reserved for state occasions and holidays, was deemed by Hermann as too flashy for a quiet meal, even if these were his first true guests in heaven knows how long, so they used the Chlougheign silver, the goldenrod pattern china, and crystal engraved with the Chlougheign crest. Vases and candelabra, in this case, were very simple. The serving men and maids wore smart uniforms with starched jackets and dresses of a very pale yellow, matching the table linen, trimmed in silver. Fresh flowers from the Gardens brightened the room and, by their masking scent, enabled our travelers to eat.

Supper began with a balanced Vichyssoise, followed by trout amandine accompanied by a delightful white wine from the Pelješac Peninsula. As the table was cleared for the main course, the four discussed the planning of the Gardens, expressing unanimous admiration for the designs of Hymon, landscape gardener to Raunchpot the Sensitive.

All three of the adventurers gasped when the serving men brought in, on large silver platters, a stunning rack of lamb en couronne, beef Wellington, eels in aspic, jellied pork, and veal stuffed with pâté. The serving maids followed swiftly with pommes de terre dauphiné, glazed carrots, haricots verts smothered in buttered chanterelles, and courgettes Olinda. Even Fulsome forgot all his judgments on ostentation and marveled when the sommelier brought in the Chateau Lafitte Rothschild ’59. “I don’t care if I get gout from one meal,” he thought to himself, “this is the way to go.” Hermann tasted the wine, nodded his obviously proud approval, and all glasses were filled. And refilled. And refilled. Or at least Hermann’s was. Our threesome encouraged him in his story-telling and he loved nothing better than to recount the lives of all the thanes of Isenwild. He also appreciated a good wine and the Timnel seemed to have no shortage in its cellars. so they sipped slowly but appreciatively while encouraging Hermann to have more.

By the time they got to the pears, berries, dates, filberts, and cheeses, Hermann was already confusing Aljighad the Sickly, thirty-second thane, with Athlat the Swift, cousin of Mirkesl VI (the Leprous) and ultimately twenty-ninth thane of Isenwild. Jonathan almost laughed, though he could not keep track of any of them, but a sharp frown from Fulsome stifled all frivolity. Scramble offered yet another toast to Thumnet the Ambitious, whose memory Hermann was ever ready to honor with yet another drained glass, and when the rum cakes and coffee finally arrived, the gnord could barely keep his head erect. It was the second sip of home-distilled Isapherian brandy, however, that finally did the trick. By now the servants had cleared the table, lit a fire in the fireplace, and left the four diners alone to chat. Our trio grinned silently as Hermann’s head gently settled on the table.

When they were certain he was irrevocably lost to the realms of consciousness, Jonathan arose from his seat, advanced stealthily, and carefully, ever so carefully, unclasped the silver chain about the gnord’s neck and lifted it and the key from his body. Scramble and Fulsome sighed softly in unison as the key was safely and successfully removed. The chipmunk then darted out into the hallway to ascertain whether any guards or servants awaited them. Seeing none, he motioned for Jonathan and the fetchit to follow him toward the Tower.

Fulsome brought with him a triple candelabrum so they could see their way and everything seemed somehow altered by the candlelight as shadows flickered on the walls and floor. Quietly and cautiously the trio made their way up the stairs until they found themselves before the bolted door. Jonathan’s heart skipped a beat as he reached up to fit the key into the lock. To no one’s surprise and everyone’s relief, the key slowly turned in the lock, and in a trice they had the door unbolted. The door swung open without the usual squeak that makes moments such as these so tense, and Fulsome, with the candelabrum, entered first.

He quickly lit the tall candles in the iron wall sconces as the other two entered. As the candlelight in the small room grew brighter, all three focused their vision on one object. There, in the center of the room, supported by a rough stone pedestal and resting on a white velvet cushion, was the shocking orange parasol. It almost glowed in the pale light, and emeralds set in its golden handle sparkled. How such an object could break spells, Jonathan did not know, though it seemed to cast one on them all. They all knew it was important, since it was kept under lock and key, the sole object in the dusty tower room. The dust was thick enough, in fact, that Scramble almost sneezed, much to the alarm of both Fulsome and Jonathan, but he finally controlled the frustrating tensions at war in his nose.

“God bless you, nonetheless,” Hermann said as he stood in the doorway.


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