Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chapter the Twentieth: Touring the Timnel

With Hermann out of the room, the three travelers began to discuss their plight.

“What if the tea is poisoned?” Scramble asked.

“I don’t think the gnord would try anything so gauche. He obviously has too much class to attempt a simple poisoning,” Jonathan ventured.

“A Norman would try anything,” Fulsome countered, “and I wouldn’t put too much trust in fancy airs if I were you.”

“But gnords aren’t Norman, Fulsome. They’re just gnords.”

“You never know, Grubbley. He certainly looks like the product of intermarriage of some sort.” Fulsome seemed unable to let go of his xenophobia, so they dropped that line of discourse.

“Well, if he isn’t going to kill us right away, do you think he will at all?” Scramble wondered. “I mean, he does reek something awful but beyond that he does seem a decent sort.”

“Now that you mention it,” Jonathan added, “he doesn’t seem fearsome at all. Do you suppose Auntie Woezzl may have exaggerated a bit?”

“Well,” the fetchit began, “she didn’t have a very good reputation among my people. And if she has anything to do with this place, she might not only be a witch but even a Norman herself.”

Well, the tapestries certainly lend a cozy air to the room,” Scramble interjected a bit too loudly. Jonathan quickly agreed as the gnord entered the room with a finely wrought silver tea service between his forepaws. Each piece was freshly polished and the edge of the tray was done in an oak-leaf pattern. The four tea cups and saucers were of the palest blue China with a delicate silver border. Hermann had arranged a plate of hot scones and provided lots of yellow butter and bilberry preserves. “Baked the scones myself,” he began with an air of satisfaction. “Oh dear,” he continued, “we gnords are often not the best company for certain, uh, reasons. I hope this will help.” He then snapped his scaly fingers and two serving maids hurried in, each with a large arrangement of rust, yellow, and cream-colored flowers in matching silver bowls, again trimmed in oak leaves. The blossoms filled the room with a pleasant, but not too heady, fragrance that nearly masked the gnord’s foul odor. The thought of refreshment quickly became not only palatable but much to be desired.

Tea proceeded delightfully. The scones were very well done and the tea was not poisoned after all. All thoughts of murder, theft, and flight receded into the background. Hermann next offered to show the guests around the Timnel and its Tower, an offer they could not politely refuse. Scramble discreetly asked Fulsome to take some of the flowers with them, which he did. Thus began the grand tour.

They started with the nearby salons and sitting rooms, each of them done in a different style or period, some with themes and all with gracefully integrated décor. A few seemed overwrought for Jonathan’s taste, evocative of heavy Victorian ornamentation, and many appeared too Norman for Fulsome, but at least he kept his peace. Scramble’s steps were far smaller than anyone else’s but he did not lag behind, darting hither and thither to check out everything he possibly could.

Hermann ushered them into the dining hall, a vast room with oversize fireplaces in each corner, long wooden tables and straight-backed chairs upholstered in carved leather. The tile floors were worn with age, the walls paneled in wood, and the ceiling vaulted. Clerestory windows brightened the room, admitting light through pale golden glass in leaded panes. Paintings adorned the walls: hunting scenes, feasting scenes, landscapes in all four seasons, each in a large gilt frame. Between the paintings hung floral tapestries. High on the walls stood decorative iron brackets, some for torches and others displaying banners from battles mostly forgotten. Hermann recited the names and dates of the painters of each painting, elaborating on symbolism and various features in the scenes depicted. He seemed more taken with the integrated decorative motifs—acanthus and laurel in the carved frames and on the iron brackets and the gold candelabra on the tables, for instance—than any guests could possibly be, but the three were unfailingly polite about the whole thing. Indeed, who would not strive to be polite when the guest of a fearsome gnord, even one as cultured as Hermann?

From there they went through the kitchens, glanced briefly toward the servants’ quarters, then regained the entrance hall. Hermann led them up the great staircase, following its elegant marble curves to the next floor, commenting the while that all the marble for the main hall had been imported from across the Mithermere and that Thumnet the Ambitious had overseen its carving and installation himself, carefully blending the various shades of stone into a harmonious ensemble. Scramble accepted Fulsome’s offer of a ride upon his shoulder, which made climbing of the stairs much less troublesome. From this vantage point he could also see much better, as well as overhear Fulsome’s occasional mutterings about “Norman ostentation.” Jonathan was awed by the whole thing, yet mindful of the task that lay ahead.


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