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The Inn of the Star Crossed (Chapter 7)
by Mark Vincent LaPolla
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His frankness startled me. I looked over at him rather coolly and he looked back at me with equal coolness. I dropped my gaze realizing I could never win a staring contest with an elf.
“You really trust the inn that much?” I asked him.
“Trust has nothing to do with it. Until you and Carey took over the inn, I would never even have considered trust as part of the equation. The inn, the way I think of the inn, is that it is a nexus, a source of magic, a potential of fate, if you will. I do not think it has will or can choose but I do think it reacts.”
This was one of the second longest speeches I’ve ever heard from Timoteus on the inn and on magic. I sat back. I viewed the inn as a conscious being and Timoteus brought me up short again.
“So, you think the inn always reacts, your words, correctly in all situations?” This was a completely new way of thinking of the inn for me.
“I don’t think it has a choice,” he said as he buffed my shoes. “I do not think it has free will. I think of the inn as a spell or meta-spell, creating reality by its very existence. Therefore, the inn will always adjust causality to favor reality or at least what we call reality.”
“How?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “I’m an elf, sir, not a god.”
Timoteus was just another caveman squatting in the abode of the gods, like us. I had become used to looking on him as a font, if not always of knowledge, then of wisdom. It isn’t easy telling the difference between wisdom and folly. But now I realized he was in the same boat as we were. I resolved not to lean so heavily on Timoteus.
“A meta-spell, huh? I would have said the inn is an information structure projected onto three dimensions plus time in order to create our universe,” I told him.
“Indeed, a spell is nothing more than a recipe containing, what do you call it, data, as well as instructions. And a meta-spell is nothing more than a spell that manipulates spells, difficult to use and very dangerous. That is something a god would have to set up, but I think even the gods are not up to the task of maintaining all of reality.”
“Sounds like programming,” I said.
“Programming?” Timoteus asked.
“A program is a set of instructions that acts on data and produces, one hopes, a result,” I told him. “It’s all run on computers.”
“It sounds like magic,” he said. “But I guess at the heart of things, all things are the same. So then, your gods are computers? What’s a computer, by the way?”
“Sort of, I guess, if you are a programmer,” I chuckled. “Computers aren’t gods, per se, they are machines and have no free will. As a matter of fact, our philosophers and priests have argued down the ages whether or not we humans have free will. And lately our physicists have been weighing in on the subject.”
“Machines?” He asked, puzzled.
“They are sort of spells made manifest in the physical world or rather the apparatus for running our programs,” I told him. “Like your torch crystal.” All I got back from him was a thoughtful look.
“I thought you lived in our world,” I said to him. “Why aren’t you familiar with computers? Or at least the concept of machines? Didn’t Balthazar watch a lot of TV? That’s a type of machine.”
“It is?” Timoteus asked, startled, looking up from my shoes. “I really didn’t pay attention to details. I had TrinityBelle and Belle for that. I couldn’t possibly be expected to understand the detailed workings of each world I visited or worked in. I relied on the pixie network to do the labor. Besides, until this discussion, I just assumed that TVs were powered by magic. It certainly resembles our crystal balls and scrying pools.”
I shook my head at that and made a mental note not to try to look at everything through the lens of technology.
“But,” I said, wanting to get back to the inn and its workings, “if what you say about the inn is true, then that means that any reality the inn creates, or uncreates, for that matter, is, by definition, reality as it should be.”
“What do you mean?” He asked me, perplexed.
“Well, if the inn creates reality by its very existence, then whatever it creates would be our reality. Right?”
“From a simplistic viewpoint, that is, our viewpoint, yes. But I think, and this is just speculation on my part,” said Timoteus, “that it’s trying to be true to its original programming, as you would say.”
“Original programming?” I asked him. “What are you talking about?”
“Someone created the inn,” he said, “then set it in motion, right? So, there must be an original intent!”
“Must there?” I asked him. “Why not just random chance? Our scientists believe that the universe was created by random chance.”
“Bah! Random chance! Is that what your science teaches you? Barbaric and illogical,” he said, shaking his head. “We have the Builders’ Journal. They were the Builders of the inn, the Gods who set things in motion. The inn must be following their intent.” Timoteus put a final buff on my shoes, placed them into the armoire and stood up.
I shook my head in the affirmative and rubbed my chin. The original Builders’ Journal. That was something to think about when I had the leisure.
“Where are the ladies and Henry?” I said, changing the subject. My head was spinning thinking about the Builders. “I’m a little nervous having him wandering around unsupervised.” Talking metaphysics always made me uncomfortable and talking metaphysics and magic with an elf was a million times worse but Henry unsupervised gave me an ulcer.
“The ladies are being escorted by Henry,” he said coolly. I think he rather liked Henry or at least felt, as a servant, he should show some solidarity with Henry. “I sent them off to the jeweler, Tiffany’s, the draper, dressmaker and the milliner. Carey needed new clothes. She wasn’t properly dressed for this time.
“I also suggested they get some less conspicuous clothing for Henry.”
I was glad Timoteus had thought of that. Henry’s footman’s outfit was outré.
“Where did you send them?” I asked.
“The new store, Bloomingdales, also Lord & Taylor and some smaller boutiques,” he replied.
“Make sure you get some livery for Henry, for later. Nothing as crazy as what Goldemar gave him.” I shook my head at the memory.
“Yes, sir,” Timoteus said. He was getting the hang of our informal, human manners.
I sat down in a beautiful and comfortable chair to think. The first thing I thought was, I was hungry. The second thing was, I was thirsty. And the third thing was, I needed to use the newfangled water closet.
“Timoteus, I need to eat,” I said to him, as I came out of the John. I wondered if they had started calling them Johns yet in honor of either Sir John Harrington, who invented the modern toilet and installed one at court for Queen Elizabeth, his godmother, or Crappers in dubious honor of Thomas Crapper the amazing English plumber who invented the floating ballcock and other improvements to Harrington’s device. In either case, I did not think I could use either term given my station.
“Shall we wait for the ladies to return?” he asked me.
“I think not. If they’re out shopping, this could take a while. Are you hungry?” I said.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“Well, I will go eat in the dining room. Why don’t you order something for yourself to eat in the room or whatever it is valets do,” I told him, waving my hands airily. I was getting used to living with servants. I smiled to myself. “I would like you to be here when they came back, just in case I am detained.”
Before I could walk out of our suite, Timoteus coughed and then cleared his throat. I turned to look at him and closed the door.
“You’ll be going down to the dining room, sir?” He asked me, when I didn’t say anything.
“Ah, yes,” I told him. “Why?”
“You need to change for dinner,” he replied.
I hadn’t realized it was that late. This time, when I walked out of our suite, I was properly dressed for dinner.
I went to look for the dining room. I was excited to explore the hotel. This was, after all, the nineteenth century and I was, in a manner of speaking, a tourist. I wandered about looking for the dining room.
I had expected to just follow the noise or my nose but there wasn’t much noise and smells saturated the hotel. When I found the dining room, there weren’t many diners, only a couple of tables occupied with politicians huddled around them. I recognized the desperate and seedy look of politicians trying to line their pockets with gold. It was unmistakable. They were pathetically trying to please a fat man smoking a cigar wearing a first-rate suit and second-rate shoes.
I sat down at a table in the opposite corner from the boss and his cronies and looked around. The dining room was splendid. It had magnificently paneled walls fit for a palace and the chandeliers were interesting. I thought they looked more like streetlights than chandelier, but they were still magnificent. The ceiling was beautiful, inlaid designs and panels adorned the ceiling as well as the walls.
A waiter bustled up to me and put a napkin in my lap and gave me an embossed menu and poured me a glass of white wine. He asked what I would like to eat. I hadn’t had time to look at the menu and told him to just bring me something good. Keeping track of all these theories, dates, and people was giving me a headache and an empty stomach. I was famished.
He delivered a thick fish and oyster stew with a basket of sliced breads of different varieties. I chose a crusty white baguette to eat with the stew. He came back with a roasted goose and carved it tableside. With this he served bread stuffing with cranberries and oysters, and thick cut potato wedges that had been deep fried, what the English of my time call chips, and the Americans call French Fries. With the French Fries he served me mayonnaise and a hollandaise.
From a small serving dish, he produced a medley of roasted root vegetables and finished off my plate with a small pile of carrots, parsnips, potatoes and a white starchy vegetable I thought was manioc. The white vegetable was very bland, confirming my guess.
The waiter opened a bottle of a light red, I didn’t see the label, but assumed it was a burgundy by the shape of the bottle, and poured me a glass and took away the rather thin white wine I had been sipping with the oyster and fish stew, (more oyster than fish but I wasn’t about to complain). The bread was tasty, and refined, not as coarse as I expected it to be after the bread I had at Vanderbilt Senior’s tailor shop.
I thought about my conversation with Timoteus. I had been thinking of the inn as intelligent and aware, even a conscious entity. I tried to revise that thinking. Perhaps the inn was nothing more than an abstract data structure. When the data was out of balance, the structure shifted to compensate, and data shifted from Column A to Column B. I realized I was still a caveman trying to make sense of a fighter jet. Perhaps it was easier to think of the inn as an intelligent and all-powerful aunt or uncle.
It gave me the creeps to think of the inn as completely mechanistic. Was I just a hostage in a pinball machine bouncing off of bumpers and hoping to land home or at least in a high scoring spot before I was taken out of play? More caveman thinking.
I wasn’t sure if I was insulted or comforted there was no conscious entity guiding my life. I was never very religious and didn’t believe in God with either a capital “G” or even a small “g” but to have all my doubts confirmed was staggering. The universe was not run by a guy in a white robe with a long white beard, listening to our prayers and keeping tabs on us, punishing the guilty and rewarding the innocent. Rather it was an ant farm and the inn was, well, not the queen ant, maybe that was Carey’s and my job. Was the inn the sand? The glass walls? Or was the inn something else entirely?
I had met gods, of the small “g” variety, and they hadn’t impressed me. I had even, on one outing, met Danu, as well as Lugh of the Long Hand, and a host of other supposed deities. I had not been awed in the slightest. Whether Tuatha Dé Danann or Fir Bolg, or their gods, they all died the same.
Even, Timoteus, his people and their gods are mortal. The Æsir were nothing more than men and women who were incredibly strong, could wield dangerous weapons, such as Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, practice magic, and influence the weather or had other special powers. But they could die. The Norse Gods are known in our world as The Mortal Gods because they are all slated to die during Ragnarök, the so-called Twilight of the Gods.
No. This is not how I thought of as God. God could not be killed. God could not be so easily pinned down. If there were a God, he was much more mysterious than any of the ones I had met so far. But then, where was God in the equation? Why hadn’t any innkeeper ever written about Him or Her, Them, or It? I shook my head. I couldn’t answer that. I didn’t know.
What I did know was I needed something stronger than the wine I was drinking. I caught the waiter’s eye and ordered some whiskey. He brought me a large bumper of Irish whiskey. It was smooth but with a sting. I drank it down.
The waiter cleared my plates and brought out a very nice plum pudding and a Nesselrode pudding molded in the shape of a tall fluted ice surrounded by marzipan pineapples, carrots, roses and other vegetables and fruits, all very convincingly colored and sized appropriately. The Nesselrode pudding was covered by a ceramic pineapple to keep it cool.
I gestured at both puddings and he served me a portion of each. The Plum Pudding had a hard sauce on it. He cut me a slice and put it on my plate. With the Nesselrode he served a pastry cream sauce, also chilled, mimicking the hard sauce over the pudding. The Nesselrode was served in a separate boat with the cream sauce.
I was delighted and amazed. How did they freeze it without mechanical refrigeration? My admiration for my fellow humans went up many notches during the meal.
Afterward, the waiter served me coffee and asked if I’d like a cigar with my port, brandy or whiskey and would I be smoking in the dining room or adjourning to the reading room.
“In the dining room?” I asked, aghast. Alarm bells rang in my head. I had responded to his question with my Twenty-First Century mores about smoking in public. Luckily, the waiter had thought that he made a social gaff. After all, in the ruling houses of Europe, gentlemen changed rooms for cigars and brandy or at the least the women exited when the men smoked.
“The Reading Room, it is then, sir,” he simpered, hoping to make up for whatever mistake he had made with his overly obsequious manner.
“Yes,” I said smoothly, “I think I’ll take my cigar and cognac in the Reading Room.” It sounded like one of the inn’s special, magical rooms: The Sideways Room, The Library, The Reading Room. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Reading Room at the inn.
“Would you have it brought to me there?” I told the waiter and went to look for this Reading Room.
The Reading Room had more people in it than the dining room had. The floors were marble and looked like a chessboard. There were several tables at which men were reading broadsheets and chatting quietly. I sat down and my waiter came and served me my drink and a cigar.
“Would you like a newspaper, sir?”
“No thank you,” I replied, and he left me in peace.
I sat back and enjoyed my cigar and cognac and listened to all the gossip and news of the day. Most of the talk was about the War Between the States and whether New York should join Lincoln in persecuting that war. The talk was more to the positive than the negative. Glory was to be had and surely the South could not stand against the might of the North. That was the general sentiment.
There was much talk of the high-society Seventh Regiment, the kid glove regiment, smartly turned out in their beautiful uniforms. The Times had run an article on the Seventh in April, saying that they had stashed white kid gloves into their knapsacks, “thoughtfully preparing themselves to dress appropriately for the victory balls in Washington in just a few weeks’ time.”
There was some talk about the newly formed Irish Brigade, the Sixty-Ninth, and its potential prowess as a fighting force. Secretary of War Simon Cameron had formed it from three Irish infantry regiments and one Massachusetts Yankee regiment, the Twenty-Ninth.
There was also talk of raising money and the hopes New York would be able to collect some of the millions owed it by the South.
I heard about the Bull Run disaster and the shame of the First Fire Zouaves, the Fighting Sixty-Ninth acted as rearguard for the retreating Army of the Potomac.
Conversation came as waves of sound washing over me, like background music, filtering into my brain. I picked out little detail and much hand wringing as each person argued, based on party lines or moral attitudes, whether the war should be prosecuted or whether a peace should be negotiated. The majority of the crowd in the reading room was in favor of war.
In counterpoint to the heady talk of war, deals were done, and markets made while I tried not to appear to be eavesdropping. Politicians were in abundance, all Republican. I heard snatches of conversation; antirust and commerce figured in prominently as well as talk of building permits and the usual local politics one would expect. I heard Lincoln’s name several times as well as Wood’s. The war was not far from anyone’s mind. Ironclads were bandied about. The war raged on some distant Southern battlefield and these New Yorkers were oblivious to its realities. The War had only gently touched Gotham.
I leaned back and tuned out the conversation, thinking about the opportunities in steel and shipbuilding, Squibb, Pfizer, and Wyeth and gold. There would be a silver shortage soon.
Thanks to the inn, we had a ready supply of silver and gold. I mulled over the possibilities. Real estate loomed large in my thoughts. We’d have to buy a permanent house in Manhattan before the wounded returned to fill up all the available space in hotels.
I leaned back and sighed. The cigar was beautiful. The cognac was perfect. I was relaxing and enjoying myself when Timoteus appeared and handed me a note. Foreboding gripped me.
The note said, “Meet me in the room” and it was signed “Carey.” I stood up, drank down my cognac and followed Timoteus back to the room smoking my cigar.
Carey just smiled when I got back to the room.
“Put that smelly thing away,” Henry said. “Not around the princess.”
He was changing Erin’s diapers, real cloth diapers. How he could call my cigar smelly when he was changing diapers, I did not know.
“Let’s talk,” Carey said to me. I put out the cigar in the ashtray, which Timoteus immediately cleaned up and disposed of, and Carey and I went into our bedroom to get some privacy.
We sat on the small, double bed. The mattress was very firm. The room itself was plush with a vanity, chair, small end tables and a lit oil lamp. The fireplace was also roaring, not only to make the room cozy, but also for the light.
Extravagantly, Timoteus had all the fireplaces and lamps and candles lit, keeping our set of rooms very cozy and well lighted. Even though there was central heating, the firelight added a hint of romance.
“I met William,” Carey told me, her face wreathed in shadows, making it hard to see. It could have been just the shadows, playing tricks on me, but she looked worried. “I almost crashed into him as I was coming out of the drapers.”
“And?” I said, prompting her. If I had drunk less at lunch, I would have been more alarmed and more excited. Our quarry was sighted, the game afoot. And Carey was frowning.
She took a deep breath, “And he invited me to supper tonight at 8 o’clock.”
“What? How?” I half stood up from my chair in alarm. Then settled back down to hear what Carey had to say.
“Well, I shouldn’t have said almost. I did crash into him and he was very kind and helped me up and we started talking,” she had a wistful look in her eyes.
“And then you told him you were married?” I asked.
“It didn’t come up,” she said. “You wanted to meet him, and I have an appointment.”
“A date, you mean,” I cut her off, the heat rising in me. I stood again, wanting to pace. I did a few violent turns around the room and then sat back down hard, making Carey bounce on the bed. I glared at her.
“A supper appointment at Delmonico’s,” she continued more softly.
“Delmonico’s?” I asked. “You must have vamped him but good.” I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. Protecting William S. Vanderbilt was all well and good, but this was becoming personal.
“I did not,” Carey responded with indignation. “I was very modest and polite.”
“Where was Henry, your escort, at this time?” I asked a little too loudly.
“Henry was caught in the doorway with his little bundled of joy,” Henry chimed in from the other room. “Someone needs to invent revolving doors.” I ignored him. “I couldn’t stop my queen from falling into the clutches of that evil, shrimpy man.”
“Now what? He’s barely 17 and you’re a married woman old enough to be his….” I started to say.
“Hold it right there, bub,” Carey said hotly. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
I did just that; I looked young. No longer was I a trim and athletic forty-two but rather I looked more like twenty-five or thirty for our century. Here, I might be mistaken for twenty. Carey was not only very trim and in shape with a smart figure, but she looked barely out of her teens.
“And if you haven’t noticed, we’re both shorter,” Carey told me. Carey is a slim, athletic and tall woman. She stands around five foot ten inches tall. She didn’t look any shorter to me.
“You look the same to me,” I told her.
“That’s because you’ve shrunk, too. Every one of us has shrunken and gotten younger, I assume, to fit in with the times,” Carey said.
“I don’t feel shorter,” I told her.
“When you get a chance, measure your height and you’ll see. I only know this because they measured me at the drapers.”
“What is going on? Timoteus?” I said a little loudly
Timoteus came into the room. He looked at me and then at Carey. “May I be of assistance, sir?”
“Indeed, you may. What is going on here?”
“Sir?” Timoteus responded.
“Timoteus, do you remember how tall the tailors said I was?” I asked him.
“He said you were five foot nine inches,” Timoteus responded.
“We’re shrunk and grown younger. Why?”
“Henry is getting his hair back. You hear that, princess? Your darling Henry will have his full head of hair. Beautiful, wavy, black hair. Now won’t that be nice?” Henry said from the other room. “But Uncle Henry is now a midget. Maybe he can date that bearded circus freak, my sweet. What do you think of that, little princess?”
“I have noticed, if I may say so, sir, that I am also growing a bit younger.”
“The inn’s doing?” I asked him.
‘Well, the inn certainly preserves its keepers, retards their aging, but I’ve never heard of it actually reversing the aging process.” At this point Spot bounded into the room.
“Look at Spot, he looks like a puppy again,” I said to Carey. “Come here, Mr. Spot.” He bounded up into my lap. Spot didn’t even look one years old.
“I don’t think the inn discriminates,” said Timoteus.
I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I’d lost over 20 years in the time we’d been on this mission and Spot was a puppy again.
“You mean, the inn can’t discriminate. What about Erin?” I said and got to my feet.
“The princess has not changed,” Henry said, bringing her into the now crowded bedroom. “She’s as beautiful as ever.”
“It probably has limits on age,” said Timoteus, shrugging.
“How much younger could Erin get? She’s barely a year old,” Carey answered my question.
“I wasn’t asking why not Erin but why should the inn do this at all?” I said.
“Well,” Timoteus said carefully, “best guess is we needed to make contact with William Vanderbilt and the inn decided the best way to do that would be through Madame.”
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES.