Discover more from Inn at the Crossroads
The Inn of the Star Crossed (Chapter 5)
by Mark Vincent LaPolla
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Timoteus woke me at 7:00 AM. True to his word, he hadn’t woken me too early for a normal person, but I was a Duke or something, wasn’t I? I groaned.
“Too early,” I groaned at Timoteus.
“You have an appointment,” he said, “Your Grace.” There was a distinct pause between his statement and my title.
“Out with it, man or elf,” I told him, holding my head. “I have a hangover so give it to me straight. Drop the charade.”
“Very good, ah, Bill. I think the inn is going on to the next stage of our little game here.”
“If it is a game,” I told him. Timoteus thought we were in the middle of a flyting, some sort of subtle insult duel using sorcery. “I for one do not think it’s a game unless it’s the inn playing it. So, what’s up?”
“You can expect a coach to come for you. A courier just delivered a message and asked you to please come to the Vanderbilt’s shop in New York City to finish your measurements for your new suits. William’s father is a famous tailor in Manhattan. The messenger also said a coach was on its way.”
“Finish my measurements? How do I finish something I never began? Correct me if I am wrong but this will be my first meeting with William S. Vanderbilt Senior,” I said.
“The inn provides,” Timoteus intoned. He smiled at me and shrugged.
“OK, then. We’re going to see William S. Vanderbilt Senior. Fine,” I said scratching my head. “If I remember correctly, he died in eighteen sixty-four. It makes sense. We’ll all need new clothing.” Though my frockcoat and weskit and pants would probably pass pre-eighteen sixty-four, Carry’s clothing would have to change. Women’s styles change faster than men’s and she was, currently, very fashion forward, too forward. She might as well wear aluminum foil and sport a jetpack.
“That would mean, at most, our William S. would be no older than 18 or 19. Hmm.” I mused to myself. “Our William lived in Manhattan until 1871. He left the City when he was about twenty-six or so. We have eight years to corrupt him and get him thrown out of Manhattan, if need be. We’ll also have to protect him.” I sighed. The task looked impossible, bodyguards to William Vanderbilt, the bon vivant.
“Yes, Your Grace,” was all the Timoteus said.
“How do you know the message was on the level?”
“Goldemar himself brought it. Something is afoot.”
“And out of curiosity, where are we now?” I looked around the room worriedly. This room resembled no room at our inn. “Her Majesty is convinced this is not our inn and in the cold light of day, I have to agree with her. I do not think this is our inn. It seems familiar but the details and scope differ greatly.”
“I am not sure but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say we were in some alternative timeline in an insignificant backwater.”
“More training? Or was this the inn’s way of protecting us while our timeline disintegrated?”
“Both would be my guess.”
“Off to Manhattan, then,” I grumbled.
A coach ride to Manhattan was going to be long and dusty. I sighed and did my toilet. Timoteus shaved me and I washed as best I could. There was no time for a full bath.
I put on the standard dress of the day. Since I was going to the City and, since it was supposed to be eighteen-sixty-four or earlier, I put on a frock coat with striped trousers, a weskit, black top hat, and a pinned cravat in a Ruche knot. Finally, I put on gray kid gloves and a maple walking stick with a large sapphire in the knob set in silver. My shoes were half boots and black. I was going to need all the cover I could get; it was pretty cold outside.
“What is it, Timoteus? You look worried.”
“I am, Bill,” he said, adjusting my tie and brushing me down. “The inn is doing a lot of direct manipulation and early on in your tenure.”
“So? It didn’t do this to you?” I asked. Timoteus and his late wife, Tara, were the innkeepers before Carey and me.
“Not as such,” he replied. “Now that I’m retired, or at least semi-retired from being the innkeeper, I’ve had time to think. I hardly noticed the inn’s manipulation when I was an innkeeper; it was more subtle. But with you humans, it has a much heavier punch. That points to two possibilities,” he said and paused.
“Out with it, man,” I prompted him. “What two possibilities?”
“Either the inn thinks you and Carey are particularly dense and needs to do more than drop a hint or,” and again he paused.
“Or what?” I prompted again.
“Or the inn, the universe, the whole cosmos is in more danger and more immediate danger than it has ever been in before and the inn is reacting quickly and decisively.”
“Or,” I said to him, “the inn sees an opportunity to use us energetic humans to do some spring cleaning of the ‘verse. Though, I do admit, Goldemar was so full of dire predictions and portents, he gave me pains in my gallbladder.
“Didn’t you say elves are a cautious race? Cautious and reserved? The same, I understood, applies to the dwarfs. How would you have felt if the inn had pushed you into these adventures?”
“It has,” he said glumly, “but I take your point. I would have resented it when I was innkeeper. It’s one thing to get a little adventure, to come back to the inn and its life after a pause. I missed it. It would be another thing to have our routine disrupted as much as it’s been disrupting yours and Carey’s.”
“But?” I asked. He still looked worried and he had added pensive to his not so expressive face.
“But if there had been work to do, I would have done it. Tara would have done it. I never shirked from my job and gladly pitched in. Tara did too. We fitted in so well with the inn we had our lives extended much longer than any elf has a right to live. I can’t help feeling something is deadly wrong.”
I just looked at him and nodded. I went to breakfast with Timoteus’s speculation ringing in my ears.
Carey was already eating a hearty breakfast. The Victorians didn’t stint on breakfast. There was fish and eggs and various sauces, meats and vegetables of all kinds on a buffet. I grabbed some bread and honeycomb and added eggs and herring. I asked Timoteus for a cup of coffee. I should have asked him for a mimosa or something to get rid of my headache. I hoped the coffee would do the trick.
There was no water on the buffet. I asked Timoteus for water and he brought me, bless his heart, a heavily watered wine, perhaps to counteract any germs lurking in the water or perhaps to fix my hung over head. Probably the latter since I don’t think the germ theory has made it all the way to Álfheimr. For all I knew, they didn’t have germs.
I drank the watered wine with relish. It eased my headache. Hair of the dog and all that.
I sat at table and had a tasty, if heavy breakfast. Carey was also in traveling clothes. She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. Pretty boring stuff, the life of a rich nineteenth century man. If things didn’t start happening soon, I was going to die of ennui. I wanted to save William Vanderbilt and return to Erin and Spot instanter. Then it hit me.
Who was looking after those two? I trusted Erin with Spot for a short while, but we’d be gone for days, maybe weeks. Ice water replaced my spine. Nausea became my stomach and ‘lightheaded’ my middle name. I had forgotten about my daughter. Where was she? Was she all right? Had she and Spot disappeared with the inn? My brain churned.
“Carey,” I said in a house whisper, “where’s Erin?”
Startled, her eyes wide, Carey rose out of her seat, surveyed the room, her head swiveling on gimbals, her eyes darting left and right, up and down. Finally, she sat back down.
“Where are we?” whispered Carey, leaning over to my side of the table. “What happened to our life? What’s going on?”
Carey looked like she was coming out of a trauma induced daze. Carey had plunged into this assignment, this life, wholeheartedly and completely. But now the overlay created mental fog left her eyes and understanding seeped in.
“Spot is with her, I hope.” Carey said, looking pale and wan. Following understanding, the implications paid her a nasty visit as they had done me.
“Timoteus agrees with your assessment, as do I. He thinks we’re in a backwater timeline or universe. He thinks this is yet more training. I think this is the inn’s way of protecting us. But I worry about Erin. I am sure Mr. Spot will not leave Erin’s side. He loves her.”
“But he’s just a dog,” Carey said. “We have to get Erin back.”
“And Mr. Spot, too,” I added.
“How do we do this?”
“I have an idea. A coach will soon be here to fetch us and take us to a meeting with the Vanderbilt family in Manhattan. I suggest we do not get onto the coach until we are reunited with Erin and Mr. Spot.” I didn’t want her to forget about our faithful dog.
“Erin and Mr. Spot,” she repeated. “I agree. We need to be reunited with all of our household.”
“I agree. Can you keep a clear head long enough to outwait the inn?” I said.
“You just watch me,” Carey said, her face calm and determined.
Together, in our right minds for the first time in what felt like ages, we finished breakfast.
“Your Grace,” Timoteus said, “the coach is here for you and Her Majesty.”
“Not so fast, Timoteus,” I said to him, “before we proceed with this charade, we want Erin and we also want Mr. Spot.”
“Your daughter is safe,” Timoteus told me. “She is being looked after by your retainer Spot.” He, like Titania, the ex-Faerie Queen, now the last Dragon Queen, thought of our dog as a servant rather than a pet. “And the kobolds,” he added when he saw me grimace.
“Not good enough,” I told him. “We want Erin and Spot before we go on with the mission, or game, if you like. Tell Goldemar to cough them up now. If the kobolds are watching our daughter, this should not be a problem. In any case, we are not going to willingly cooperate without them present.”
“And if it’s too dangerous for a small child?” He asked pointedly.
“Too dangerous? This is still our world if somewhat in the past.”
“Are you sure about that?” he countered.
“It matters not,” Carey said heatedly. “We are a family and we are not going to go anywhere without Erin.”
“And Mr. Spot, our mighty heart’s companion,” I added.
“And Mr. Spot,” Carey added, looking at me questioningly.
For Goldemar, I mouthed at her. Goldemar had called Spot, our Ridgeback, ‘Your mighty heart’s companion.’ I wanted to reinforce that notion. I wanted Goldemar to see how seriously we took those relationships. Goldemar thought of Spot as our faithful servant and retainer. I could play to that.
“The last thing we want is to be separated from our family, our household. We will function much more efficiently if we do not have to worry about Erin and Spot,” Carey insisted.
“I’ll see what I can do, Your Grace, Your Majesty, and by the way, I think it’s time to drop the titles. We’ll be out and about in your world and, from what I remember of it, you don’t have princes and dukes but some sort of crazy peasant rule. So, what should I call you?”
“Sir is fine, Timoteus. Bill in private, like you always do and Mr. Impollonia and sir in public.”
“Are you a knight, Sir William?”
“Not that kind of sir, the small ‘s’ sir. We use the small ‘sir’ for men of importance or any man of greater status or age then yourself. It’s a general title. You can use ‘ma’am’ for Carey.
“Now can you bring us our child and servant?” If you can’t fight them, join them. It might make a difference if they thought Spot were more than a pet and, to tell the truth, he was a big part of our family.
“Let me talk to Goldemar.”
Carey and I had a few tense minutes waiting for Timoteus to return. We looked at each other in silence. Carey worried. I was apprehensive Goldemar would not be able to deliver our daughter to us, that the inn would prevent it, and a host of other nightmare scenarios. My worst fear was the inn would outwait us leaving us to stew in this crazy backwater. I hoped the inn was as pressed for time as we were.
Five minutes passed and then ten and then fifteen more. We waited in silence. I wished for some sherry or better a stiff drink, Irish Whiskey or perhaps a brandy. I looked over to Carey; she was cool as a cucumber. So, we waited.
Finally, Timoteus came back.
“Goldemar says you charged him with looking after you and yours. He is doing that. Let him look after Spot and Erin,” Timoteus said. “This mission, Bill, Carey, is too dangerous for your daughter. The kobolds will look after them. Have no fear.”
“Not good enough,” Carey said simply and decisively. “I will not be parted from my child.”
“Send His Majesty Our compliments,” I told Timoteus, “and relay to him we have bested the overlay and are in our right minds. Tell him, ‘Thank you from us both but we need our family reunited.’”
Timoteus left to give Goldemar our message. Another half hour passed, and I had to pee, so I found and used the water closet.
Revolutionary, I chucked to myself. Compared with modern plumbing, this attempt at a flush toilet was quaint and it smelled. The inventors had left out the elbow in the pipes to trap water and keep the gases from escaping from the sewer. But, compared to a chamber pot, it was heaven.
That clinched it for me. This could not be our world or timeline. By the nineteenth century, traps were commonplace.
Perhaps I could introduce twentieth century plumbing technology into whatever time we landed in or invent it even.
I wondered what other mechanical marvels needed to be “invented”. A blender alone would make us rich. Hell, the closest stock market could make us rich and here I was about to go to New York City. A visit to Wall Street might be in order. It made my palms itch.
When I returned from the water closet, Carey still sat at the breakfast table but, now, she had Erin in her lap and Spot sitting next to her.
“We won,” said Carey.
“Goldemar came through?” I asked. There must be more at stake than just the human inn and the human universe. The inn acted with alacrity even if the waiting had dragged on my soul. Carey and I had called the inn’s bluff and won.
“Yes, sir. Like a charm.”
Just then, Henry, our crazy waiter from the inn, came walking into the room. He was dressed in a wild outfit. Not only did he have on tights, but he also had on a code piece and I swear his calves were padded to make them look more chiseled. He was dressed in a long braided Navy coat with brass buttons and under that a weskit with heavy embroidery and more brass buttons. His shirt had pronounced ruffles. At first, I thought he had a woman’s bonnet on his head, but it was an old English Navy Admirals hat redesigned for his tall, lanky form. It was more chandelier than hat. White gloves completed the ensemble. Henry looked comfortable but ridiculous.
“Found one,” Henry said to Carey, holding up the towel. “Boy, this is some dream I’m having. Get a load of these threads,” he said to the room at large. When he caught my eye, he winked at me. “Big place you have here, chief, but a little too flamboyant for my tastes. But I guess that’s what dreams are for.”
Henry walked over to Carey carrying a blanket and wrapped Erin in it. She cooed and gurgled, and the inn translated, “Take it easy with the merchandise, squire. Don’t wrinkle the threads.”
“Yes, sir, this is some wacky dream,” Henry said, lifting the baby to his shoulder. “But so long as my princess baby girl, her mommy, the queen, and boss-daddy are in it, it can’t be all bad.” He patted Erin on the back until she burped. “They must have beamed me up to the Mothership when I was sleeping. Either that or I took one too many sleeping pills last night.” He shook his head to clear it, but the cobwebs and his “dream” didn’t go away.
“Why is Henry here?” I asked Carey in a tight whisper.
“I think Goldemar thought we needed a nanny for Erin and grabbed him,” she replied.
“Who was that funny short man who came to visit Uncle Henry last night, dearest?” Henry said to Erin. “Is he part of this dream or is Uncle Henry dating circus freaks nowadays?” He paused as if listening to Erin, who obliged him with a burp, which the inn did not translate. Henry replied, “Oh no, dearest, Uncle Henry is not a funny uncle at all. He’s not even gay. He’s just a silly old queen who has silly dreams. Big, lavish, silly dreams.”
I turned to Carey and mouthed, “What the fuck?”
“You hired him,” Carey mouthed at me. I just nodded.
“Ready my sweet?” I asked Carey, out loud this time.
“Ready my husband,” she replied.
And Erin giggled and cooed, and the inn translated, “I’m goddamned hungry. Give me a bloody spot of lunch. How about some fish and chips, gov’nor?”
Carey grinned at her and gave Henry a wrapped package. Spotty whined. He was probably hungry too. I threw him a couple of hard rolls from the table and a large piece of fish. He gobbled them down.
“And what is with his outfit?” I asked Carey in a stage whisper. I needn’t have worried; Henry was humming to Erin, ignoring what was going on.
“Uncle Henry is a little hungry, too, my sweet,” Henry said to Erin. “How come Uncle Henry is hungry in a dream?”
“Goldemar said it was a livery befitting a Duke’s footman.”
“A very realistic dream with all the trimmings.”
I just nodded. It was hard concentrating with Henry prattling in the background.
Timoteus entered the room and intoned, “Your carriage awaits you, sir.”
“Could you pack us lunch for the trip, Timoteus?” I said to him.
“Who is that splendid elf in the beautiful old fashioned coat, Erin, my darling? Uncle Henry likes him. Do you like him princess?”
Erin cooed and thankfully the inn did not translate.
We all trotted out the massive front doors, including the elven footmen. It looked like the whole household was going and that household was growing stranger by the minute.
Outside, the air was warm, warmer than the house had been, fresh and perfumed with the scent of wild roses and thyme. A coach and four was parked on the gravel drive of our very impressive house. From the outside, it was even more clear that this could not be the Arms unless it was some alternate timeline, an alternate reality where the Arms was a gothic pile of stone. Carefully tended striped lawns stretch out on all sides of the house to the horizon where shadows of forests lurked in the mists.
The driveway ran in a great arc, encircling a gigantic tree that reminded me of an American Sycamore. The bark was mottled and pealing, the tree, a thundering giant, belonged in a primal forest, not decorating a gentleman’s drive.
My head spun. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore or even upstate New York. I walked slowly to the coach.
The coach was impressive. It was fancy for such a utilitarian conveyance. It had a crest on it with a large scripted KG in gold. Goldemar’s personal long distance ride. Four white and spirited horses were harnessed to the coach. It had a plush interior and large springs for a smoother ride. However, we never got to test it.
We piled into the coach, it was a tight fit and then nothing happened. Goldemar himself opened the opposite door on the coach and bade us to exit.
“We haven’t gone anywhere, Cousin,” I said to him.
“We’re here, Cousin,” he replied and again asked us to alight from the coach. I did and handed the women down. I stayed to help Henry negotiate the steps with baby in hand. Timoteus jumped down from the back of the coach but the elven footmen stayed on.
We were now indeed out of the country and in a city. It wasn’t the Manhattan of my youth, but it might have been the Manhattan of my great grandfather’s. The air was warm with a slight nip. Indian Summer in the City. A mild fall was on its way.
“Please hire us appropriate lodging, Timoteus,” I told him. I looked around. The coach, with Goldemar driving, raced down the street and turned right where no right turn existed and grew smaller until it disappeared.
“And on till morning,” I whispered.
“Yes, Your,” he started and then finished, “sir.”
“Now where did you say this meeting was to take place?”
He pointed to an impressive shop with a large gilt sign reading Vanderbilt Custom Tailors and a smaller sign promising a “Bespoke Tailor”.
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES.