The Flight of the Swan
The Do’s Series: Segment 18
© Grandpa Jim
“Do you have the macaroni?”
RhineHold HuffSpot stands in the light of the open doorway and stares up at the tall caped figure. A thin sharp nose points out from under the dripping hood. Two beady eyes glare down at the dwarflord through the night mists of the dark tree forest. A long bony hand pushes a shepherd’s staff closer to the door.
“Who are you?” RhineHold’s voice is firm.
The answering laugh is a hollow dry echo. “My name is MirrorPuddle,” the stranger rasps.
The masterdwarf lifts his chin. “What are you?”
“I, dwarf doorkeeper, am a Waptilian Raik from the Circle Hills.”
“That is a farplace. Beyond OverMountain and above Schwangau. A farplace.”
“You know your New Days geography well, dwarf delayer. It is a far place.”
“How did you come here?”
“I travel quickly, short questioner. On the wind. Or so they say.”
RhineHold steps back, poised to slam shut the door. “Who sends you?” the dwarf demands.
“Minnesinger Hitbolt.” The Raik taps a side pocket of his cape. “I have his letter here. Would you see it? Or should I tell him there is little hospitality left at dwarfhome in the greenlands?”
A puzzled expression crosses the dwarf’s face. He hesitates, pushes the door open, turns and walks down the hall. “Follow me,” he calls back.
* * *
“I hope you enjoyed the food? This is a favorite place of mine along the banks of the Schwansee. These restaurants in the lower village of Hohenschwangau are supposed to be the best in the region.”
“Thank you, Minnesinger.” LoveJoy smiles across at HitBolt where he sits next to DawnRunner on the balcony table overlooking the lake. She glances up at the bright blue sky and then over the balustrade to the crystal clear waters of the Schwansee. “The location is enviable and the food excellent.”
“In all my travels, I have not had sausages, schnitzel, sauerkraut and spoetzle to match those of this most renown kitchen.” TidBit rubs his stomach.
“And you only had three helpings of each.” DawnRunner smiles across at the Mouse where he sits next to LoveJoy.
“Well spoken, pretty SandRunner.” He flashes a smile to her in return. “Well spoken and well and pleasantly seen, as you always are.”
A blush crosses the desert girl’s cheeks.
The Minnesinger turns to LoveJoy. “Did you enjoy the journey from OverMountain?”
“The vistas from the heights were extraordinary.” The FarWay girl lifts her glass to the distant hills and the white-topped peaks beyond.
“Though the way down was quite steep,” DawnRunner adds.
“And the travel food of no comparison to this of Hohenschwangau.” TidBit licks his lips. “I must say again that the gravied turnipped yamlicks were. . . .”
“Schwangau and the Schwansee are beautiful.” LoveJoy interrupts the Mouse. “DeepDelve HuffSpot insisted we come for your advice, Minnesinger HitBolt. Your company and your attentions are much appreciated.”
“Your efforts to reach us and your past trials are much appreciated.” HitBolt makes eye contact with each of the company as he continues to speak. “All of your trials. It is so very good to have you here. And I am so glad you enjoy the food.”
TidBit raises a hand. “I did wonder, though, if there might be a small dessert? The overtrip was a long space with camp provisions alone. This repast has been a most welcome reprieve. A sweettreat would make for a perfect ending to a perfect feast.”
“Well spoken, Sir Mouse.” HitBolt raises a hand and motions to the waitstaff. “Your wish will soon be granted. The sweetcart approaches.”
With a flourish, the smiling waiter in a starched white apron swings the cart around and waives an invitation to the table to make their choices of the assorted cakes and pasties.
“If I may.” The Minnesinger points to a mounded heap of glistening delight. “This molded puddcake with redberry topflight is the specialty of the house.” In addition, I recommend at least a small portion of the creamachoamochachoa here and, of course, the carmeljeweled topdown tort beside it is a mouthzinger. And don’t miss the sneezeswirlies over there and the tiny mousseflambeaus hiding behind them.” He takes a breath. “For starters. There’s no rush. You must try some of each.”
“Well spoken.” TidBit leans forward. “Our two beautiful sandladies first. Then Lord HitBolt. I will take what’s left.”
“You certainly may and I believe you might.” The Minnesinger addresses the Mouse.
LoveJoy gestures to and is handed a plate of puddcake. “My, the portions are quite generous.” She dips, lifts and savors a heaping spoonful. A contentful look settles in place on her face.
The others join her in ordering, tasting, sharing and pointing for more.
After some long minutes, TidBit sets his fork down. “You are a kingly host, Minnesinger HitBolt.” The Mouse runs his tongue over his lips. “And a princely advisor.”
LoveJoy sighs and turns her head to the sun-spattered surface of the lake.
Lifting his green-capped head, HitBolt follows LoveJoy’s gaze. “What do you see, Ms. LoveJoy?”
“A flight of swan on the mirror of the Schwansee.” She raises her head to the sky. “See where they fly above us.” LoveJoy lowers her chin and stares off. “And there.” She points. “Their refection is caught on the surface of the water.”
“I see them, M’Lady.” The Minnesinger lowers his voice. “But what else do you see?”
* * *
“Behold the vatholds!” Sir Richard lifts his hand.
The vast caveroom is filled with bright shiny rectangular containers connected with pipes and colorful wires that trace across the smooth rocky floor and are gathered and funneled through holes in the far wall. Lights hang from twisted cords extending down from conduits attached to the surface of the ceiling far above.
“Here, cousin.” Sir Richard invites Prince Lohengrin to approach the closest container. “Perhaps you know this one?”
HirschTruss stumbles forward. The young man’s complexion is pasty white and his shoulders are stooped.
“I am sorry.” The Count pouts. “Perhaps we woke you too soon from your nap. I must say you haven’t been very good company and not the least cooperative.”
“I have nothing to say to you.” Truss coughs and raises a hand to his mouth. “You will learn nothing from me.”
“Then you will learn from me.” Sir Richard shifts his gaze to the open container.
A naked body floats in a viscous liquid. Small bubbles creep around the edges of the skin, break free and rise to the surface. The eyes are closed and the mouth tight shut. A bundle of small wires extends from one side of the box to the back of the head, where they enter a connection inserted through the skin.
“Notice the skin color.” Sir Richard lifts his hand from the edge of the container. “Pink and healthy. Muscle tone and reflexology are amazing. It might be said that this person is healthier than when he was alive.”
“Is he dead?” Truss’s voice is tight and controlled.
“Not at all. He’s quite at work. And for work, you need a healthy body.”
“He’s not working.”
“I am sorry that he does not appear to be more animated, but you are completely wrong, my princely cousin. This person has two forms. The one you see. Which, by the way, looks better than you do. And the dark particled one that is hard at work in the East Desert. Or somewhere else doing what I direct.”
“He’s a SCRUMP.”
“Precisely. So Cleverly Remade Under My Powers. ‘SCRUMP’. It is such a joy to share that acronym with someone other than a fawning underservant.”
“You are a monster.”
“Be careful with your name calling. We are related.”
“Someday, cousin.” HirschTruss draws himself up. “Someday, you will be alone. Without servants or slaves. On that day, will there be anyone to show you mercy?”
“You may be a worthy relative. I applaud your perceptiveness. It is mercy to fear, not sacrifice. Sacrifice is a dime a martyr. Is it that hard to give for someone or something, a cause or a person? No, it happens all the time. To forgive? Now that is another matter. Is it better to give for or to forgive? That is the question.”
“You are mad.”
“Am I? Who said: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’? Check your sources, cousin. It is mercy that can pierce evil. And, hold on, my troubled relation, here comes another very big thought: Is it mercy that can redeem evil?”
“Who would show you mercy?”
“That is yet to be seen, but I think we both know who the girl may be?” Sir Richard signals to the brownone technicians in their white lab coats standing behind HirschTruss.
“No, she would never. . . .” Truss begins. The needle slides into his arm. As the Prince goes limp, the technicians lower the body onto a wheeled cart.
“Take this one to his new home.” Sir Richard watches the underlings as they roll HirschTruss away. “Now we shall see who the real monster is. I look forward to meeting with you again, cousin, when you are in your new form.”
* * *
“I don’t know,” LoveJoy answers HitBolt. “It’s Truss. I can. . . .”
At that moment, her eyes open wide and she stares at the reflections gliding across the water. In her sight, a swan breaks from the others, falls from the sky and disappears beneath the surface of the Schwansee.
“NO!” she screams and buries her face in her hands. “No,” she mumbles. “I could feel him as I did my father.” She drops her hands and lifts her tearstained face to the sky. “Now he is gone They are both gone.”