The Exchange

Step By Step

 

The Do’s Series: Segment 11

 

© Grandpa Jim

 

 

Ms. Hoadie Ilsalund Carmichael holds a small bouquet of poppies. She lifts her head to the girl with the chestnut hair, long dark eyelashes and piercing gray eyes. “What have you to offer?” Ms. Hoadie asks.

“For the flowers?” NewFound’s tone is quizzical. “They are pretty, but they are not what I . . .” She glances to Truss at her right and then to DawnRunner and TidBit on her left “. . . what we seek.”

“What if the poppies may offer that which you all long for?” The nurse’s eyes move from NewFound to Truss, across to DawnRunner and stop on TidBit.

“Do you know what that is?” NewFound asks the nurse.

Ms. Hoadie’s gaze drifts back to focus on the brownhaired SandRunner. “There is always something more about what we see,” Ms. Hoadie says. “Some radiance that refuses to be called ‘data’, something more which actually makes it worth anything at all.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ms. Hoadie sets the bouquet on the table. “LoveJoy KickStart, what you seek is only part technology.”

HirschTruss drops his mouth at the mention of the name, jerks his head to the girl he thought was NewFound and blurts, “You are her!”

“Really, Prince Lohengrin.” The nurse crinkles her nose at the swordguard. “You didn’t know?”

“Prince Lohengrin!!” DawnRunner and TidBit exclaim together.

“There.” Ms. Hoadie’s laughter sparkles with amusement. “We have cleared the air.” She touches LoveJoy’s hand. “Now, child, to the exchange. What have you to offer?”

“Yes. . . . But.” LoveJoy turns to Truss. “Lohengrin? Prince Lohengrin?”

“Yes. . . . But ‘Truss’ is also my name. My mother called me Truss when I was boy. That was a long time ago and no one uses the name any more so we thought it would. . . .” He stops when he sees the look on LoveJoy’s face.

“You sought me?” she asks in a low voice.

“I found you.”

“Why?” A sad hopefulness echoes in the question.

“To help.”

“Don’t blame Truss,” the Mouse interjects. “I mean Lohengrin. . . . Whoever. It was I who found you and your friend. It’s not the swordguard’s fault, M’Lady. He hasn’t been himself since you two met.” TidBit steps forward. “I take full responsibility for his actions, royal or otherwise. And more, for you, I offer my help.” The TruthSeeker StealthMouse waves his hand in an overdone flourish and bows deeply almost bumping his head on the ground.

The FarWay maiden’s eyes brighten. A smile forms on her lips. “Thank you, Sir GoodMouse.” LoveJoy curtsies politely to Tidbit. “Your help and your service I do accept and am the more grateful for.”

TidBit straightens, a blush rising through his deep tan.

DawnRunner nudges LoveJoy, glancing to the nurse who has been watching the scene with obvious enjoyment, nodding for KickStart to continue with the exchange.

LoveJoy reaches into the belt pouch of her sandsuit and retrieves a yellowed slip of paper. She hands the note to the nurse.

Ms. Hoadie unfolds the brittle parchment, scans the few words and runs a finger down the column of neatly inscribed figures.

“Will these do?” LoveJoy asks. “For the flowers? Will this make the exchange?”

“I do love the name of your bank — ‘The Large Place of Tight Sums.’ Only a dwarf. You do well by them, and they do well for you. These deposits sum to a princely total.” The nurse shakes her head. “But this exchange may not be made for monies alone, no matter that the coins be the valued Mr. BoJangles. Something more is required.”

“But you knew? You knew I bartered all I had for the macaroni, because I did not have enough then to make this trade.”

“I did know.”

“I went to the dwarves to acquire the additional funds. So I could return here to you.” Desperation tinges LoveJoy’s words. “My Father and my FarWay clanfriends are held by the Dark Count.”

At the mention of the Count, TidBit leans closer and touches a hand to his sidedagger.

“LoveJoy,” the nurse says. “I know all that you say.”

“Please, Ms. Hoadie,” LoveJoy pleads. “Can you help us?”

“I can, my dear. But more is demanded. Treasure freegiven beyond what you offer is required for the exchange.”

“If it’s money, I can. . . .” Prince Lohengrin begins and is waved to silence by the nurse who turns her head to the Mouse.

TidBit McIntyre takes a deep breath, lifts a leather pouch from the folds of his shirt, steps forward and hands the packet to LoveJoy. “We share a common foe, M’Lady. The Dark Count reached to FarWay and took your clanfamily. He burned the Low Hills and took my people.” The Mouse steps back and nods to the nurse who returns the gesture.

Slowly pulling the drawstrings open, LoveJoy lifts the soft leather pouch to free the contents. A round globe rolls into the girl’s cupped hand.

DawnRunner gasps. “StarShine of SeedStone!” The SandRunner’s gaze is fixed on the gem. “I have heard. Never seen. This is the prize of the dangersands of the deepdesert where few dare to tread and fewer still return.”

LoveJoy slowly moves her fingers over the stone. Responding, the gemstone pulses and throbs with life and energy. Swirls of bright color rise and flow across the milky white surface. Bursts of rainbow light jump outward in warm waves that expand and contract as a living thing. Coalescing in a swirling mist, the growing vortex surrounds and lingers on the FarWay girl, lifts and spreads among the others. Their gathering space fills with a twinkling haze of hue and touch, unsung song and unseen motion, mesmerizing and captivating with an unnamed joy that holds each afloat in his or her own thoughts.

Nurse Hoadie spreads her hand over the globe.

With an inaudible “Snap” the colors cease.

The others gaze blankly in lost wonderment.

The nurse moves quickly. She slips the gem back inside the bag and sets the pouch in the girl’s hand. “The seedstone knows you, LoveJoy KickStart.” Ms. Hoadie’s tone holds guarded amazement. “This is a strange turn.” Ilsalund turns to the Mouse. “TidBit McIntyre, you have surprised me. I wonder from where beneath the starry skies you were able to retrieve such a treasure.” The Mouse sheepishly lowers his eyes. “No matter. This is a great gift you have received, Ms. LoveJoy.”

“And I thank TidBit again for his service and his help.” LoveJoy steps across, bends and kisses the Mouse on the top of his head. He blushes even more than before. “You are truly a TruthSeeker StealthMouse,” she says softly.

“And a stealthmouse quickflash.” DawnRunner flashes an admiring smile at the Mouse.

The nurse’s laugh is true. “Yes, well done, Sir Mouse. And, I hope, soon to be well taken.”

“Is it enough, Ms. Hoadie?” LoveJoy extends the pouch to the nurse who receives it with a nod. “It must be, mustn’t it?”

“Let us see.” Ilsalund Carmichael takes the bouquet of poppies from the table. She hands these to LoveJoy. “Lift high the flowers, above your head. Yes, like that. With both hands. Hold them there and watch. Wait and watch.”

All eyes, including Ms. Hoadie’s, are on the bouquet in LoveJoy’s hands.

In the air, a billowing cloak appears. It spins to reveal a female form in a sparkling white dress. Translucent strands of waving hair cloud the attractive squinting face. Bending toward the FarWay maiden, the apparition reaches a ghost-like hand to the little bundle of flowers. Long thin fingers open. A small clear cylinder floats down and settles among the blooms. Opening her mouth in a soundless laugh, the Vila twists in her cloak and is gone. A soft morning breeze rustles the petals in LoveJoy’s bouquet.

“Myrtha. Our queen,” Ms. Hoadie adds with a tight smile. “She tends to the dramatic. Now, young lady, let’s see what information you have for the exchange. Go ahead. What is in the poppies?”

Lovejoy lowers the bouquet and stares among the blooms. She lifts the cylinder. “Something is in this. See, there inside. What is it?”

“That, my child, is for the dwarf craftsman of TopHouse. I see by your reaction, Prince Lohengrin, you know where the young lady needs to take this exchange. Few of this New Age, other than the OverMountain dwarves, would know what to do with the thumbdrive.”

“Thumbdrive?” Truss asks.

“Who knows what programming Myrtha has coded into the device? Despite her otherworldly appearance, she is something of a geek. You can be sure it will help. Once you understand what it is and how to apply it. Which means, Prince Lohengrin, you must get this maiden to the engineers of the Deep. And, you must do so quickly.”

“Why quickly?” Truss’s eyes narrow.

“Because you are being followed.”

“By whom, good nurse?” TidBit touches his forehead in salute.

“By those you worry of, good Mouse. The BentOnes have spies at the fair. Those misshapen servants of the Count are near. They will not be long in pursuit of you all.”

“How have they reached here so quickly?” Truss lifts and looks about.

“They have their ways, Sword of Schwangau. They have their ways.”

“Then we go for our travelpacks and are away to the BlindDesert.” DawnRunner moves to LoveJoy.

“That is expected,” the nurse cautions. “The approaches to the sands will be closely watched, as will the northsouth tradeway. You must go by another path. Sam has prepared travelbags and ponies. They are near. I can conceal your departure for a short while, but you must take the east tradeway to OverMountain. It is rugged, little traveled and more difficult to monitor.”

“But won’t that be expected, too?” Truss gazes off in thought.

“You know of another route, young swordguard from Schwangau?” Ms. Hoadie is curious.

“TidBit, can you guide us crosscountry to the ruins?”

“Yes, certainly. But, Truss, from that place there is no other path up OverMountain but the tradeway.”

“We will not go ‘up’.”

“How will you go?” The nurse asks.

“We have our ways, Ms. Hoadie Ilsalund Carmichael. We have our ways.”

“Touché.” The nurse bows to Prince Lohengrin. “Your mentor has taught you well.” She surveys the Company of Four: HirschTruss, LoveJoy, DawnRunner and TidBit. “It is time that you begin.” Ms. Hoadie steps to LoveJoy and places her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Hold safe the thumbdrive, FarWay girl. May this prize bring to you what you seek and wish so hard to find.” Ilsalund Carmichael looks with fondness to the Mouse and blond SandRunner. “True companions are gifts more valuable than the most prized of gemstone. Guard your travelmates and yourselves for me, dear friends.” Glancing to Truss, the nurse laughs. “And may you, young swordguard, not meet an impasse you cannot best. Or, at least, finesse.” Ms. Hoadie points to the east. “Your way is set, your company met, your future yet. Good travels, safe passage, and may the graces grant one day we meet again.” With that the pretty nurse spins in her blue robe and is gone.

“May we truly meet again, fair Lady,” the Mouse sighs. LoveJoy and DawnRunner each rest a hand on Tidbit’s shoulders. After some moments, Truss coughs. The three turn to the SchirmerShutzen who lifts his swordhand in gesture for the company to follow Sam to the ponies and their way east.