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Episode Four: Dimrill Dale

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“Hello? Flying Dragon Associates, Bermuda Triangle branch.”

“Hello, Douglas. How much I have missed your charming banter.”

“We aim to please. And how can MJN Air assist your Serene Highness? Have you mislaid a Grand Duke amid the fleshpots of Atlantic City? Can we arrange a Royal safari to view les bears polaires of Qikiqtarjuaq?”

“Thank you, but I only need Martin. He is on board, isn’t he?”

“Due to EASA’s pettifogging insistence that two is the minimum number of pilots required to direct a flying metal tube across several thousand miles of open ocean, he is. Regrettably, as Sylvia’s mother observed on a not dissimilar occasion, he’s too busy to come to the phone. In fact, he’s currently engaged in tracking down a lemon hidden in plain sight somewhere in the main cabin. It might be more accurate than kind to describe his searches, to date, as fruitless.”

“Poor Martin. He does so hate losing at Travelling Lemon.”

“Well, the solution would appear obvious. The moment he brings me in his hand that demmed elusive pièce de citron will be the end of his lemon-related humiliations. Until then, alas –”

“Amusing as this has been, I should perhaps leave you to your parlour games. But please let Martin know I called. Again.”


“So was that Theresa?”

“Indeed it was. I detected a degree of froideur in her manner, but I think I managed to convince her your negligence in responding to her calls was due entirely to your devotion to sporting pursuits, viz.Travelling Lemon, rather than to your having bolted from the cockpit like a startled rabbit the moment the satcomm buzzed.”

Travelling Lemon? Oh, Douglas, why did you tell her that? She must know we only play Travelling Lemon on passenger flights. Oh, God. Suppose someone tells her this is a cargo trip? Then she’ll start wondering why you lied to her; she’ll ask me; I’ll not know what to say and it’ll all go hideously wrong. Again.”

“I can’t imagine the Liechtenstein Secret Service are feeding her moment-by-moment information about GERTI’s schedule, but if it worries you that much, there’s an easy way to pre-empt the problem.”

“How?”

“Simple. Call her. Apologise for missing her message, and explain you were taking advantage of a dull passenger-free trip to get in a bit of much-needed net practice at the hallowed sport of pilots, viz. Travelling Lemon.”

“Call? But then I’d have to talk to her.”

“An unorthodox use of the technology, I admit. Nevertheless, Alexander Graham Bell may have dropped it into one of the minor claims of his patent, on the off-chance it might come in handy.”

“But what am I going to say? I know advice columnists tell you the very worst thing in a relationship is keeping secrets from each other, but Douglas, in your experience, do you think that’s really true?”

“Think of it this way. Most people forced onto a cliff edge will tell you it’s heights they’re afraid of. But if you examine their protestations more closely, you’ll find it’s bottoms that scare the proverbial out of them. Keeping secrets isn’t where the trouble lies. It’s when the other party finds out you’ve been doing it. That, to be perfectly frank, is hell.”

“But how on earth do I explain to Teresa that– that– ”

“That you spent the last few weeks as a fire-breathing dragon? Tricky, undoubtedly. Well above the level of Tai Chi instructor relationship confidences, certainly.”

“She’s either going to think I’m lying to her, in which case I lose my girlfriend, or that I’m mad, in which case I lose my pilot’s licence.”

“She might accept you’re telling the truth.”

“To be honest, Douglas, half the time I’m not sure I know the truth. And I was there. At least, I thought I was at the time.”

“Oddly enough, Martin, for once I know exactly what you mean. When we land, perhaps we should –”

(Bing-bong.)

“Gentlemen, I neither know nor care what juvenile antics you are currently amusing yourselves with up at the pointy end. All I ask is that you excuse my son from them, and send him back here pronto. These Admiral’s Pies aren’t going to microwave themselves.”

“Arthur? Carolyn, we haven’t seen him for hours. I thought he was in the main cabin with you.”

“Not in the main cabin, not in the galley, not in the loo. So, Martin, whatever scheme you three are hatching up front, the jig is very definitely up. Send Arthur back here, or I shall come and extricate him myself.”

"But Carolyn, honestly –

(Bing-bong)

“Douglas, you can’t just cut the comm on her. She’s going to be furious.”

“Compared to our disappearing Arthur, it’s the least of our problems. As any aficionado of Travelling Lemon knows, GERTI is not over-supplied with hiding places, and Arthur, I’ll remind you, is a great deal larger than a lemon.”

“If not necessarily more intelligent.”

“As you say. In any game of hide-and-seek between him and Carolyn, Carolyn would definitely be top seed. Yet she can’t find him in the back end of the plane, and we know he’s not up here. As Sherlock Holmes said, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible –’ ”

“Arthur vanishing from a plane in mid-flight is impossible.”

Is it? Compared, say, to having an entire magical world inside one’s cockpit locker? Also, speaking of the impossible, as per our instruments we’re currently passing over the Florida panhandle, a low-lying region famous for its mangrove swamps. But take a quick shufti through that break in the clouds below us, and tell me what you see.”

“Douglas! Where the hell did that mountain range come from?”

“Does it matter? Especially since – despite our instruments’ cheery insistence to the contrary – we’re losing height. A lot of height, judging by how much bigger those snow-capped peaks look compared to a second ago.”

“Oh. Oh God. It’s happening again, isn’t it? Douglas, what are we going to do?”

“Two things, for a start.”

(Bing-bong.)

“Carolyn, Arthur: Brace. And Arthur, wherever you are, take It off. Now!”


“When I catch up with that lion, I’m going to have him stuffed and mounted.”

“You think we’re back in Narnia, Carolyn?”

“Where else could we be? Mountains materialising out of nowhere and a handy alpine meadow the right size to land in, but just the wrong size to take off again? It’s got Aslan’s ginormous paw prints all over it.”

“In which case, the sooner we get out and find what he wants, the better.”

“Mum, does this mean I get to use the slidey-chute thing? We haven’t done that since Ipswich, and even then it was only a pretend one, not a proper one.”

“Regrettably, no, Arthur. GERTI has no slidey-chute. GERTI needs no slidey-chute. She’s small enough to make it perfectly feasible to open the doors and precipiate ourselves bodily onto whatever lies below. Carolyn, why on earth are you diving to the depths of your shoe-soles into that storage bin?”

“I’ve not forgotten starving on the Narnian high seas. Before leaving GERTI, I propose to leave no locker unlocked or cupboard unexamined. If it looks vaguely useful, I’m having it. Also, Douglas, if you have any edible contraband stashed aboard, I recommend you liquidate it now. By way of encouragement, I might be prepared to consider a small honorarium to reflect your sacrifice should we return to regions where the pound sterling passes current.”

“Shovelling it into my knapsack even as we speak. Along with a few bottles of water, and the entire plane’s stock of trail mix and dried fruit.”

“So, what do you want me to salvage?”

“Well, Martin, I’d definitely include blankets. It’s going to be cold out there. Oh, and grab the first-aid kit, while you’re at it.”

“Islay malt, yes. Vodka, yes. 25 Montecristo ’A’s – good grief, you must have been there since Gordon’s time. I’m certainly having you. Barter if nothing else. Chocolate –”

“Watch out, GERTI’s starting to tilt. Throw everything you’ve got into this duffle bag and let’s go. Martin: doors to manual!”


“Well, that dematerialised quickly.”

“Skinning’s too good for that beast! Aslan’s managed what Gordon’s been trying for years. He’s gone and nicked GERTI.”

“At any rate, he’s shifted the old girl into a dimension not accessible to us.”

“Don’t stand there looking all nonchalant about it. We need to start doing things.”

“Which – ah – things?”

“You know: things! Douglas, you’re a pilot. You’ve read the manual.”

“Read, yes. Learned, no. I leave that to you, Martin. Suppose I recap, to assist your recall. Random intervention of supernatural moutain range on routine flight to Florida; check. Identify probable cause as Aslan, not a tame lion, check. Emergency landing in unexpected location not part of the known cosmos; check. Subsequent dematerialisation of plane, check. Given those circumstances, what does the manual in its infinite wisdom suggest?”

“Um. Well, we’ve clearly had to carry out an emergency landing in a mountainous and remote location. That’s covered by section thirty-six (a)(iv).”

“Mountainous. Remote. Pray continue.”

“Survivors should be treated for shock and got under cover as soon as possible.”

“In that case, I suggest we head downhill towards that forest. My Air England survival training may be a bit rusty, but I think I can still recall how to construct a bivouac. Also, we may not have much by way of emergency provisions, but I saw Carolyn throw at least two bags of marshmallows into our grab-bag. Half an hour from now we could have marshmallows toasting over an open fire. The manual says heat and sugar are sovereign remedies for shock, aren’t they, Martin?”

“They certainly are. Make it so, Number One.”

“Brilliant!”


“Quick! Under cover of these red rocks.”

“Martin, if you’re trying to show me fear in a handful of dust, I can assure you I spotted quite enough abject terror to satisfy my every need when we tripped over a dead goblin and then nearly blundered into a battlefield.”

“It’s not a battlefield. It’s one man and a child trying to fight off about a hundred goblins. We can’t just leave them to it. We’ve got to help.”

“Martin’s right, Mum.”

“Shut up, Arthur. None of us have any fighting experience –”

“We most certainly do. We won the battle of Beruna.”

“Technically speaking, yes. But while I hate to use the phrase ‘You and whose army?’ at that time not only did we have the serried ranks of Narnia at our backs –”

“Chest, Douglas, in your case, equally technically.”

“As I said, not only did we have an army at our backs, you had teeth like razors, claws like meat hooks and a skin approximately four times as tough as an elephant’s. By way of contrast, at this precise moment you’re a short bloke in a hat. An unarmed short bloke in a hat.”

“At least it’s a hat that fits me. As for weapons, that dead goblin was armed to the teeth. He doesn’t need his sword any more. Anyway, I’m going to fight. You lot can make your own minds up.”


Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!

“Good grief, where did he spring from?”

“To be perfectly honest, Carolyn, provided he keeps swinging his axe like that, I don’t care. As a veteran of Narnian warfare, nothing makes me happier than having a pissed-off dwarf between me and the enemy. Oh, nice stroke! And another! Well played, sir!”

“I only wish Martin were half that competent. Oh, you idiot! There’s one behind you – oh, thank God, he seems to have tripped over his own feet. And there’s another one gone. Good grief, what’s happening to those goblins? They’re going down like ninepins.”

“So they are. Almost as if some invisible person were crawling about the field sticking branches between their legs. Good job Martin doesn’t seem to have any scruples about finishing them off while they’re on the floor, either. Seems there really is something about that old saying: Once a dragon in Narnia, always a dragon. I’d never have thought he had it in him.”

“Douglas, where’s Arthur vanished to? I can’t see him anywhere. If those horrible goblins have tried to kidnap him for their own devices, they’ll have me to deal with. Chuck me that goblin’s mattock thing. I may know nothing about swordplay, but when it comes to rooting up rhododendron bushes I am a past master. Monty Don! Extreme gardening! Die, suckers, die!”

“If you’re going in, it leaves me no option. Once more into the breach, dear friends! A Douglas, a Douglas!”


“Thank you, friends. They say the unexpected guest oft proves the most welcome, and so we have seen today. They call me Thorongil: may I know your names?”

“Gimli, son of Glóin, at your service.”

“And your companions?”

“They’re no companions of mine, laddie. Never met them before today. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t delighted to see them when I did. I don’t doubt that you and me would have managed to polish off these orcs between us – that was some very pretty swordplay – but never let it be said I’m not the man to share when it comes to orc necks for the hewing.”

“Douglas Richardson. This is Martin Crieff, this is Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, and we should also have an Arthur Shappey around somewhere –”

“I’m right here, Douglas.”

“And so you are. Arthur Shappey, the unexpectedly slippery.”

“I can avoid being seen if I wish. But to disappear entirely: that is a rare gift, my friend.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s like juggling an apple, or crazy golf. People just have a knack for different things. Like you and sword-fighting. You’re really, really good at that. We were awfully worried about you and your little boy, but I think you’d have saved him from the goblins even if we hadn’t arrived.”

“I’m not a little boy, thank you very much. I’m a hobbit. Primula Brandybuck at your service. And, for your information, I am forty-three years old, and engaged to be married.”

“Well, my advice is: take your time and don’t rush into things. Have you managed to work out yet if he’s an inveterate snorer, an irredeemable duvet stealer, intolerable before he’s had his coffee and unspeakable afterwards?”

“Clearly, you are a lady long experienced in the ways of husbands. I look forward to talking with you. I am sure I shall find it extremely educational.”

“But not here. By nightfall this place will be swarming with orcs. We must reach the woods of Lothlorien. Come on. Run!”


“This space is well guarded; we may rest here for the night. I shall even risk a fire, though we must cut no living wood.”

“So, Thorongil. Given we have a pause for rest and refreshment – may I pass you the bottle? – suppose you tell us why you and the hobbit are travelling in this land?”

“Thank you. Your good health. The liquors of your land are strange, but possess both fire and flavour.”

“That they have, laddie. Pass the bottle in this direction when you’ve finished. More than passable. We’ve few draughts this good even in Erebor.”

"If you want to hear my story, you can have it when you’ve topped up my glass. Thank you. Well, as I told you, I’m engaged to be married. To Drogo Baggins. I’ve been in love with him since we were tweens – lots of the girls are, he’s terrifically eligible: well-off and good looking and all that – but it took a long time to convince him he was in love with me. But I couldn’t have been happier when he proposed. And then the dreams began.

“First we were in a small boat on the river in the moonlight: just me and Drogo. The night was still and the water calm, but all at once a scrawny arm reached up from the deeps and grabbed the boat’s gunwale. As we crashed into the water, a bony hand caught me by the throat and held me under the surface until I drowned. Somehow – in the dream – I knew the monster had caught Drogo, too, and we were both doomed.”

“Urgh! That sounds horrible.”

“It was. And the worst thing, somehow, was the noise that thing made all the time it was murdering us – a horrible noise deep in its throat, like a cat coughing up a furball.”

“How – unexpected. Was that the only dream you had?”

“No. I dreamt we had a son – a delight, of course, save that I saw him suffer, over and over: by spider sting, and poisoned blade, and through endless treks across barren hills. I had to watch it all, and couldn’t do a thing to help. And the horrible creature making the throaty noises followed him all the way. That was the worst bit.”

“I suppose everyone you spoke to told you it was nothing but normal pre-wedding ‘jitters’, did they?”

“Yes! But how did you –?”

“How do you expect? The dreams I had when I was first engaged to Gordon were like Game of Thrones minus the feel-good factor. So your sub-conscious was attempting to kick some sense into you and everyone else around you conspired to tell you to ignore it. Typical. Over here with that Lagavulin. Thank you. So what did you do then?”

“Eventually, I went to my cousin Bilbo.”

“Lassie, you surely can’t mean your cousin is Bilbo Baggins, hero of the battle of the Five Armies and Companion of King Thorin Oakenshield?”

“The Shire’s not a big place. Everyone’s everyone else’s cousin. Though Bilbo’s actually quite a close cousin. My mother was the youngest of the old Took’s daughters, and his was the eldest. That’s probably where he gets it from because Bagginses are normally terribly dull and respectable. It was a frightful scandal when Bilbo went off adventuring when I was little.”

“And here you are wondering why the thought of marrying into this family is giving you nightmares. So what did your unusually-interesting-for-a-Baggins cousin Bilbo suggest?”

“He said that the only person he knew who might be able to interpret my dreams lived somewhere called Rivendell, and we had to go off to find him immediately. So I wrote a letter to Drogo explaining that I was going on an Adventure – he was over at Michael Delving, staying with the Whitfoots – and we set out at dawn. ”

“Didn’t you expect your fiancé would have something to say about you rushing off into the blue with another man – I mean, hobbit? Bilbo may be your cousin, but he seems to be dashing, and decisive and even if perhaps he isn’t as well off as your fiancé –”

“Oh, Bilbo’s much richer than Drogo. Nearly as rich as Daddy, I expect. No hordes of relations sponging off him for six meals a day, for one thing. But no-one would think anything like that about me going on an Adventure with Bilbo. If he’d taken Drogo, maybe, but certainly not me.”

“Ah! That Bilbo Baggins: known as ‘Absolutely Safe in Wagons’ to every maiden from the Lonely Mountain to the harbours of Ered Luin.”

“You seem to know this land well, Douglas Richardson.”

“I studied its lore in my youth, Master Ara- Thorongil. Though I believe I barely scratched its surface. Hopefully Mistress Primula will enlighten me further.”

“Well, two nights out from the Shire we arrived at the Prancing Pony in Bree. After dinner, we were invited down to meet the company in the public room. They welcomed us warmly and I begged Bilbo not to give a speech.”

“You wasted your breath, lassie. My father told me that if there’s one thing Bilbo liked more than his dinner, it was making a speech after it. Did he include a song, by any chance?”

“A song and a dance. That was his downfall. He climbed onto the table to demonstrate the Springle-Ring, but just at the crucial moment he trod on a discarded artichoke.”

“Oh. Dear.”

“I’m afraid so. When we pulled him out of the hearth – fortunately, it’s been a hot summer, so the fire wasn’t lit – it turned out his leg was broken. Quite a clean break and luckily Thorongil was there, and he’s really good at first aid, but Bilbo’s stuck at the Prancing Pony until it mends, and I can’t simply sit there and wait for that. But Bilbo’s known Thorongil since forever –”

“I lived in Rivendell as a boy, and he tarried there on his return from Erebor. From his lips, I heard a first-hand account of the Battle of the Five Armies.”

“To say nothing of the Eagle Force. It would have been a different story without them.”

“Over recent years, that thought has been increasingly on my mind. The War of Wrath showed how dangerous it could be, when the Great Enemy seized command of the skies. But what can the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth do? Even the elves, who run light over snow-drifts into which a man would sink chest-deep, lack the power of flight.”

“At least you’re thinking about it. Most people ignore the importance of air cover altogether. And it’s not a question of technology. Any society sophisticated enough to produce the watermill can easily manage unpowered flight. Look at Leonardo’s drawings –”

“Who would this Leonardo be, laddie?”

“A great artist and craftsman in the lore of our people. In our reckoning, he lived half a millenium ago, but many of his devices have only been put into practice over the last century or so. Martin has recently become a great devotee of his works.”

“You would be, too, Douglas, if you’d seen the sketches Theresa’s family have got in the castle library. It’s not just hang-gliders and parachutes. It’s –”

“A craftsman, you say? Doubtless no man, but a Dwarf.”

“Not exact–”

“Our records on the point are surprisingly incomplete. No, Martin, let me finish. Leonardo certainly had the beard for it. But returning to Mistress Primula’s story. Your cousin being unfortunately incapacited, his old friend Str- Thorongil took on the responsibility of escorting you to Lord Elrond?”

“Not quite. As I told Bilbo, I left Rivendell having solemnly promised I would not return before doing deeds of renown in at least three realms East of the Misty Mountains. So I made an alternative suggestion. It struck me that Lord Elrond was not the only person from whom Primula might find an answer to the visions which disturbed her rest.”

“Hang on a minute. Deeds of renown in at least three realms East of the Misty Mountains’? We aren’t talking one of those ’Three impossible deeds before you may ask for my only daughter’s hand in marriage set-ups, are we? Because if we are –”

“You make so much noise, we could have spitted each of you to your proper tree with our eyes shut.”

“How nice to be welcomed. These, I take it, will be the guardians you mentioned?”

“Silence! We are commanded to bring you before the Queen of the Golden Wood. We will blindfold you before progressing. Now. March!”


“Lady Galadriel. Elen sila lumenn’ omentielvo.

“You are most welcome to Lothlorien, Aragorn son of Arathorn. But tell me: do you know which star shines on the hour of our meeting? You come here with the dust and sweat of battle on you. I have seen this before. But you also arrive with companions. That is something unheralded and unlooked for.”

“I set out alone from Rivendell. All who entered Lorien with me are strangers, chance-met on the road.”

“Chance, would you call it? Yet you bring a halfling, close kin of Bilbo, he whose sharp wits alone prevented elves, dwarves and the Bardings slaking their swords with each other’s blood before ever the orcs of Gundobad swarmed before the Lonely Mountain. Equally by chance, here stands a Dwarf – the first to walk in Lothlorien in more than an Age. As for the three Men and the Woman, I have sought access to their minds. One of them carries a great burden, the nature of which I shall not speak in these hours of darkness. That being set aside, they are not of this land. They carry memories of strange constellations and see the world with the eyes of eagles. They think constantly of their lost ship, a vessel whose like I have not sensed since the First Age.”

“Since Vingilótë sailed above the wind against the firedrakes of Morgoth, to the salvation of all Middle-earth ?”

“So you do possess the sight of Elendil. Yes. The world is changed. First I felt it in the water. Then I felt it in the earth. Now I smell it in the air. But as I said: now is not the time to speak of such matters. There is other news you should know, Aragorn Dúnedan. Not the first unexpected guests are you to arrive in Lorien over recent days. The others bore ill news; the worst in a long age.”

“The others? May I know their names?”

“Legolas Thrandulion is here. As for the other – ah! From the sound of raised voices, I infer the unexpected meeting of close kin. Let us draw closer, walking in the shadows so we may not be overlooked. Oh, child, do not look at me like that. Has Arwen not told you eavesdropping is one of the few pleasures which retains its savour no matter how many Ages pass?”


“Lobelia! What on earth are you doing here?”

“I might well ask you the same question.”

“You may. But I asked first.”

“Well, if you want to be like that about it. Look, there’s no easy way to say this, but I’ve left Otho. After you ran away with Bilbo –”

“I didn’t. Well, not like that, anyway. I left a complete explanation for Drogo, and anyway, everyone knows Bilbo isn’t the marrying kind, or even the eloping sort, not with anyone female, at any rate.”

“Try telling Otho that. Or rather, don’t, because I can tell you, I’ve tried and he won’t listen. He thinks you did it for Bag End. Oh, I wish I’d never heard of that horrible hole.”

“You were quick enough to try and grab ‘that horrible hole’ when Bilbo went off into the blue.”

“So Bilbo keeps telling everyone. Primula, do some bloody arithmetic! I’m younger than you! I was barely in my tweens when Bilbo came back from wherever he went. Even Otho wasn’t of age. The whole idea of grabbing Bag End was Longo’s. Otho never could stand up to his father: hardly surprising, you know what Longo could be like. After all, he was the one who tied two perfectly respectable surnames into a pretentious abomination which made us the laughing-stock of the Shire. The day before our wedding, I told Otho, ‘Bracegirdle’s as good a name as Sackville, or better, yet do I see you standing up and volunteering to be a Bracegirdle-Baggins?’”

“Now you mention it, ‘Bracegirdle-Baggins’ does have a sort of ring to it.”

“Not to Otho it didn’t. Anyway, after making his incompetent land-grab, Longo upped and died, leaving the two of us to deal with the mess he’d left. Otho told me we just had to brazen it out, and wait to inherit in the end. But do you realise how wearing that’s been? Every single family dinner party when Bilbo’s been there, I’ve had to put up with him pointedly counting the spoons at the end of the meal, and handing them back to the hostess with yet another ‘I’ve checked, and luckily the set’s complete this time’ jab.”

“Frankly, Lobelia, in your place I’d have strangled him. But leaving Otho? Hobbits in our rank of life simply don’t do that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t intend to. But Otho was in the middle of his rant, and everyone in the room was just staring at him and I couldn’t stand any more –”

“You mean it wasn’t just you two? There were other people hearing all this stuff?”

“Of course they were. Did you seriously think you could bolt off with Bilbo and no-one would notice? Ferumbras Took called a great family conclave about it. Tooks, Brandybucks and Bagginses. Things started going horribly wrong from the outset. Specifically, Otho. After all the things I’d told him explicitly on no account to say, he stood up and went on and on about you and Bilbo having planned a sham marriage to cut the Sackville-Bagginses out of Bag End, once and for all, just for spite. You cannot imagine how awful it was. He didn’t sound at all like the hobbit I’d married. It was as if the thought of being master of Bag End had possessed him, like – like those stories they tell you about Barrow-wights, at the feast of the dead, in the cold days of autumn.”

“Oh, Lobelia, that’s horrible. Look, have a shot of this. It’s something the Men who rescued us carried with them. It’ll make you feel ten times better. But what happened then?”

“Funnily enough, your brother Rory takes your approach to emotional crises. I sidled out of the room, hoping no-one would see me in tears, but Rory caught up with me and made me drink a couple of glasses of Old Winyards to settle my nerves. Then he grinned at me over the edge of the decanter – you know how he can look when he wants – and said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, Lobelia; I’m a happily married man with children, so I’m not in the market. But has it never occurred to you that you could do a lot better than that windbag?’”

“Dear Rory. Always so tactful.”

“Well, tactful or not, it was true. It was as if a dam had broken. All at once, I knew I couldn’t spend one more minute breathing the same air as Otho. Rory was brilliant: he helped me pack a bag and found me a pony. By the time dawn broke I was cresting a rise and looking down at the leaf-plantations of the South-Farthing. I realised I didn’t have a single idea about where I was going after there. But I knew I was completely starving. There’s this inn on the South-bound road, and I could smell the bacon they were frying. So I kicked my pony onwards and we tumbled down into the dale, hammered on the inn’s door, and they opened up. Oh, breakfast was wonderful! It tasted like the first food I’d properly tasted in a decade.”

“And then?”

Then a wizard and an elf walked into the bar. After that things got most peculiar and frankly horrible – I’ll dream about that trek through those awful mines for the rest of my life. As for being chased by that demon thing –”

Demon thing? Lobelia, what –?”

I don’t know. All I know is that however scared as I was of it, the other two were worse. It made the elf go all ungrammatical. But I forgot. I’m not supposed to talk about that now. Apparently there’s some sort of big conclave scheduled for tomorrow and we can all tell our stories then. But who’s this? Is it one of the Men you were talking about?”

“Oh, I expect so. I’m Arthur. Mum sent me. She said there’s a feast about to start, and if you two don’t hurry up and join us, Douglas will have scoffed it all. And that would be a shame, because it smells brilliant.”