|As she moved out into the main room of the apartment, it struck Morena
that she had never really smelled tea before. It actually took her
a moment to realize the source of the clean, woody scent that permeated
the room was a small teapot carefully painted with the long, rolling coils
of a scarlet dragon.
Pulling the weight of her wet hair back into a ponytail, Morena crossed the cool expanse of wooden floor to a small table that had magically appeared in her absence. Fu Mar was already seated at one edge, his diminutive form seeming to fit effortlessly around the low edge of the table. With smooth motion, he indicated that Morena should sit opposite him, and she silently complied. Nodding his head in a gesture almost ceremonial in its dignity, he lifted the teapot and poured the amber-green liquid within it into a pair of small bowls rimmed with painted cherry blossoms. Uncertain, Morena waited for her host to lift his small bowl in both hands before she broached her own. The tea was warm and bore out the promise of its scent.
“This tea is wonderful.” She smiled across the table.
Fu Mar smiled gently back, “Perfection.”
“So,” Morena took another gentle sip of the tea, “where is Farren anyway?”
Morena raised a skeptical brow.
“Looking for you.” Fu Mar’s face creased in a smile. “He was very worried when you do not arrive. He set his spell for you to arrive here, and you do not arrive.”
Morena shook her head, “I arrived all right, I just arrived in the middle of a field outside of town, then I hiked halfway across this place and played with a gang of Dead Warlocks, two of whom lived up to their name. Were it not for Canis, I do not know if I would have made it here at all. Farren left me a note telling me he wanted to stay with friends, and I thought for a while there that he was cracking some sort of a bad joke, but now I guess he was talking about you.”
Fu Mar nodded, sitting silent for a moment, sipping the warm liquid. “He referred to me. We have been friends for a long time. He is a good boy.”
“You know,” Morena grinned, “that you are probably the only person in 2,000 miles who can get away with calling him a boy.”
Fu Mar shrugged. “I sold him firework that brought him here. He is a boy, and until he learns prudence, boy he will be.”
Morena swallowed her mouthful of tea suddenly and was, for a moment, paralyzed with coughing, “You’re the one who sold him that rocket he used to launch himself across the border?”
Although she would not have believed it possible, Fu Mar’s face creased even more deeply with a smile, and he bobbed his head. “As I said, no prudence. Ingenuity he has, but prudence, no. I think he has never heard of this word.”
Chuckling, Morena returned to her tea, “at least you do not take him too seriously.”
“Take the world too seriously,” Fu Mar set his cup on the polished surface of the table, “and you will go mad. Even if you have no teacher, time will teach this lesson to even the most backward of students.”
Morena sat for a moment in silence. The old man slowly refilled his cup and offered her more. As the liquid was flowing into her cup, she heard a loud clatter and the sound of voices on the stairwell.
“That,” Fu Mar finished filling her cup, “would be arrival of Farren.”
Morena had barely managed to disentangle her legs and pull herself to her feet when a fair-haired man in black robes shouldered his way through the door. Barely breaking stride, he seized her in a bone-crushing hug and swung her in a circle, narrowly missing the tea table in the process. Then, with great care, he set her on the floor, and stepped back to look at her, still holding her hands, as though she might disappear should he relinquish physical contact.
“Where have you been?”
“Taking the scenic tour of Bordertown.” Morena managed a wry smile. “It was educational if less than enjoyable.”
“But you were supposed to be here. Specifically, you were supposed to be here some time ago.”
“There was a glitch.” Morena shrugged. “His name is Berfert and he was hiding out in the doorway when you cast you spell, so –“
“Berfert?” Farren arched a skeptical eyebrow, “What on earth are you talking about, honey?”
“He’s a Glitch.” Freeing her hands, Morena measured with her fingers, “he’s about so big and he’s purple, and --“ Glimpsing the skeptical look on Farren’s face, she sighed in resignation. “Hang on a minute, I’ll show you.”
She moved back into the shower room and rummaged through her pockets. Berfert, however, seemed to have moved elsewhere. She did, however, retrieve the almost- forgotten wand given her by the ghost. Looking around the room, she softly called Berfert’s name, but received no response. Finally, giving up, she returned to the entry room to discover Fu Mar and Farren in deep conversation. They broke off as she came into the room.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “he seems to be missing. I guess Mr. Fu Mar will just have to let us know if something in his home mysteriously ceases to work.”
Fu Mar had moved to the table, and was busying himself organizing the various pieces of tea set into an elaborate carrier. “No,” he lifted the teapot. “I believe your coyote friend will be the one having the problem. Maybe his confusion will not work.”
Morena looked after the retreating form of Fu Mar in utter confusion. “Canis?”
“You two speaking in code?” Farren asked, his forehead wrinkling in confusion.
“No,” Morena sighed, “Canis is the guy who brought me here. He kind of implied that he was a friend of yours, but he – what on earth is that?”
The heavy duffel hung over Farren’s shoulder was wriggling in a disconcerting manner, and it had begun making noises not unlike those of a young puppy.
Grinning broadly, Farren did not reply. Instead, he swung the bag onto the floor and pulled back several inches of zipper. “It’s your present.”
A round head covered with grey fur emerged from the bag, and Morena
found herself under the regard of two very round, very dark eyes surmounted
by a very large red bow.
Farren reached into the bag, lifting its furry contents into his arms. “It was abandoned, and I just couldn’t leave the little guy. Come on, everyone in Tamson House will love it.”
“All right,” Morena made no attempt to repress a smile as the pup sniffed her fingers experimentally and then sneezed profoundly. “We’ll name him Percy.” She scratched the back of the grey head. “But we have to take him home before I go off after the doorbell.”
“Percy,” Farren looked aghast, “Why would you name him Percy?” He blinked twice in rapid succession, “doorbell, what doorbell. What are you talking about?”
“I’m going to name him Percy,” Morena tickled the seal under its chin, “after the Scarlet Pimpernel. And the doorbell is a stolen object from Tamson House. It seems that I’m supposed to bring it back, and I can’t even find out where it is, much less bring it back.”
“The doormouse says it’s a magical anchor for the House, and Joe, the ghost from the garden, says that he’s trapped in the house until someone brings it back.”
Farren sighed deeply, gently returning Percy to his duffel bag, “I can see you’ve got a lot to tell me.”
“And what about you, Mr. Disappear-in-the-middle-of-the-night?”
Farren shifted feet, “there was this penguin seeking world domination, and…”
“Let’s go home,” Morena rested her head against Farren’s chest. “I think some trading of stories is in order.”
“Going home is excellent.” Fu Mar’s voice sounded quietly across the room, and Morena and Farren turned to see the small man standing in the archway through which he had exited. “You have much to do. If you stay here long, Farren will again be off with his elf lord friends.”
“Hardly,” Farren snorted in derision.
“Speaking of elf-lord,” Morena cocked her head, “Have either of you heard of a fellow named Achoo, er, no, um Ak-ash.”
“Akkash?” Farren raised an eyebrow, “I read about him. He used to be a big deal, Queen’s protector and everything. Then something happened, and he fell out of favour. It was a long time ago. He isn’t even mentioned in the common record, you have to go back to the annals of the realm to even find his name, why?”
Morena shrugged, “Two people mentioned that name in conjunction with the notion of an elf-lord tonight – the Dead Warlocks that chased me, and then Canis when he was bringing me here. It just struck me as very odd that all of a sudden everyone was so interested in this Akkash guy.”
“You would be wise,” Fu Mar spoke quietly, “to find more about this Akkash. Should he have a place in the future as great as in the past he will be important. Now,” he moved silently across the smooth floor, “now is the time to go to Tamson House. Compare stories. Talk to those who are wise. And be safe, children.”
To Morena’s surprise, Farren bowed low to the older man, and muttered a low phrase in an oriental tongue. Fu Mar returned the gesture and then, turning to Morena lifted her hand and kissed it with the grace of a courtier.
“Come back,” he smiled, “in happier time.”
“I will,” Morena promised, taking Farren’s hand as he finished his spell,
and the black sheen of a spell door stretched across the wall in front
of them. “I will.”