“Don’t worry,” Pasrue said with a grin as the wall drew closer. “It will just slow us down if you fail. I need you to tell the seal in your heart that we are the size of a goose.”
“Tell it what?!” I asked, wondering if she had gone mad.
“Tell it we’re a goose,” she repeated. “This boat is no bigger than a goose. Try it!”
I had no idea how to tell the seal anything, but I figured the [Hidden Voice] that I had used a few times was the only way I had to communicate to something without ears.
Just before I tried, a quandary hit me. “Exactly what do I say? Hello, we’re the size of a goose?”
Pasrue rolled her eyes, then spun the wheel, causing the boat to bank into a circle over the city. As she did so, she commented with a slight wrinkle to her brow, “We need to get this done soon, or the locals will become nervous and send a patrol up.”
“Sorry. You sprang this on me at the last moment, though.”
She nodded, then said, “Your Highness, the seal does not use words, so how would it understand them? Impress upon the seal the image of ourselves, and the fact that we are smaller than a migrating goose.”
“Even if you say that…”
With a sigh, she launched into a lecturer’s spiel. “Up here, far above the buildings and trees, you have nothing to compare us to, to establish our actual size. We should be high up enough that even your fairy sense doesn’t reach the ground or objects of known size to judge against. We could be the size of a field mouse or a Great Roc. You have no evidence to show that we are a particular length or width.”
I twisted my mouth. It was true that, up here around four hundred paces above the city, I didn’t have anything to judge against, but I still had my preconceived notions of my own size and that of this vessel.
Then Pasrue took hold of a large medallion hanging by a chain from her neck and began gathering Light mana into it. Since it wasn’t an object that one could easily aim, I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was a magic focus.
“Make known the image I require / As a form of weight and sight / Before the ones to whom I reveal it / [Light Phantasm!]”
A chorus of exclamations and invective broke out around the deck as a massive beast sprang into being directly to port of the air boat. It was flying with wings as broad as a dragon’s, its great head well ahead of our bow, at the end of a slender, elegant neck, its wide tail far behind our stern, massive legs tucked in underneath, stretched behind its huge body with its feet underneath the tail.
My senses told me that it was clearly made of Light mana, but they were also insisting it was solid, had real weight and was forcing the air to flow around it as it cut through the wind. It was almost effortlessly stroking with the tips of its wings, barely exerting any effort to keep up with us.
“Can you see it, Your Highness?” Pasrue wondered.
“Of course I see it!”
“And…” she prompted
“It’s a goose?”
“Yes, it’s a goose, Your Highness,” she answered patiently. “That much is quite obvious. Can you see the detail that is most crucial about it in this situation?”
She sighed. “And in comparison, we are…”
“Smaller than it.”
She spun the wheel again, lining us up on the ‘bird passage’. “Hold that thought. In fact, keep it foremost in your mind. We are smaller than a goose, and a goose is an object small enough that the passage will allow it through. Let’s see if you can make it happen.”
The goose banked to stay in formation next to us, working its wings slightly harder due to the wider circle it was flying outside our own turn.
“Won’t your seal get us through anyway?”
“Not if I don’t use it,” she stated. “It’s all up to you, Princess.”
I wasn’t very keen on her teaching method, and I was growing less enthusiastic with every yard that the distance shrunk. But I had to give it a try. I focused on sending the seal an image of the goose flying by our side and how much bigger it was than us. The ground rose below us as we approached the pale curtain and the region of slightly paler shading that was Pasrue’s target.
“Take hold!” I heard someone cry, which told me the crew knew that the skipper was giving a lesson. After all, the approaching curtain was invisible to normal eyes, so they couldn’t see it coming. This must not have been the first time she coached someone with a new seal.
I felt my weight heave forward, evidence of the ship suddenly decelerating, and had to grab the nearby railing. The jets, which were far quieter than Earthly jets but weren’t silent, continued their rushing whistle, blowing a heavy stream of air backward to power us forward, but the boat rapidly slowed.
Pasrue clicked her tongue, then, with an amused tone, ordered, “Engines to idle!”
The jets fell silent and we came to a stop. Around us, the ‘curtain’ had become a tunnel, but ahead of us, the apparently empty air had become a barrier we could not penetrate.
The goose, I noticed, had flown on ahead. Pasrue swept her index finger back and forth sharply, and it disappeared.
“Ready oars!” she called. “Blades out!”
The fish-fin-like oars fanned out, deploying from where they had formerly lay tucked away against the sides of the boat.
“Back it down, even pressure!”
No rowers sat below deck to hear these orders. Talene’s design relied on golem technology without actual golems involved. The oars stroked on their own, although I don’t know if it was in direct response to Pasrue’s voice, or if engineers were hearing the orders and working controls.
The oars pushed the ship backward as Wind enchantments on their blades caught far more air than the oars themselves could move. The boat slowly slid out of the “tunnel”.
“Port pressure! Starboard ease up!”
The oars on the left stroked harder and those on the right weakened, and we began turning as we exited. Once the bow was no longer pointed toward the curtain, she called out, “Blades in! Stow oars!”
She followed, once the oars had returned to the sides of the boat, with, “Engines to fifty percent!”
Looking at me with a twinkle in her eye as the jets throttled up and we moved forward once again, she began guiding the boat into another circle in order to line up on the passage for another try.
“This time, I’ll take us through while you watch. We have ten more of these on the way to Pendor, which is ten more chances for you to get it right.”
We went through five of them before I could manage it.
# # #
It was my very first visit to Pendor, the land where I was supposedly the First Daughter, but I couldn’t dwell on it. We were in a hurry.
At Anto, we hired a hackney coach to bring us from the airship field to the mayoral hall. Theoretically, it was something I should do as a visiting (and superior) aristocrat, regardless of the occasion, but I actually had a reason to visit. I needed information on how to get my team to Oseri in the shortest possible time, and with a war on, I might need official help to pull that off.
My companions and I had our gear bagged up, and we wore current Atian fashions, courtesy the talented tailors of the Fairy King’s Castle. Only our weapons gave away the fact that we were anything other than ordinary civilians, so we didn’t get the reception that a couple fairy knights with human adventurer companions would have received. Our weapons hung from brand-new, stylish harnesses, lacking the worn appearance of adventurer gear. The vibe was more that of an affluent young woman traveling with her attendants.
The reception we did get was remarkable in its own way, though.
I strolled up to a counter where a young functionary sat writing in a book– he appeared to be transcribing from a pile of loose reports– and announced in Dorian, “I should like to speak with the Lord Mayor. Can you instruct me regarding the appropriate way to arrange this?”
The young man looked up, slightly puzzled, and pressed his glasses into place. “The… mayor? We don’t have one right now, though.”
I blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
There was no way that a city the size of Anto was run by a village chief or a bailiff.
“Well, the mayor’s the baron now, since his father died. His son’s too young to take over city management yet.”
And I was supposed to know this somehow? I wanted to ask. I apparently was expected to already be aware that, (a) the tradition here was for the baron’s heir to act as Lord Mayor, presumably as management training, and that, (b) the current heir was still a child.
Instead, I smiled tightly and noted, “Then it seems I need to speak with either His Lordship or whoever is carrying the mayoral duties in his stead, doesn’t it?”
“His Lordship’s secretary is handling the mayoral duties while His Lordship is at the barony offices, ma’am. Would you like for me to check for an appointment time? Or if it is a simple matter, perhaps I might be of assistance?”
I gave him another tight smile. “I’m sorry, but I should like to meet with His Lordship if possible. Please let His Lordship’s secretary know that Tia, First Daughter of the Baroness Mona, desires such an audience.”
His eyebrows rose slightly at the noble title, then he reached over and tapped the ringer on a call bell, raising his voice and calling, “Front!”
A pre-teen girl appeared out of a nearby door after twenty or so seconds. The clerk repeated my request to her– with me having to correct him that it was ‘baroness’ rather than ‘baron’– and she left to deliver the message.
“Please be understanding if she only returns with the secretary’s appointment book, ma’am… My Lady. We are very short-handed due to the war, and His Lordship’s secretary is terribly busy right now.”
But contrary to the clerk’s prediction, rather than the runner appearing with the foretold appointment book, what burst out of the door was a white-faced office lady, with the pre-teen following her wearing a perplexed expression.
She scanned the room, locked onto me with an anxious look, and stammered, “M.. My Lady Mona?”
I gave her a calm nod. “That’s correct.”
“I’m terribly sorry that you’ve been kept waiting, My Lady! I am Aralin, the office manager. I will escort you to His Lordship’s office immediately! Please follow me!”
“May I bring my people along?” I wondered, gesturing to Dilorè, Chiara, Ryuu and our pile of luggage.
She looked confused for a moment, looked at them, then said, “Yes, of course!”
Turning to the runner, she said, “Make sure to hold the door for our guests, Rill!”
I decided not to comment on how the baron had apparently suddenly appeared in the building that could only offer his secretary, moments before. I hefted my travel bag (which mostly held my fighting gear and a few spare clothing items) and followed.
After trying to get the girl Rill to carry my bag (I refused), the office lady led us into the back, then up two flights of stairs to a somewhat spartan Lord Mayor’s office.
She brought us into a sitting room where she offered me a seat on the couch. Since she appeared about to leave the others standing, I noted, “I apologize for the late introduction, but these three are my colleagues, My Ladies Chiara and Dilorè and Mr. Kowa. They’ll be joining me.”
“I’m terribly sorry! Please, My Ladies, good sir…” she gestured them into seats of their own.
I was afraid the woman would faint. Really, something had her terrified, and I had a good guess what it was.
“Miss Aralin?” I asked in a calm voice.
“Yes, My Lady!”
“Please relax,” I told her gently. “I promise you, you are quite safe around me.”