Mistress Cratchet steps out of the butcher's - and stops in amazement.
Helena! And not
looking at all like her usual slovenly self. Even her hair is under
control rather than falling over
her face like it usually does. Most remarkable of all, she's riding a
horse! And she has
some very strange-looking companions.
"Helena, you wicked girl!" Cratchet says. "What do you mean by running off like that? Wizard Prang was most upset when you never arrived at his room. Now get down off that horse and come with me this instant. And apologise to these people for imposing on their kindness." She indicates Annafrid's travelling companions with a wave of her hand. "What can you have been thinking of when you allowed them to give you a horse and clothes? And is that a sword at your belt?!"
Mistress Cratchet eventually has to pause in her tirade to draw breath. Annafrid is too stunned to say anything for the moment, so Astra seizes the opportunity to say: "Did I hear you mention Wizard Prang? He is the very person we are coming to see. Perhaps you would be good enough to accompany us and guide us for the last bit of the journey? But you must be confusing Annafrid with someone else. She has never been anywhere near this region before." Astra has realised that it would be impossible to explain to the woman that Annafrid has memories of having been Hannah and memories of having been Fred, but none whatsoever of ever having been someone called Helena. From what they had learnt from talking to Chelene, it seems impossible that Annafrid could have any connection with the girl Helena, whoever Helena might be.
Mistress Cratchet purses her lips dubiously. The girl certainly looks just like Helena. Beautiful girls with very blonde hair and a very buxom figure are hardly common, after all. On the other hand, the red-haired young woman had spoken with an air of great authority, and the confident way that the party members hold themselves suggests that they are people of some importance. Though they are certainly a strange bunch, she thinks to herself. One's an oriental, one's an elf child, and goodness only knows what the small one who looks like she's half fox can be.
Deciding eventually that it would be unwise to argue with folk who look as though they might be gentry - though very strange gentry - Mistress Cratchet says: "Yes, ma'am. I'm sure you're right. Me and my helpers will be most happy to show you the way to the Sunset Home for Retired Wizards. Wizard Prang don't get many visitors, and I'm sure he will be glad to see you."
On the contrary, Wizard Prang has become increasingly worried over the last few days that all his attempts to deal with the group who are coming to see him have failed. He seems to have two choices now. He could let them have the herb they want - whichever one it turns out to be - and forget about revenging himself for the loss of his "pet" dragon and also punishing Annafrid for her temerity in somehow returning after having been banished from this universe. Though taking no action against them would go against the grain, it would be consistent with his policy of ensuring that at all costs his true power should not become known. Whilst he could probably cast a spell to ensure that any staff members who saw anything that they shouldn't would forget all about it, if one of the other wizards should happen to notice anything untoward then dealing with him would be far harder. The one good thing was that many of the wizards were senile, so the chance of one of them noticing anything was substantially reduced.
Alternatively he could still take his revenge, preferably in some subtle way that wouldn't be obviously his doing. Something that would only take effect after a time delay of a few hours, perhaps, when his visitors would be some miles into their journey home. Of course, his revenge would be slightly less satisfying if they didn't realise that it was his doing, but one couldn't always have everything.
10/23/2000 10:28:51 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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