December brought with it mild temperatures and the hope of a relatively warm winter. All through the month, Mina tried to convince Oracle Fay to start her search with the Monterey family.
“Please mistress, I’m concerned that the weather will not hold. Let’s go to the further regions now, while we have a chance to make the trip during somewhat pleasant weather,” begged Mina.
“Mina, I’ve said it before and I’m not going to say it again. We will visit local families first. Oracles of the past have mostly been born right here in our own back yard. Logic there for says the chances of the next one being born here are the highest,” Oracle Fay answered tersely. “How are the preparations going?”
“We’re all set to travel to Orchard Valley, if need be. It’s a good thing we have Roger, with him transporting us we’re able to pack less, traveling lighter.”
“We will NOT be traveling by buzzard! I don’t care what Goddess Imerra has to say about it!” Exclaimed Fay, impatiently. “Therefore you still have some packing to do. Make sure you’ve packed enough warm clothing and extra food. How many trunks do you have packed?”
“I’ve packed two trunks with enough clothing to make the short flight,” Mina answered, quickly, continuing her lecture so she’s not interrupted. “We’re limited in the number of trunks Roger is able to carry along with us. Traveling light will be more important when we do run into bad weather. The heavier we weigh him down the more difficult it will be for him to navigate.”
“Damn it girl, if we were meant to fly we would’ve been born with pixie wings! I want you to pack three more trunks one with extra clothing and two with dried foods and fire building supplies. Make sure you seal the fire supplies against water. Last thing I want to worry about is wet fire supplies. Now leave me, I feel a headache starting,” Fay said dismissing Mina.
“Yes mistress,” Mina answered through tightly clenched teeth. After leaving Oracle Fay in her room, Mina went to the kitchen. There she grabbed one of the finer bottles of rose wine. Sitting down at the table, she poured a glass of the sweet wine and took a deep drink, emptying the glass. She poured another then let down her long dark chestnut brown hair. She propped her legs upon another chair and stretched out the tension in her tired muscles.
Mina has always been in great shape. As part of Goddess Imerra’s warriors, she trained daily for hand to hand combat and fighting with weapons. Mina was unsurpassed; none of the others could best her. She missed her friends for a brief moment. Shaking the loneliness away, remembering this was only a mission and it would soon be over in a few more months; Mina finished off the glass of wine. She sat for a couple minutes more before washing the glass and heading to her room to retire for the night. “Maybe I’ll be able to convince that crazy old bat to fly tomorrow. I still have fifteen families before we travel to the valley. I’d better get some sleep; tomorrow we visit the Stilton house. ”
The next day, Mina rose early to make breakfast for them. She fixed sausage, pancakes, fresh fruits, juice and coffee. Loading a tray she headed to Oracle Fay’s room. On her way there the crystal started to vibrate. Startled by the unexpected warning Mina almost dropped the tray. Instead she set down the tray and cautiously walked the hall to Fay’s room. The closer she got to the room the more the crystal vibrated. Anxious and with her heart thumping loudly in her ears she approached the door. Turning the knob slowly, hoping to catch intruder off guard, she opened the door. To her surprise she saw a mushroom pixie slumped up against the armoire asleep and snoring loudly. As Mina quietly advanced towards the unsuspecting pixie she wondered how Oracle Fay could ever sleep through all the noise this pixie was making. She drew a knife coated with a knock out potion just incase he was playing possum. Drawing closer, she noticed he was a youngish pixie probably still in his teens. “What on earth is he doing here?” she questioned, inching closer. Just as she reached to grab for the pixie he woke with a start and vanished before she could catch him. The momentum of her reach carried her forward causing her to fall into the space the pixie once occupied. The noise was enough to wake Oracle Fay with a start.
“What the heck are you doing?! Have you lost your fool mind?!” Fay shouted at Mina in response to being woken in such an abrupt manner.
“I’m so sorry to have disturbed you mistress. I was just bringing your breakfast when I thought I heard someone in here.” Mina said apologetically.
“Of course you heard someone in here! I’m in here trying to sleep and as you can clearly see no one else is in here. Now pick yourself up and let me sleep a while longer.”
“Yes mistress, should I leave your tray here?” Mina asked getting to her feet.
“No, I’ll just have some tea and toast when I get up. Don’t worry I’ll ring when I’m ready for it.”
“As you wish, mistress. I’ll await your ring. Blessed dreams.”
Closing the door behind her Mina, headed to the tray she left in the hall. Picking up the tray, she carried it back to the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen, Mina set the tray aside and started to eat her own breakfast, that’s now stone cold. Nibbling on some apple, she contemplated the scene in Fay’s bedroom. “How the heck did he get into her room? One can’t flash into a place they haven’t been before. He can become invisible at will, but I should have picked him up on the crystal as soon as he approached the boundaries of the house. If he was out to hurt Oracle Fay, it seems he could’ve at anytime since he entered undetached; and yet he didn’t. Interesting. What could he have been after and why was he sleeping? From what I know, mushroom pixies tend to keep to themselves. They don’t like to be bothered by the other fey. Usually, they spend their time spreading the mushrooms they resemble. Maybe, I can gain an insight by the type of shroom he resembles. I wonder what type he is. Humm,” Mina thought aloud. “He has a yellow almost brown cap and it seemed his body was white with a faint ring starting to emerge around his neck. If I’m not mistaken this Psilocybe pixie is a long way from home. I‘ll have to speak with the Goddess about this.”
Rising from the table, Mina began to clean-up the breakfast dishes when she heard Fay ring the bell for breakfast. Leaving everything where it sat, Mina quickly made some morning tea and two slices of whole wheat toast with butter to bring to Fay. This time she walked more quickly down the hall toward the bedroom. Reaching the room, she opened the door without knocking to find Fay in the middle of putting on her formal robes. Hoping Fay didn’t notice the intrusion; Mina tried to quickly close the door only to be stopped before she could shut it completely. “Why didn’t you knock!? Fay asked sternly. “Did you whack something loose this morning when you so rudely woke me?”
“Yes mistress, I have the breakfast you requested. Should I put it on the table for you?” Mina asked, trying not to loose her cool.
“That’s fine. Once you’re done with that, I need your assistance with this confounded sash. I never understood why it has to be tied in the back.”
“When will we leave for the Stilton home mistress?” Mina inquired, while tying the sapphire blue silk sash for Oracle Fay.
“Thank-you. We will leave once I have broken my fast and greeted the day,” Fay answered Mina, her mood softening. Smoothing her robes and checking her appearance in the mirror she asked, “Well, how do I look? Like an over ripe grape needing to be juiced?”
“Mistress, please, you look lovely. I think the royal purple robes complement you.” Mina tried to sooth Fay’s mood with some sweet talk.
A little later that morning, Oracle Fay and Mina set out for the Stilton home. The pair thankfully didn’t have far to travel. Mina was dressed in her servant’s uniform and winter coat. While Fay wore her formal robes with a matching winter robe. Fay used a walking stick to help her navigate the short distance from her home to the Stilton house three rose brambles over. Mina kept a sharp eye out for people. It’s rare for them to travel out in the open but given Fay’s age this was the easiest route. “So far, so good,” ventured Mina.
“Hush child, you never know when that darn cat might show its ugly face.”
In what seemed like an eternity they made their way over to the cover of the Stilton bramble. Once inside, Mina searched for the entrance. After a few moments, Fay became annoyed, “Haven’t you found it yet? It’s not that hard to find. What you need to look for is the triple thorn. That’s three thorns in a line about shoulder high. The middle thorn is false; you push that one in to activate the door.”
“Got it!” yelled Mina from the middle of the brambles. “I’ll be there in sec to help you over.” Quick as a wink, Mina made her way back to Fay. Taking her arm she guided Fay to the door.
“There now, see it’s not that difficult when you listen to me. Now, when we get inside this place is a maze. The Stilton clan boasts some of the largest families. Their tunnels run deep. Not many of them live within the brambles. We will be heading under ground.” Fay instructed Mina. As they entered through the main door, Mina was surprised by the foyer. For all the opulence that surrounded Oracle Fay, this place was the exact opposite. It’s rough, carved and plain. Mina was used to polished floors and finished, finely painted walls decorated in exquisite prints.
Fay picked up on Mina’s moment of astonishment at the differences in the dwellings and inquired, “Where did you say you grew-up again? Wasn’t it in the Bean Town tree stand?”
Realizing she has slipped up, Mina tried to play it off and divert Fay’s attention. “Um, yes I did grow-up in one of the Bean Town tree stands. I guess this place just reminded me of how much I would like to see my family.”
“Hah, I knew it, I knew that’s the reason you keep pushing me to the other regions. If we followed your plans we would be in your back yard.”
Mina conceded to Fay’s accusations so she doesn’t raise anymore suspicions. “Yes, well then, should we continue, mistress?”
“We’ll take the lift, it’s over there.” She said pointing to the left of the stairs at the gate. Mina walked over and opened the heavy gate. To her surprise, the lift was nothing more than a simple pulley system and the lift was an old tuna can with a space cut out of one side allowing them to enter. Thankful, Oracle Fay couldn’t see her reaction Mina gathered her composure before collecting Fay to join her.
Fay suspected Mina was not being truthful about her past continued to instruct her. “Mina, I’m not sure how you’re lifts are back home but here in Flower city you tug the rope twice to activate the lift. When you want to stop you tug the rope once just as you reach the floor. We need to stop on the fourth floor down.”
Mina was secretly grateful for the help remained stoic in her response. “Yes, thank you mistress.” The ride down went smoothly until Mina thought she felt the crystal vibrate for a moment. She looked around only to see nothing but the hand carved rough walls. There wasn’t enough room in the lift for anyone to have joined them. “Maybe my nerves are still on edge from this morning. The vibration could’ve been caused by the lift.” She thought as they rode lower.
A moment later, they were off the lift, standing in front of a make shift door. Oracle Fay knocked rather loudly using her walking stick. Not more then half a breath later, a nervous gangly man answered the door. He had to bend nearly in half to greet them.
“P-p-please c-come in,” Stan Stilton said stepping aside to allow them entry.
“I see you’ve never out grown your stutter, Stan,” commented Fay. Mina was embarrassed by how brazen she could be towards others. To hide her embarrassment she looked at the floor.
“S-S-S-Stella is in the b-b-b…”
“In the bedroom, got it. Stan you wait here, Mina you come with me,” Fay ordered as she headed to the back of the one floor tiny apartment. Mina didn’t want to be rude looking though the home so she kept her head down. From what she could see, the home had a main room, kitchen, refreshing room and two tiny bedrooms. There wasn’t much in the way of furnishing just the essentials, a couple chairs, a couch, a dinning table and four chairs, the spare room had a crib in it. The furniture didn’t match, it was all hodgepodge. There was none of the finely detailed, hand carved, polished, wooden furniture over stuffed for comfort that the Oracle enjoyed.
Oracle Fay didn’t knock when she reached the bedroom; she just barged in like a bull in a china shop. “Ah there is the sweet Stella,” cried Fay, practically scaring the young woman into giving birth.
“Auntie Fay!” Stella squealed with joy at seeing her. Stella was in bed when they entered the room and very pregnant. It was a mystery how the poor woman could even move.
Now things were starting to make since to Mina. Fay was normally nice to everyone but those who worked for her and apparently family. Mina helped Fay remove her heavy winter robe, and then pulled a chair close to the bed so the two could talk.
“How is my Stella-bella?” Fay asked, reaching for her hand. “Is that fool taking good care of you?
“Yes, Stan is a really good man.” Stella answered patting her aunt’s hand. “He worships me. I wish you would be kinder to him. He’ll be an excellent papa.”
“Time will tell. I still have my doubts. But then again, no one is good enough for my only niece. Now down to business. You know why we’re here. As much as I would like to chit chat, I have an official job to do.”
“I know; it would be wonderful if my child is the next Oracle. Another from our family, what a blessing that would be. What do I have to do?”
“Nothing, just lay still. I will touch the Divinity Stone to your forehead over the third eye. If you carry within you the next child the stone will shine. It won’t be as bright but it will react. You shouldn’t feel a thing, if it does react you could feel some warmth but nothing more,” Fay informed her.
Fay stood and reached into her robes for the Divinity Stone. Sewn into all of her robes was a pouch to hold the stone. It is with the Oracle at all times. This is to protect it from being stolen. As she was removing the stone, Mina felt a vibration from her own stone again. Mina took a quick scan of the room, quieting her own thoughts she opened her senses trying to pick-up on anything out of the ordinary; but everything seemed fine.
She looked back just in time to see Fay place the stone on Stella. There was no reaction, just as Mina knew there wouldn’t be.
“I’m sorry dearest. There’s no reaction. You are not carrying the next Oracle.” Fay said sounding disappointed.
“Aw, that’s okay Auntie Fay. My baby will always be the most special to Stan and me, no matter what. This is good news!”
“Mistress, we really should be getting back. You’re expecting company in a short time.”
“Company? Ooo…is it anyone I know?” Stella asked to change the subject to anything else.
“No. No one you would know, but Mina is right I must be going. Take care my child. You make sure that big oaf of yours notifies me as soon as the babe arrives.” Fay leaned in and gave her niece a kiss on the cheek.
“I will Auntie. You take care too. I hope you find the child soon. Mina please see that Auntie gets enough rest. She can be a stubborn old mule,” Stella teased.
“I’ll try, miss,” Mina said as she gathered up their coats and opened the door for them to level.
Back in the main room, an anxious Stan awaited their return. Hearing the women approach he looked up hopefully. When he and Fay made eye contact she simply shook her head no in response to his unasked question. For a brief moment his shoulders dipped in regret but in the next, he was on his feet embracing Fay. She beat him off with her walking stick. “Put me down you big lummox.”
Stan only said one thing to her, “T-Thank you.”
“Yeah, well don’t thank me I didn’t do anything. You just better take good care of them both. Mina! My robe.”
Stepping around from behind Fay, Mina helped her into her winter robe. Together they left with nothing more said.
Much of December passed with similar scenes playing out in all the Flower city homes. Every family honored by the chance they could deliver the next Oracle and every family relieved they weren’t delivering the next Oracle. Everyday they don’t find the Oracle Child caused Fay to get more and more moody. She was sure they would find the next child in Flower City. As December passed quickly and January loomed on the horizon, Fay continued to deny the need to travel far from home. There had been no more sightings of the mushroom pixie. However, the crystal continued to vibrate minutely every so often. It seemed to happen just as Mina would start to relax her guard.
It’s now nearly the middle of January and the snow has fallen nonstop. The mercury has dipped below the zero mark with no inclination of making an upward climb anytime soon. Old man winter was blowing snow storm after snow storm through the land. The blowing snow and frigid temperatures made travel treacherous. Any hopes of a mild winter have faded. All of the Muridae could be found happy and warm in their homes; that was all but a few unlucky travelers.
“That woman is driving me crazy!” exclaimed an upset Mina. “I have tried and tried to talk her into starting our search in the further regions. You and I both know which blood line will bear the Oracle Child but I can’t convince that stubborn old mule to go there. She still insists she will find the child in Flower City. We’re not making progress due to the weather. At this rate, I fear we will not make it in time!”
“Calm yourself Mina. Really, all this emotion is not becoming of a handmaiden. I’m sure with a little more coaxing you will convince her to go there.” Goddess Imerra said, trying to calm her upset handmaid. “Mina, come sit here next to me and stop that infernal pacing you’re going to wear a grove in floor.” Goddess Imerra patted the space next to her on the sofa. With a calming sign, Mina complied with the request. Setting down next to the Goddess, Mina seemed exhausted, the stress showing on her pretty face. She had bags under her eyes and if Imerra did know better she could swear Mina lost some weight. Her clothes looked just a little too big. Concerned for her, Goddess Imerra put a soothing arm around her. “You can relax some. I have eyes and ears in a few places; and I know for a fact that Caleb only knows Oracle Fay is in Flower City. He has no knowledge of your plans to leave for Orchard Valley in a couple of days.”
“Pardon me Goddess; while that is a relief, I’m still concerned about the trip to Orchard Valley. Oracle Fay continues to refuse traveling on Rodger. If we have to travel by foot we risk freezing to death in these temperatures. Don’t forget the winds and snow drifts we will have to endure. Not to mention, that difficult woman is so ancient she can hardly walk across Flower city and you expect her to make at minimum a week long journey to the Valley. It’s not possible!”
“No.” Goddess Imerra said, standing to make her point but speaking sweetly so she didn‘t frighten Mina. “I expect you to convince her to fly there using Rodger. I expect you to make the trip in a few hours. And I expect you to convince her to get to the Oracle Child. You will do all this Mina because you are the only one who can. If the other Gods find out I’m meddling in the natural course they set forth, I will be sent to the underworld and tortured for all eternity. You, as my accomplice, would endure the same fate.” She paused to the let the meaning of her last comment take hold. Imerra walked to the large glass doors leading to her garden. She opened the doors taking in a deep breath of the sweet smelling jasmine filled air, she calmed slightly. Turning back to Mina, Goddess Imerra smiled, “Mina, how long have you been with me?”
“I have been in your service since I was a babe. My mother left me at your alter as a sacrifice for a better life. I am grateful for all you have given me Goddess. I mean no offence. I just get scared because I do understand what this assignment means. I wish I could just tell Oracle Fay what we know. It would make things so much easier.” Mina confessed. She hugged her knees to her chest burying her head. Overwhelmed with emotions at her situation Mina sobbed softly. This caused the Goddess to want to comfort Mina. Thinking about possible alternatives the Goddess hit upon an idea. In a sing song voice, Imerra called out to the air, “Fennik, I need you.”
An instant later Lord Fennik flashed into their presence. “Hm, is it my favorite time of the day already?” Lord Fennik’s deep voice could be heard as he materialized in the room.
“Fennik, not now!” Imerra snapped, blushing trying to hide her embarrassment. “What, I need…is your help. Our Mina here is having a harder time then anticipated convincing Fay to go where she needs to be. I’m concerned our plan will not go as we hoped. I would like to send one of your warriors to protect Fay and Mina.”
Mina was shocked by the proposal. “I can take care of myself. I’m the best warrior you have, am I not?” Mina stated matter-of-factly while standing to portray an air of power and strength.
Goddess Imerra walked to Mina holding both hands in hers and said, “Mina, dear, you are my best warrior but I am concerned with Fay being so stubborn. She is putting you both at risk. I hate to say it but as Caleb is denied what he wants, he will become more violent and ruthless. He will stop at nothing to get power. As it is, we have to keep Fay and the next Oracle safe until the summer solstice, almost six months away.”
“I have just the man for the job. He will fit in well with your traveling party.” Lord Fennik said with a devious smile. “Ky, I summon you, come to me.” Lord Fennik continued talking while they awaited his arrival, “Mina, you will explain to Fay that he is joining to help carry your trunks on your journey. You may not tell her that I have assigned him to help you. Make up any cover story you need.”
Before anyone could say more, there was a flash of light signaling Ky’s arrival to everyone. He appeared in front of the glass doors. The light flooding in behind him was so bright; Mina was only able to make out his silhouette. Ky took a couple of steps into the room moving closer to the assembled group. As he got closer, Mina could make out his features. He was gorgeous and her legs turned into jelly. He was almost as tall as Lord Fennik and just as built. Ky was dressed for warmer weather wearing only a pair of brown leather pants and strider leather boots that closed with buckles from his foot to just under the knee. At his waist was strapped a sword and a machete. He was ripped with well defined and tanned muscles. His face was strong but welcoming. He had striking green eyes and warm dark brown hair. Mina was so taken at how handsome Ky was; she didn’t hear what Lord Fennik was saying until he started laughing. “Hm, hm, hm, Ky, I think you may have struck poor Mina here dumb.”
“He has not! How could you say such an awful thing Lord Fennik!” exclaimed Mina trying to cover her shock at being called out.
“Mina dear, Lord Fennik asked you to describe your mission to Ky a couple of times and you didn’t answer him. Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Maybe I should replace you…”
“No! I’m fine. I am sorry I got distracted thinking about the mission.” Mina responded hoping they bought her cover. She continued, “Our mission will be to protect Oracle Fay while she seeks the next Oracle Child. We need to find the child before Caleb of the Dark does. Once we have obtained both Oracles, we will need to transport them undercover to a secret location where both the Goddess and Lord Fennik will meet us to complete the ritual that ensure the races will continue to exist. We are expected to be their protectors until the night of the summer solstice when the ritual will be completed. Do you think you can follow all that, Tarzan?”
“I got it Poppet, you don’t gotta worry your pretty little head. I’ll keep you all safe.” Ky answered her challenge.
“Who do you think you’re calling Poppet?!” exclaimed Mina.
“Now, children calm down. You will have to learn to get along; after all you will be spending the next few months together,” Lord Fennik said with a look of merriment and knowing on his face.
“Um…Yes, now I will send the two of you back to Fay. Remember under no circumstances is she to know your true identities. As far as she knows, you are regular Muridae in her charge. Ky, Mina carries on her a warding crystal. It will alert you to any danger. If you need help try to call us only when no one else is around. We need to keep our involvement secret. If the other Gods were to find out we all would be sent to the underworld for an eternity of torture and torment. Got it?” Instructed Goddess Imerra.
“Like I said, I got it. I will keep the fragile women folk safe and everything under wraps. You don’t need to worry I’m loyal to Lord Fennik, I won’t betray him,” Ky stated, confidently.
His comments rose Mina’s dander to a boiling point, but before she could interject they were flashed back to Fay’s kitchen storage room.
“Fennik are sure we’re doing the right thing?”
“Yes, my love. They need each other; they just don’t know it yet.”
The storage room was lined with shelves from the floor to ceiling. On the shelves all sorts of goods were stored, cans of vegetables, jams, jellies, pickles along with dehydrated foods. Herbs were drying, hanging from the ceiling. There were bushel baskets of root veggies that winter well, apples, and cheese wheels, too. Every inch of space was packed with supplies for the winter. There was hardly enough room for one petite mouse to stand.
All was quite in the storage room and the kitchen beyond, when a sudden bright light filled the tiny unoccupied space. The only thing seen from the kitchen was a flash of light under the heavy wooden door. Mina and Ky found themselves wedged together in the small space. Mina lost her balance with the unexpected change of venues and found herself falling into Ky’s arms. “Umph, what the? Get your hands off me!” Mina ordered crossly.
“What’re you mad at me for? You’re the one who fell into me!”
“Yeah, well, just you keep your hands to yourself,” Mina said, getting back on her feet and fixing her ruffled clothing. “Do you mind getting out of the way? I need to start dinner and you’re blocking the door.”
“I’m not moving until you apologize.” Ky said crossing his arms over his still bare and muscled chest. Mina lost conscious thought for a brief moment at the sight of his well defined arms crossed over his hard chest. Coming to her senses and angry for the attraction she felt, she yelled at Ky again, “I am not now or ever apologizing. Let me out of here or so help me you’re gonna regret it.” Mina looked around the small space, deciding on the potatoes, she started to pile them in one arm preparing to fire on him. Seeing where things were headed he conceded before an all out food fight waged.
“Ok, now just hold on, I’ll get outta the way there’s no need to start throwing food, Poppet.” He opened the door and took a step out as he talked.
Mina became infuriated at hearing him call her that again, “I told you don’t call me Poppet!” With her last word she let a potato fly toward his head. He ducked it just in time. The potato, missing its intended mark, sailed across the kitchen slamming into the stacked pots on the counter; causing them to scatter about loudly.
“Hold on now, calm down. You’re gonna get us caught or worse break something,” he said trying to calm her as he continued to back away. Before she could send another potato rocketing at him, he tripped over one of the fallen pots. This sent him crashing to the floor, as he fell, he knocked over a chair which sent pots scattering, again.
The sight of him falling and the resulting mayhem caused Mina to double over with laughter. “Ha, ha, ha, look at the mighty warrior now.”
“It’s not funny, that really hurt.”
“Aw, poor baby, did you fall down and go boom?” She said with mock sweetness. “I’d offer to help you up but I’m sure you don’t need the help of a fragile little woman folk like me.”
Back on his feet, Ky started picking up the mess he helped to create. “Humph. Have it your way. I’m here only because I’m following orders. Lord Fennik never ordered me to get along with you.” He turned away to pick-up some more pots and mumbled, “no matter how cute you are.”
“What was that?” Mina asked, spinning to face him and placing her hands on her hips.
“Nothing,” Ky replied, stacking more pots and pans.
“I heard you mumble something when you turned away. What was it?”
“Confound it woman, I didn’t say anything concerning you,” he tried one last time to end her inquisition. He finished stacking the last pot then picked up the stacks and replaced them on the counter. “I’ll do whatever I can to help including keeping my distance. If you’ll show me to my room, now? I would like to prepare for meeting Oracle Fay at dinner.” He finished coldly.
Mina’s mood sobered with the sudden chill in the air. “Fine, you’ll be in the room next to Fay. That way if she has need of you, you’ll be close. Follow me,” she said, leading him out of the kitchen. “Make sure you don’t wander around unaccompanied until you get the lay of the land. This place is huge and if you get lost I may not find you for a couple days.”
Together they walked to his room, Mina lead him past many unoccupied spaces. Ky saw many library styled rooms filled with volumes of books. Other rooms were for greeting Muridae of varying status. Every room was elegantly furnished and richly decorated. Ky felt like he was in the home of one of the Gods surrounded by this much opulence. “Does every mouse live so richly?” He inquired.
“In a word, no. There are many things you need to know if we’re going to convince Oracle Fay you’re a regular hired hand. Maybe we should keep you hidden for tonight.” Mina said more to herself then him. “Then, after dinner, I can come to your room and tutor you on the life of a Muridae.”
“So, you’re going to spend the night with me, Poppet?” Ky asked with one eyebrow raised and a sly smile spreading across his face when Mina pounced on him.
Shaking her finger and with the other hand on her hip, Mina let into Ky again, “I told you not to call me Poppet! I’m not your Poppet.”
Before either of them could say another word Mina heard a door open behind her. She turned just as Fay leaned out into the hall to see what all the yelling was about.
“Mina! What is going on out here? Why on the goddess great earth are you yelling?” Stepping into the hall and around a table holding an ornate sculpture, Fay soon saw who Mina was yelling at.
“I’m so sorry to have bothered you, mistress. I was just trying to…um,” Mina paused trying to think of a good excuse.
Fay seized the pause to inquire further, “Who is this young man with you? I don’t remember seeing him here before.”
“Pardon me, mistress, my name is Ky Montrachet. I’m the new hired hand. It would be an honor if you would allow me to accompany you on your travels,” interjected Ky, thinking on his feet.
“Yes, I hired him to help with transporting the extra trunks you wanted packed. I was just showing him to his room, Mistress. If I may?”
“Quiet Mina, I want to talk further with this young man. You’re of the Montrachet clan? They’re spread throughout Orchard Valley, right?”
“That’s right; I grew up in the lower orchard field. Not too many mice live there, most choose to live in the upper fields closer to the store and juicing rooms.”
“What brings you here? Don’t you have family to care for there?” Fay continued her inquisition while walking over and taking Ky’s arm. She proceeded to lead him to her room with Mina trailing behind.
“Actually, I don’t have any family left. My mother, rest her soul, passed into the next life this very fall,” Ky replied as he walked Fay to her favorite rocking chair with Mina taking the seat next to her. Once the women were seated, he settled into the chair across from her, continuing, “Ever since, I have been traveling from region to region looking for work. I was out in Packersville and one of the men there told me I should try here. He said you were always looking for good trustworthy help. That’s why I made the journey to find work.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your mother, dear. But I must say I am very curious about one thing.”
“Ask me anything, mistress,” Ky said openly.
“Well, how could you do so much traveling in clothing that is meant for the warm weather of summer? And why would you have need of such weaponry?”
Mina’s eyes grew large with the realization that Ky was only wearing his leather pants and still carried his sword and machete. Quickly she thought up a cover, “Um that is partially my fault. Ky was assisting me in the kitchen when I accidentally spilled the sauce for dinner on him.”
“Oh, you accidentally spilled the dinner sauce, hm ok; if that’s the story you want to go with.” Fay’s comment caused Mina to blush brightly.
“Mistress, I really should take Ky to his room so he can clean-up for dinner and I also need to get back to the kitchen,” pleaded Mina, trying to change the subject.
“Yes, yes; one more thing before you go. I want to make one thing clear. I don’t want any hanky-panky under my roof.”
“What!” gasped Mina shocked, again by how brazen Oracle Fay could be.
Ky stayed calm and simply replied, “Mistress, I know we have just met but I can assure you there will be no hanky-panky.”
“Don’t forget who you are talking to young man. I am the Oracle after all,” Fay stated in a hoity-toity manner.
Mina quickly grabbed Ky and rushed him out of the room. Once in the hall, with the door closed between them, she relaxed a little. “She is so very maddening. I can’t believe she said those things about us. You do know she hasn’t had a prophecy in over a decade. And now she plays at implying an attraction between us. I can’t believe it!” Mina ranted.
Ky, watched as Mina got more and more worked up, he chuckled at her. He was walking a step behind so she didn’t hear him. When she came to a sudden stop, he quickly sobered, preparing for another tongue lashing. He was surprised when she opened a door without saying anything to him. She entered the room with him close behind; not saying a word she seemed to be scoping out the room but for what, he didn’t know. Concerned about her sudden change, he too started checking the room for anything that seemed out of place. After a few breaths, Mina relaxed and talked to Ky again as if nothing odd just happened. “Okay. So, this will be your room. Each room has its own refreshing room. The staff will replace the towels once a week. You can make your own bed, right?”
“Mina, wait a minute, what was all that about just now?” Ky questioned.
“It’s this crystal; every so often, it will vibrate a warning for a split second. The first time it went off I was bringing Fay her breakfast. I crept into her room and found a sleeping Psilocybe in the corner. He awoke and vanished before I could catch him. Since that day, the crystal will vibrate now and again for just brief instant and I haven’t been able to find a reason for it. It lasts for such a short-time I’m not always sure if it vibrated at all.”
Ky paused before replying, “I know that mushroom pixies can flash and some can become invisible. You said, the one you saw was a Psilocybe? How can you be sure? They aren’t known to have the ability to flash while staying invisible.”
“Well, he has a yellow almost brown cap and his body is white with a faint ring starting to emerge around his neck. Which means he can‘t be very old.”
“Hm, that is a Psilocybe, but they can either flash or be invisible not both. I don’t know of any mushroom pixie that can do both. Has the vibrations occurred in any discernable pattern?”
She sat on the edge of the bed to think about the different times the crystal’s warning vibrations have played. “Not that I can think of, but I wasn’t looking for one either. It has been happening so often with no consequence, I’ve never thought to look for a pattern.” Mina said concerned with this new line of thought.
He paced the room while thinking about this new information. “What did Goddess Imerra think when you told her about it?”
Mina squirmed at being put on the spot. “I didn’t tell the Goddess.” She replied meekly, hoping he wouldn’t yell at her.
Shocked at her confession and angry at her inaction Ky yelled, “What do you mean you didn’t tell the Goddess about the crystal!”
“Shhhh, Oracle Fay will hear you and come in. I didn’t say anything because I had nothing to tell her. How would that look? Oh yeah, by the way Goddess, I think your crystal is broken it keeps going off with no one around. She would reassign me or think I had gone mental. Its bad enough they saddled me with you. Now I have to keep an eye on that stubborn woman and you. You skated by with Fay just now but your charms won’t get you too far for long.”
“I don’t care how bad you think it might look; you should’ve told the Goddess immediately after the first incident with that Psilocybe pixie. I can’t believe you. It’s a good thing the Gods saw fit to send me here, you both need my protection.”
His last statement got Mina riled up again. Standing she walked over to face him. “Protect me! You think I need your protection? Well, you’re wrong! I don’t need any help from you. All males are the same, thinking we are wee wittle girls needing help. Not me. I could take you. You name the time and place. I’ll be there to wipe the floor with you.” With that she turned to leave but not before adding, “By the way, breakfast is served in the kitchen at sunrise, lunch is at noon, supper is at sundown and dinner is between eight and nine. I hope I don’t see you!”
She finished slamming the door as she left.
Completely stunned at her reaction, he stood for a moment with his mouth open starring at the door she just walked through. “Wow, that’s some woman and she likes me, she really likes me. Oh, this is gonna be fun. On the other hand, what do I do about that crystal of hers? If I go to the Gods she will definitely be angry with me. I will take a page from her book and scope it out a while longer.”
A few moments later there came a knock on the door. Ky walked over and opens the door. On the floor was a silver tray with a folded note on it. He picked up the note and opened it. On the letter was written: We leave for Orchard Valley in a week. I look forward to seeing your family home. Signed Oracle Fay.
A week later the sun rose on a cold blistery day but no one would’ve know the sun was up. The cloud cover was so thick and grey a single ray of light couldn’t penetrate it. The temperatures were below zero and the snow was falling so hard you could barely see a foot in front of you.
Mina was assisting Oracle Fay into her traveling robes. They were made from woven strands of goose down. The feather fibers are warm, hold heat well and they are naturally water proof. Having the fibers woven tightly and using the fluffy down makes for a very soft cloth. It’s almost as soft as silk. The fabric has been dyed a beautiful shade of violet with patterns of swirls in a complimenting dark blue. It reminds Mina of some summer sunsets at dusk before the sky turned to black.
“There mistress, how’s that feel?” Mina asked finishing the final adjustments.
“It’s fine dear. Thank-you.”
“Given the weather, we’ve had to arrange for another form of travel. Rodger can’t fly in the snow storm and we can’t wait any longer.”
“Good, I never intended to travel by buzzard anyway.” interjected Fay. “What new form of torture has the Goddess decided to use?”
Annoyed by the interruption Mina continued, “We have one hundred and ten families to meet in less than two months. Not to mention all of the extra luggage you’re insisting on; we’ll be traveling by squirrel.” Mina braced for the onslaught Fay was sure to send her way after finding out about the new travel arrangements.
“Mina dear, I think you have truly lost your mind. That buzzard was bad enough but now you want me to ride on a tree rat! No, I won’t do it. I refuse to move from this spot. If the Goddess wants me to travel she will have to move me herself.” Fay said crossing her arms and sitting in her rocking chair.
“Please, mistress we have to leave now. Ky has loaded the trunks and set-up a canopy for your protection. The squirrels can walk on the snow without falling through to deeply unlike the rabbits.”
“How long will the nightmare last?”
“Not long, it will be over before you know it,” Mina lied.
“Oh fine, tell them I will be out momentarily.”
“I’ve news, they are leaving in moments for Orchard Valley.” whispered Woody in a dark room.
“Did anyone see you?” Asked a deep voice.
“No, no one saw me. I have to be very quick and I can’t get a lot of information. I don’t know how but that woman seems to sense when I am there. Most times, I barely flash in before I have to flash out again. When that happens, I’m lucky to catch a full word,” Woody continued talking to the darkness. He meets the deep voiced stranger here weekly to give reports on the activities of the Oracle Fay. He gave up a few weeks back trying to figure out who was the owner of the voice. Of course, that was under the threat of death. When he tried to flash before given the okay to leave he hit a wall. No fey or pixie has the ability to box others in. Woody learned quick that whoever he was working for was powerful and possibly a God.
“Flash there but keep your distance, report on who they visit and where they plan to go next. You’re dismissed.”
“Okay, same time next week.”