John ran this scene back in early 1987. It was always one of my favorites. This is only a rough draft. I have no idea if it works yet…but what a delightful thing I get to do with my day!
Kestrel Lessingham — Archmage of Earth
picture by John C. Wright
Victoria waited in the cavernous dinning chamber where the servants had left her. She tried sitting still in one of the straight backed dining chairs, but she was no good at still. After fidgeting a time, she leapt up and began wandering the room. Her gaze flickered quickly from one object to another, taking in every little thing as she searched for something that would help her better understand the Archmage.
A motion at the door through which she had entered caught her attention. Instruments, flute, clarinet, violin and more, floated into the chamber. They wafted to the far corner where they began to play soft Classical music.
Tables and stands along the wall held figurines and trinkets, most of a vaguely mystical nature. On the wall above the mantelpiece hung an old fashion photo of a lovely blond woman dressed in a high-necked tea gown. Could that be his wife, the one Ossar mentioned who ran away? Victoria stared at it for some time, but the framed photograph revealed no secrets.
She continued around the room, peering at everything. Straightening from where she had been examining a pair of curiously-wrought candlesticks, she noticed a cat sitting on one of the chairs by the table. The cat, black with white socks, watched her as it fastidiously licked its paw .
Her eyes narrowed. The feline sat with rigid dignity and an air of imperious command. A hint of a smirk danced about her lips,
You do not fool me, Kestrel Change Man.
Victoria walked over and bowed to the cat. “A pleasure to see you again, my host. How did your conversation with your brother go?”
Only after she spoke did she notice that the cat’s eyes were an icy blue.
The cat regarded her back with these eyes. For an instant, she wondered if she had made a mistake, and it was a perfectly ordinary cat. Ah well, at least no one had seen her, though the chamber could contain invisible servants who would report her wonky behavior to their master.
The cat spoke with the same deep, clipped speech as his human voice. “How is it that you recognized me?”
“You are unmistakable,” Victoria responded graciously.
“Indeed? Wait here.” The cat leapt from the chair and padded away.
A few moments later, three cats came into the room. The black cat with white socks she had seen before was accompanied by a white cat and a gray tabby. All three had piercing blue eyes. The cats ranged around her, walking with their tails in the air. One stopped to stretch.
Victoria examined them thoughtfully. All three were graceful and disdainful, as befitted a feline. Only the gray tabby sat with gravid, almost disapproving, dignity. She stepped over to the gray and inclined her head.
Her eyes danced. “Lessingcat, I presume.”
The cat’s whiskers twitched, perhaps with amusement. “Interesting. Again.”
The three cats left. A few minutes later, three hawks flew into the room, kestrels with slate-blue heads. All three birds were fierce and proud. They landed on the light fixtures and glared down at her with identical blue eyes.
Victoria turned slowly in a circle. This was harder. The birds were by nature imperious and commanding. She eyed each one with care. Two were moved their heads with wild independence. The third was grave and steady in its motions, its aspect more impressive than unbridled. She met the hawk’s imperious gaze steadily and inclined her head.
“Impressive. One last time.”
The birds of prey winged their way from the chamber. Victoria waited. Time went by. She was just wondering if she was expected to stand where she was or if she could go back to her investigation of the room, when she heard scraping noises outside in the corridor.
Three giant spider-creatures shuffled into the room. These were not as tall as the ones she had seen on the beach in Thaerrie, but they stood a good six feet tall. She gazed up at them in wary amusement. An initial, instant frisson of fear quickly gave way to calm aplomb as she noted that no menace radiated from these creatures. Victoria was not squeamish, mere monstrousness of form did not dismay her.
They came forward, their shiny feet making scrambling noises against the polished wood floor. Their mandibles chattering. All three were big, hairy, black beasts with a multitude of blue eyes. Two of them minced awkwardly, as if whatever motivated the body was slightly shy. The other moved with a regal, imperious air.
The floating instruments were playing a waltz. Victoria curtseyed to Lessingspider-monstrosity and held out her hand, as if expecting to dance.
To her surprise, the spider raised a shiny tipped limb to take her hand. It curved another of its many hairy arms around her waist and began to rotate about the floor with her. Its many eyes glittered, as if it watched her, curious to see if she would draw back, repulsed. She did not, rather, she put her other hand on the bristly body and waltzed.
The two of them, the slender girl and her monstrous arachnid partner, solemnly circled the chamber. As they came around to where they had started, the spider-monstrosity spoke. “This is not the most convenient shape for this activity. Abide. I shall return.”
The spider-monstrosity scuttled away. Several minutes later, her host returned, only he now wore a younger body than when he had first greeted her. His smile lines were not as deep and there was no gray at his temples. He moved with slightly more energy than was his normal wont.
With no preamble, he swept her into his arms and waltzed her around the chamber, circling in the open area away from the long dining table. Victoria smiled up at him graciously, although she occasionally glanced over his shoulder to spot. There was no point in getting dizzy and making a fool of herself.
He did not speak, nor did he smile, but his eyes shown with a brilliant intensity as they gazed steadily down at her. She stared back steadily.
As she floated around the floor in his arms, she wondered how many young women her age knew how to waltz, much less were passably good at it. There were certain advantages to have attended St. John’s College.
Eventually, the waltz ended. Her partner released her and bowed.
“I thank you for the dance,” He stated. “Dinner will be served in half an hour. My servants will show you to a room where you can freshen up. Your belongings have been brought inside and will be waiting for you.” With that, he turned and departed, leaving Victoria, once again, alone.