Methven - Day Twenty-one - Part Two
The S'lynth ambassador seemed to struggle to keep himself under control. His blunt muzzle wrinkled in an involuntary snarl and his obscenely-pink facial tentacles yanked so hard at the fur around his big, black eyes that I thought for a moment they might actually pull it out by the roots.
It was hard not to watch.
Eventually, he turned toward me, raising a hand as big as a tennis racket. I flinched as he reached out and placed that enormous paw ever-so-delicately on my shoulder. The huge feloid bent down and brought his horrifying visage eye-to-eye with mine. I felt his damp, wormlike tentacles blindly caress my face, as he spoke to me in a chummy, confidential rumble.
"I want you to do me a favor, Mithtur Drew. I want you to tell your employer that thee will lothe thith contetht. Tell her that I thaid tho. And tell her that I thaid I will laugh when thee doeth."
My voice came out as a high-pitched squeak. Under the circumstances, Grrawth-h being friendly and cheerful was somehow a helluva lot scarier than if he'd been yelling and throwing things.
"Thee to it that you do not forget, Mithtur Drew. That would dithappoint me."
For a long, terrible moment he continued to stare at me--motionless, save for the graveyard kiss of his questing tentacles on my face and the stiletto pinprick of his claws gripping my shoulder through my tunic. At last, he straightened up, released me, turned and strode away.
No one stood in his path.
. . .
I stalked off toward our regular table, determined to confront Læ about the nature of the quarrel between her and Grrawth-h. Instead, I found her and Akavasi, the Khasim Clan's Grandmother, engaged in a what politicians call "a full, frank and open exchange of views."
In Vomisa, of course.
Everyone except me was already there--and hanging on every incomprehensible word.
I couldn't follow the substance of their conversation any more than I'd been able to understand Læ's exchange with Grrawth-h--but I could definitely grasp the tone of it. This time she was clearly pleading, rather than insisting, as she'd done with the S'lynth diplomat.
And--from what I could tell--Akavasi wasn't convinced. She shook her head and turned to leave.
Læ switched to the Traders' Tongue.
"Please, Grandmother Akavasi, I beg of you not to do this thing! Give me just a few more days to.."
Akavasi turned back to face her, eyes blazing, and responded sharply in the same language.
"The decision has been made. It cannot now be un-made. Speak on the child's behalf, or stay silent--as you will. There will be no further delay."
She turned her back on us and strode imperiously away.
Blandy broke the silence that followed.
"Dude! Tell me she, like, didn't mean what I think she means!"
"Fuck dat," Tong responded. "Tha fix is in, nucker. Bitches gonna blindside tha M-man."
Læ's voice was subdued.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Carstairs. I fear Mr. Lowe is correct--the Mothers appear determined to make an example of our friend, Mantami."
"And that's not all."
She turned to frown at me.
"What do you mean by that, Mr. Wilde?"
I related Grrawth-h's message. I left out the part about him scaring me spitless, so it didn't take long.
Bill was the first to come up with the obvious question.
"Might I inquire as to the nature of the dispute, Madam?"
"I am afraid it is a complex matter and--if you will forgive me, Mr. Wilson--I simply cannot spare the attention required to explain it to you just now. We have little time left before Mantami's trial. I must use what of it remains to plan how best to save him from the fate the Mothers have ordained. I hope you will understand."
. . .
Læ was as good as her word. She spent the entire evening meal in a brown study, barely touching her food. Reluctant to distract her, the rest of us skipped our normal barrage of insults, bad jokes and shop talk.
It made for a quiet dinner party.
As soon as the first few Vomisa adults left their tables in the refectory for the main hall next door, Læ rose from her own place at our table. As if that were a signal, the rest of us pushed back our plates, stood up and followed her into the Khasim Clan's great hall.
. . .
The curving ranks of benches that fill the Clanhome's main hall face the massive double doors that connect the dining hall with the auditorium. The first time we'd sat in on one of the Mothers' assizes, the front row had been reserved for all the folks the Mothers were to judge. This time, it was occupied by a solitary, familiar figure wearing a hangdog expression--and nothing else.
Pith recognized him first.
"Mantami! You dog!"
None of us had seen our Vomisa friend since the night we arrived at his Clanhome. I know we've all been worried about him and we were all relieved to see him again--especially since he looked perfectly healthy.
Blandy rushed over to Mantami, picked him right up off his seat and wrapped him in a bear hug.
"Dude! This is most excellent--most excellent, indeed!"
Before Blandy had a chance to set him down, Tong was pummeling Mantami's bare back with glee.
"Ay yo trip, cuz! You lookin' good, fo' a BG!"
Pith made it a group hug. I guess I was in there, somewhere, too.
Even Bill got into the act, reaching between us and the Bobbsey Twins to wring Mantami's hand.
"I am delighted to see you once again, Mantami! We have all been quite concerned for you.."
Bruno waded in and pried our long-lost pal from our collective grasp.
"Hey, kids--give the guy room to breath, willya? You okay, buddy?"
Mantami nodded, solemnly.
"I am well, Mr. Bruno. It is good to see you again."
"It's good to see you, too, kiddo."
Just then, Læ stepped through the hole Bruno had made in our little crowd.
"Good hunting, child."
"Good hunting, Mother Læ. It is good to see you again."
"Indeed--although I wish our reunion had happened under more positive circumstances."
Mantami bowed his head.
"You know that I have sinned, Mother Læ. There must be a reckoning."
"I know, child. Despite that, I hope to save you from exile--but there are forces that will seek to use your punishment as a weapon against me."
Mantami looked up, startled.
"Against you, Mother Læ?"
Læ nodded somberly.
"I do not understand."
Her hand went out to caress his cheek.
"I know that, too, child. But you will learn."
She turned to face the rest of us, gesturing to the vacant bench where we'd found Mantami.
"Please be seated, gentlemen. We should not have long to wait."
. . .
Læ and her consort, Carleton, grabbed a bench on one side of the center aisle and plopped Mantami down between them. The five of us Berkeley-type Earthlings filled the bench opposite them, with Bruno in the aisle seat.
I deliberately sat next to Bruno, but I was still too far away from Læ and Mantami to hear their whispered conversation--so I pumped Bruno, instead.
"You must know what the deal is with Læ and Grrawth-h, Bruno. What gives?"
"Gee, you really think so? What with Grrawth-h being an ambassador and all, I mean?"
"Nobody likes a smartass, Drewski."
"And here I am without my hip waders."
"All right, all right--you made your point."
"So, what's the deal?"
"You understand Grrawth-h talks fast and my S'lynth is pretty skimpy, so I only caught bits and pieces.."
"Near as I can tell, he wants the Portal we used shut down."
"He does? But..how are we supposed to get home?"
He shook his head.
"That's no problem. If we get through this thing in one piece, Switzerland is just one hop away from Tacid. No, the bitch of it is, if he makes us close down that Portal, we lose our back door into Methven."
"And that's a problem because..?"
"Drakenfoe monitors every Portal on Methven--exept the one Grrawth-h wants us to close down. Losing it would make him a lot harder to outfox."
"And he's really that much of a menace?"
"You have no idea."
"In that case, why doesn't Læ just tell Grrawth-h to go fuck himself?"
"If he was the only one pushing for it, she might do just that. The problem is.."
He fell abruptly silent. I looked up to see the S'lynth Ambassador looming over us. His only adornment was a folded pelt draped over his left forearm that I assumed must have some ceremonial meaning.
Bruno greeted him politely.
"Good hunting, Mr. Grrawth-h."
Grrawth-h ignored him.
"I tolerate your thent, Mithtur Drew."
"Uh--likewise, Mr. Grrawth-h."
"Did you deliver my methage to your employer?"
"Yes. Yes I did."
"Thank you, Mithtur Drew. Thith evening'th eventh thould prove motht amuthing.."
He smiled unpleasantly, displaying acres of glistening, sharply-pointed teeth.
"Although thome of uth may be more amuthed than otherth."
(Copyright© 1997, 1998, 1999 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)