Articles, rural living, and . . . salamanders?
The next day she wrote the article. She’d get criticism because Justinian published her two textbooks, but she didn’t have a dog in the fight for an intermediate-level work. That required a lot more familiarity with current training methods and with bridging the chasm between “this is magic. This is not magic.” and “cast a gate after determining which plane you need to send the interloper back to.” The differences between sorcery, coven, and mage magic also grew much larger once the student passed the basic levels. She’d stick to what she knew.
“So. Introduction of topic and reasons for new titles. Topic-by-topic comparison chart, discussion of each book on its own, comparisons, then separate coverage of Potoo’s volume. No interior images of that one.” Morgana scribbled a note to the press, reminding them of that. “Right.” She started typing.
By evening her back hurt, her eyes felt dry, and eating Smiley’s supper seemed like a quick and easy meal plan. Instead she opened the slow cooker and dished out a large bowl of “clean-the-freezer” stew. Smiley worked on roadkill deer ribs and loin, snarling a little. Well, he was a wolverine, a species not known for delicate dining habits. At least he wasn’t Rodney Lestrang. Just what little she’d heard through the Familiars’ gossip tree made her queasy. Some of his purported meals sounded worse than what buzzards dined on.
After supper she and her Familiar strolled along the long driveway connecting Chaos Manor to the county blacktop. She needed to go to Riverton in a day or two. No, she’d go tomorrow, let the article sit overnight, and then proof-read it and have Smiley check the draft. He had a better sense of what might be missing than she did. “Have you discerned any solution to the book disposal difficulty, Madame?” he inquired after they’d turned around at the hay meadow. The dark green cool-season grass already reached mid-shin. They’d probably get at least two mowings this year, maybe three if fate and weather smiled on her.
Morgana waved away some gnats. “No. I’m going to call Angahard this weekend and see if she knows anything about asking a salamander to take care of it.” Salamander fire would take care of a lot of problems, if one felt willing to oblige. “Although I’d have to shield the salamander from the book’s contents, and I don’t know how well that would work.” The volume probably wouldn’t hurt the creature, but her conscience would bother her.
A sound between a thoughtful noise and a battle snarl came from Smiley. After a few more yards, he observed, “Would bael-fire serve as a suitable disposal vehicle?”
She alternated between “no” and “oh hell no.” She settled on, “Resonances. I’d be terrified of what resonances bael-fire might ‘ping’ if it were applied to the book.” In theory none, because the physical book of paper and ink was not the same as the potential of spells-in-use. Some of what she’d read, however . . . “I’d be very, very leery about the essence of the book’s contents affecting its physical accident.”
Smiley blinked several times, then drooped. “Right. Assume the worst, because with Potoo it’s probably true. Fangs-n-fur,” he snarled. “Someday, karma will sort them out. I would dearly love to have the snack concession on that day.”
Morgana rolled her eyes. Apex predators. “Go right ahead, Smiley. I don’t want to be on the same continent when the lawyers stop circling and dive in for the kill.”
A crow zoomed past overhead, chased by at least three songbirds. Speaking of dive in . . .
The next afternoon, Morgana contemplated curse lifting. Specifically, would she lift any curses or hexes cast on any of the meteorologists in or around Riverton? The rain sheeting down the windshield ought to have arrived on Saturday, according to the previous evening’s forecast. The morning weather suggested that rain would commence on Friday evening. At the moment, it was still Thursday. “I know I should have gotten that damn garage door opener replaced last month.” She slapped the red SUV’s steering wheel, but lightly. She didn’t want to bruise her hand.
By the time she marched around to the back of the house, let herself in, stomped through the house to the garage, unlocked the mechanism with the help of a step ladder, and heaved the garage door open, her shoulders and hips had begun to ache, and her left knee joined in on the chorus. She backed the car half-way into the garage. All the way and she wouldn’t be able to open the back and unload. Smiley would have a grand time eating his way out of the car. “Ageing is not for sissies,” she grumbled as she opened the hatchback. She unlatched the door on her Familiar’s armored car-carrier, lowered his ramp, and started hauling her purchases into the house.
André didn’t answer his phone when she called that evening, so she left a message. He called back just after nine, sounding far too lively and awake. “Hi Morgana, Lelia and I were at a fencing team parents’ meeting.”
“That sounds more entertaining than the usual Parent Teacher Association meetings.”
He chuckled. “They can be, at least if money is involved. My suggestion for a shish-kabob dinner for raising funds was vetoed, even if it would be club-appropriate.”
She could imagine that all too well, including Lelia’s disavowal of her husband’s ideas. “The thought of teenagers with long skewers probably terrified the school administration.”
“Parents with long skewers, actually.” He sounded thoughtful, in a predatory way. A bit like Smiley, now that she thought about it. “So, you want to trade an interview for space to have Art work off energy?”
“Art or Hiram, or both. Justinian wants me to update the hazards chapter in the gate magic book. Of the people I know, right now you and Lelia have the most experience with that, and the most recent, so I thought I’d pick you and your Familiars’ brains, so to speak. And I need a strong young man or two to do the heavy digging in my garden this spring, and later in the summer. I’ll provide teenager chow.”
André made an interested noise. “Let me ask Lelia, then Art.”
She heard muffled voices, then an unmuffled “If she’s offering to feed them, I’ll drop them off with care instructions and she doesn’t have to return them.” Morgana chuckled. Her nephew Gregory hadn’t eaten his weight in food daily, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Ted had assured her that came from the maternal side of Greg’s family. Ted’s mother had warned otherwise.
“I have an enthusiastic yes from their mother and a qualified yes from Art and Hiram. I’ll change that to a solid yes from Art and not-right-now from Hiram, since he has more homework. Deborah abstains.” André chuckled. “Familiars don’t get to vote.” Raspberries in the background suggested some disagreement from that quarter.
“Let me know what works for you on the interview, because your schedule is less flexible than mine,” Morgana said. “And e-mail me a list of any food allergies. Not current dislikes, but allergies.” She’d hate to accidentally do-in a voice-activated turning-fork. Smiley would tease her unmercifully.
She heard the sound of adults conferring, and a teen-aged male adding commentary. “Not this weekend,” André said. “And next weekend is Easter for us. Two weeks from Saturday, ten AM?”
Morgana flipped two pages in her “paper brain,” as she called the day planner. “Perfect. Weather permitting, I’ll have work for the boys, or boy, to do. Smiley can supervise.” He bared his fangs at her, a little gleam flashing on one long incisor.
“Boy. Hiram has a scout project that day. Deborah will be at Krimhilde’s, doing something herbal, or reading herbals if the weather’s bad.” A long, tired sigh. “I know I had their energy once. I wish I knew where I left it, so I could get it back.”
Rodney’s voice came over the line. “Off hand, I’d say about a quarter of it stayed in Southwest Asia, another quarter in Europe, and a third quarter at various goth clubs and concerts on two continents, boss.”
“Not helping, Rodney,” came André’s tight reply. Morgana imagined him clamping his hand around the white-bleached kit fox’s muzzle. She’d done that once with Smiley, but it was to keep him from taking a large chunk out of the posterior of someone who almost deserved it. She’d also nearly dislocated her shoulder. Wolverines were strong.
The next day she reread the article draft, making corrections and re-phrasing a few things. “Smiley, your turn,” she informed him after dinner. “I left the pages on your reading stand in the work room.”
“Very good, Madame.” He gallumpfed off that direction.
Morgana busied herself with sweeping up shed fur and dust, then thinning herb starts. The thyme seemed especially boisterous this year. She’d sent Angahard an e-mail, asking what time to ball-call. European countries shifted to Daylight Savings on a different schedule from the US, and Morgana never could remember if they were on a six hour or seven hour difference at the moment. “I need to look up the current best-practices on salamanders in the US.” Austria, Germany, France, and the US all had different rules, and Canada didn’t bear thinking about, since the national government allowed each province to go its own way on magical creatures. Alberta and British Columbia were the strictest about salamanders and other fire-aspect creatures. “As if they caused forest fires,” Morgana sighed a little to herself. This was what happened when politicians insisted on regulating magic, rather than allowing the community to police itself. “Oh well, it least they aren’t Russia.”
Smiley reported back as she started cooking supper. “No major changes, Madame. If anything, I’d be less diplomatic about the Potoo Brothers title, since we did not look at the most advanced exercises. Perhaps we ought to, only one or two pages, as a precaution.” He sounded less than enthusiastic, and his tail drooped, dragging behind him, gathering a bit of pale dust that she’d missed. “I believe I will step outside for a moment.”
“Go right ahead. Supper will be an hour at least.” She’d had a protein-heavy dinner.
“Thank you, Madame.” He disappeared into the mud room, claws clicking a little on the tile. She heard the pet-door in the main door clack, unlocking as he approached. He’d at last agreed to wear a collar with a key-fob on it, so he could come and go at will during the day. Morgana rolled her head back and forth, releasing tension in her neck, then resumed stirring the cubed meat. The package claimed pork, but the contents seemed very dark for domestic pig.
Not ten minutes later, Smiley raced through the pet door. Thump came from the mud room as he slid the blocking bar across the door. Morgana peered around the corner. His fur stood on end, and he bared his teeth. “Skunk, Madame. In the garden. Staggering.”
Oh shit. She turned the fire off under supper and got the varmint rifle. A quick look out the window of the breakfast nook revealed a very strange-acting skunk weaving as it walked through the garden. Damn, it was early in the year for rabies. She switched into yard-boots and opened the back door, then eased out. She sighted and fired, dripping the skunk. She put a second round in the chest, just to be certain, then went back inside and called the County Extension Agent’s rabies hotline. “Hi. Morgana Lorraine, with a possibly rabid skunk. Yes. Behavior. It was staggering and wandering in my yard. Yes, chest, to preserve the head if you want it.” She listened to the groan, and a conversation in the background. “I can bag it and have it at the gate, if that would be easier.”
The next morning, at ten, she ball-called Angehard. Her niece answered promptly. “Good morning, Aunt Morgana. How are you?”
“Pretty well, and good afternoon. Has spring arrived yet?”
Angahard shook her head, then lifted an errant strand of medium-brown hair out of the way. “Too much static,” she said as she pinned the hair back in place. “And no, we had some snow last night. Just enough to dust everything in white. The ski mountain got four centimeters, so the late season skiers are delighted. Jean-Paul is not as excited, because he’s out checking the trails.”
The joys of being an avalanche safety officer. “We’re having rain and cool weather, but no avalanches. At least none on the farm.”
Angahard laughed, smiling broadly. “I’d hope not! How are things there?”
After a bit of chatting about family and Chaos Manor, Morgana said, “I need to lean on your expertise with salamanders.”
Her niece blinked. “Is this for a book?”
“No, actually it is for book disposal.”
Smiley had joined her, climbing onto his carpeted platform where he could see and be seen in the crystal ball. “Madam has a title so dangerous we cannot, in good conscience, sell it or keep it.”
“As bad as Martindale?” Angahard blinked several times. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
Morgana held up three fingers. “Three words: Potoo Brothers textbook.
A groan sounded from the other end of the call, and Angahard covered her eyes with one hand for a moment. “They need an exorcism.”
“Several people have suggested that. Others recommend a lawyer. My problem is that I was given a copy of the book to do a review. I have, and the book is so bad that it is actively dangerous, meaning lethal. I need to dispose of it safely.” Morgana frowned. “Just surface-reading the accident of the physical book suggests that it has been inadvertently made fire resistant. Thus my question about salamanders.”
Angahard pursed her lips as she thought. She looked very much like her mother, Morgana’s sister, when she did that. Same nose, same medium-thick lips, same trick of looking to the left while squinting her right eye. “I can see why you’d be interested in having a salamander try to consume the book. I . . . I don’t think it would cooperate. Just a moment, please.” Angahard’s face disappeared, replaced by landscapes of the Swiss Alps in summer. Was one of them the setting of her current hotel? Possible, since it was a US owned mountain resort. Smiley sighed at the glimpse of fat lambs and kids gamboling in a meadow.
Morgana’s niece returned. “Aunt Morgana, no, it would not work. I checked one of our semi-retired salamanders. His peak temperature only reached six-hundred-forty degrees Fahrenheit when he was in his prime, and that was standard heat, not magic fire. Even with giving one a lot of oily food and fats, which I don’t recommend, the book would not completely burn.”
“Thank you. I wasn’t sure myself, because of having to shield the salamander from the book while having it also consume the book.” Morgana drooped a little, but that was that. “How many salamanders are you currently riding herd on, pardon the pun?”
“Only eighty four right now. There have been some anti-magic rumblings recently, so the management had us reduce the number of salamanders and replace them with super-thick thermal carafes and regular alcohol-fueled or even electric chafing dishes.” Angahard shook her head a little as Smiley muttered. “This as they are also trying to cut back on electricity use because of the new taxes. I’ll be glad to come back to the States.”
“What about Jean-Paul?” Angahard’s husband was a Swiss citizen.
“He wants to give the US a try. Some of the government’s environmental policies are making it harder to protect people from avalanches and other hazards, and he’s . . .” She looked down, then back up. “His team recovered five bodies last month. Snowboarders on a cornice that his boss couldn’t get permission to drop the week before. It’s hard on Jean-Paul.”
Morgana pinched the bridge of her nose. “That is rough. I’m very sorry to hear that, and I can see why he’d be willing to consider relocating.”
After the call ended, Morgana folded her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Well dang it. I can’t bury it, sending it to the landfill is out of the question, no university special collection is currently accepting hazardous modern tomes . . Phooy and drat.” With that she creaked out of the chair and stalked out of the workroom. She needed food and good coffee, and not in that order.
(C) Alma T.C. Boykin 2021 All Rights Reserved.