Griffin in the Tomatoes, Letter IV

This is the last of a four-part short story. The first letter is here.

March 10, 19–

Baron,

I will never cease berating myself for forgetting that Kathrine does social magics—and after that I will never, ever cease berating myself for assuming Rhysdaal makes the same mistakes I make. I promised you a full explanation, and as I wish never to repeat my mistakes again, I shall discipline myself by writing it down in black and white.

The day you sent your letter I was out assisting at a difficult birth all day and when I received your letter I was bone-tired. That’s not an excuse for what I did, only an explanation. I read until I saw that Kathrine had arranged some small magical presentation for your birthday and I lost all common sense.

I was convinced that it was up to me to go and right the wrong and fix the damage done.

Foolish, foolish, foolish. I, of all people, ought to know that there is no excuse for not following a griffin’s instructions when it comes to magic, but I threw on my hat and my cloak and ran out the door exactly like some demented fishwoman. I said to myself; I have ruined everything—exactly like any of it rested on my shoulders at all in the first place! And you nearly died for my arrogance.

Because you see, what Rhysdaal and I knew and you did not was that your guest was a particularly foul kind of Fae called a Red Cap. Red Caps are not common, but they have two distinct tells: first, they are immortal as long as they keep their red hats soaked in the blood of their victims, and second, they increase their strength (both physical and magical) when they are in the presence of human magicians. It is possible to isolate a Red Cap from any human magic residue until it is too weak to overpower its victim. Without blood, its hat dries out and it dies on its own.

This was the reason I had to stay away from Rushdon House. I also could not speak to you about this because it is a touchy business accusing a fae of anything, and Rhys and I did not want to bring a fairy war down on you and your wife’s heads. I mean no offense, but you are a particularly easy person to read and we feared that Mr. Hastings might understand something in your manner.

All of this vanished from my mind as soon as I heard that Kathrine’s magic was set to go at a scheduled time. Illusory social magics are not powerful, but they might easily be enough for Mr. Hastings to overpower you, and with no one in the house to hear any cry for assistance, you would be helpless.

My horse was still saddled from my midwifery business, so I threw myself on her back and was galloping down the road in moments. I cannot tell for sure, but I think that Mr. Hastings sensed the moment I crossed the boundary onto your lands. That, I believe, was when he raised such a ruckus calling you up to the attic—sufficiently far enough upstairs that Rhys would have difficulty fitting round the bends and passing through the locked doors.

I ran into a completely silent house. No butler, no Kathrine, no maids. And no Rhys. That was the most terrifying thing. Red Caps are vicious creatures, and even a creature as large and powerful as a griffin can be overcome by a trap. I shouted for Rhys and heard only echoes. And far away, some scuffles and bumps.

Up the stairs I went—all three flights—and down the hall to a locked door that thudded with impacts. I was not thinking straight, even then. Instead of getting a poker or some physical implement, I said a word and blew the door straight off its hinges.

Dramatic, but fatal. I saw the change come over Hastings even as the door fell away. Even as you planted a nice right hook in his midsection (very neatly done) the residue of my magic hit him and he swelled, his muscles bulging, his height telescoping. Everything turned. In an instant, you were pinned and there was blood everywhere and the knife flashing in the light again and again.

I have never been so horrified or so helpless. Kathrine, who is a better friend than I deserve, would be right to hate me, as I was almost the instrument of your death. I couldn’t do any more magic, obviously, and against a creature as hulking and powerful as Mr. Hastings then was, I had no chance of physical attack either. I did the only thing left to do; I screamed for Rhys.

The window shattered and he was there, all wings and teeth and terrible paws. In a moment, he had knocked Mr. Hastings off you and was shaking him like a terrier shakes a rat. I saw Mr. Hastings’ hat tumble to the side and I ran for it and threw it on the fire. It burned.

I didn’t stay to watch; I ran out of the room because the longer I stayed the stronger the Red Cap got. It pained me more than I can say to leave you lying there bleeding alone. Fortunately I met Kathrine coming up the stairs, just home from the city, and sent her up to fetch you out at once. I may say, you have a treasure of a wife, to regret her pique and come home just in time to save your life. But you already knew that.

And that’s the most of my tale. I need not mention the vast amount of stitching up you required, or how long it will be before your scars fade. Kathrine says neither of us come out of this situation looking very impressive and I must agree with her. I imagined myself more important than I am, and you ignored the very specific advice of your own magician! A sorry lot the both of us.

Sincerely,

Margaret Saylor,

Magician at Attendale, Yewsford Village

Griffin in the Tomatoes: Letter III

This is the third of a four-letter short story. The first one is here: Griffin in the Tomatoes: Letter I, The Baron to Miss Saylor

March 1, 19–

Miss Saylor,

It has been a fortnight since you last wrote and I have done my best to abide by your instructions and be patient with the explanation you have provided me.

But now I find myself with two unwanted guests. Mr. Hastings has refused to decamp, despite his apparent terror at your beast at Rhysdaal. And Rhysdaal has moved into the house, apparently feeling that I need extra guarding. I attempt to be grateful, but my patience is waning.

I do not even understand what prompted his move from his nest in my tomatoes to our atrium. I intend to describe the evening to you in the hopes that you can offer some explanation for his change and perhaps I can make arrangements for Rhysdaal to move back outside.

It was raining and we were enjoying an evening inside. Kathrine, as you know, has some small talent in the illusionary magics and Mr. Hastings requested to see a display of colors and lights as he had heard she can do especially prettily. I did not think it would be a problem as Kathrine is hardly a magician. While she was preparing what she needed, he went upstairs and fetched a most hideous red hat with the explanation that it was his “magic-viewing hat.” I mention this only because it struck us both as an extremely odd thing to do.

Once he was settled, wearing his disgusting hat—indoors, no less—she began to create her illusions. And no sooner had she begun the first spell, than we heard a scream from the entryway. We ran out into the hall to find Rhysdaal standing there, dripping all over our floor, nearly brushing the chandelier with his head and roaring. He roared at me and my guest and my wife in my own house. And then he sat down and would not move and has not moved since.

My wife went to bed with a case of the vapors. You will be pleased to hear that I regret not following the advice of my wife and my magician. I did not insist Mr. Hastings leave, and he begins to show his true nature. Despite the circumstances and her terror, he expected my wife to continue her magical illusions. Her refusal did at least convince him to take off his filthy red hat.

Katherine has informed me that she will reside in town until the griffin has vacated the premises. You might remember it’s my birthday tomorrow, and we had a day of festivities planned, including guests and a little magical surprise for me from Kathrine.  Because of your creature we must uninvite our guests and I shall have to enjoy my wife’s present with only the company of Mr. Hastings and his hat.

And my wife is not the only loss I have sustained as of late. Since Rhysdaal has moved indoors my entire staff have vacated the premises, excepting only the cook and my personal valet. They have all told me they cannot abide a terrifying creature, especially one as big as a pony lying in our atrium all hours of the day, hissing every time Mr. Hastings passes by.

Despite the mince pies I have yet to see any peaceable relations grow between Rhysdaal and I, but that might perhaps be because Mr. Hastings has attached himself to my person and I cannot be rid of him. Nonetheless, I find my human guest to be much less of an irritant than your giant magical beast.

I do not need an explanation if that is what you insist is proper; all I ask is that you come remove your beast. It has been almost a month and I have not been threatened by anything but the griffin himself. I do not like to remind you that I am your baron and your superior and you owe me some loyalty. If you continue to disregard me, I have a cousin in town who is a magician and would, no doubt be more obliging.

But I would much rather you simply helped me out of your own good nature and friendship.

Sincerely,

Baron Jefferson Tarkington,

Rushdon House, Yewsford

Griffin in the Tomatoes, Letter II

This is a story told in a series of four letters. The first is here

February 13, 19–

Dear Baron,

I am so cautious I make a very namby-pamby magician (as the townsfolk of Yewsford have informed me many times over) but now I find my excess of fear has caused me to give offense to a good friend. Sometimes for fear of burning someone with an overdose of magic, or saying the wrong spell, or forgetting the proper ingredients for a potion, I just…don’t do it at all. And that is exactly what I have done to you, good friend.

The simple fact is, I cannot tell you why Rhysdaal has chosen to take up residence in your greenhouse. He has bound me to silence.

But on giving the matter thought, I realized that though Rhys forbade me to explain the matter to you, he didn’t tell me to refuse to speak to you at all and then run out of the room like a frightened child. I have perhaps again allowed my fear to urge me into an excess of caution.

The thing is, Rhys frightened me terribly on Thursday when he told me where he was going and why. (Yes, I knew where he was going, though if I’d known he was going to tromp on your tomato bed I would have tried to redirect him to a less beloved plant.) He normally maintains a prickly and proud sort of bearing, but he unbent enough to be upset, and that, I found, was equally upsetting to me. I depend on him to be unpleasant and sarcastic and when he shows signs of a heart, I am truly unnerved.

But I have thought long and hard about this. I cannot give up my caution in magical matters—no matter what Rhys says, I cannot behave with the wild improvisations of better magicians, but I do not wish to lose a friendship over an excess of caution. Perhaps if I can’t explain why Rhys is living in your tomatoes, I can at least explain why I have to follow his instructions and not speak of the matter.

…I hope you don’t mind me digressing into a little lecture on magic theory here. People have somehow gotten a broken connection to magic. Other animals, especially griffins, unicorns, manticores, dragons and similar beasts, have an unbroken connection.

It helps if you think of magic as streams running invisibly around us. Magical creatures like griffins, unicorns, manticores, dragons and the like swim in the streams, connected with them like fish are in water.

Human interactions with magic act more like filling the stream with large rocks. There’s a lot of splashing and too many rocks or too large will disrupt the flow of the entire stream. Frequently one of the strongest ways we disrupt the flow of magic is by speaking. The splatter, so to speak, of untimely words, is often easily lapped up by evil creatures and used for strengthening their harmful deeds.

I know Rhys can be a pest and I’m sorry about your Beefeaters, but you and your family are in real danger and you do need him there as much as you do not need me there. Please extend my apologies to Kathrine for upsetting her. If she could see her way to forgiving me, I would be happy to host her here for tea if she wishes to venture outside. It is of absolute importance that you avoid having any magic in your house at the moment.

Also, I don’t want to dictate your household, but if Mr. Hastings finds Rhys upsetting it might be best for him to take up residence elsewhere. I believe Kathrine has frequently mentioned that she does not approve of how he butters you up anyway and it’s always a good idea to listen to your wife!

Please be safe.

Sincerely yours,

Margaret Saylor,

Magician at Attendale, Yewsford Village

P.S. I am sending two mince pies with this letter, one for you and Kathrine and one for Rhys. He is especially fond of mince pie. It should improve your relationship. Also if you call him by his name instead of just “creature” or “beast,” that should help, too.

Griffin in the Tomatoes: Letter I

I thought my short stories might come together more easily if I had a theme, so I’m exploring silence. Last month was the silence of not being heard (No More Ink). This month’s sprung more from the idea of silence as a means of protection. I’ll admit it went a little off the rails and I wouldn’t submit it as a thesis on the theme. But the whole point was to get me writing, and at that it was a success! 

 

February 12, 19–

Miss Saylor,

I called on you this past Monday to inform you that your griffin has moved into my greenhouse and has made a nest for itself out of my tomato plants.

One wouldn’t think that its removal would be a difficult request, honestly. Our two households have dwelt side by side amicably for the past four years. Until this past Monday I would have even dared to call us friends, but your silence in this matter makes me question if I have perhaps assumed too much. My wife is upset as well, and wishes me to tell you that she won’t have you for tea on Friday until you remove the beast.

You have mentioned before the difficulties of housing your griffin due to his temperamental and catlike personality, but I am sure something could be arranged in a manner satisfactory to you and I (and the griffin) if you would simply have the decency to talk to me about it.

Or at the very least acknowledge that there is indeed a griffin running amuck in my vegetable garden. He has squashed every single one of my Beefeater Tomato plants and they have taken Best in Show for three years running in the county fair. I had hoped that they might do the same for a fourth year.

He has also frightened my wife Kathrine and scared off my head groundskeeper. Friday morning Mr. Thompson, who is as top-hole of a groundskeeper as can be hired in the entirety of England, came to me in a state of extreme alarm and told me that though the windows were not broken and the door was shut, he had stepped inside the greenhouse to find himself face to face with a large griffin standing in the walkway and clacking its beak at him.

Even as he spoke to me, I heard Kathrine scream and come running back into the house. She had gone out to gather some herbs and the creature tried to speak to her. She now refuses to go outside for any reason. I have lost privacy, my tomatoes, a peaceful wife—and Mr. Thompson has refused to return until the griffin is gone, which will put the gardens in a sad state.

As you are aware, we have a guest at our house, a Mr. Oliver Hastings. Mr. Hastings and I went out to attempt to reason with the creature. Perhaps I should have left him inside after all; the meeting did not proceed exactly as I imagined…

I do not remember all the etiquette rules for conversing with a griffin but I did my best. I went in and found it lying in the tomatoes with its great, terrible paws hung over the side of the raised bed.  I bowed as I remembered you said they appreciate. I said, “Good griffin, my home is open to you, but may I ask why you have chosen to reside in my tomato bed?”

But the creature only hissed at us and looked at us hard with those copper eyes. Mr. Hastings was so upset that he screamed and ran out of the greenhouse. I admit I had not expected such timid behavior from him, nor such speed (as he is quite elderly) but I cannot have my guests terrorized while they visit me.

Naturally, I immediately went to see you to rectify this problem. You can imagine my disappointment when I hardly got more of a civil reply out of you than out of your beast!

I am aware that young ladies of society often speak in riddles and expect their listeners to understand somehow, and we have all heard tales of magicians being even more prone to this particular foible, but I find ma’am, that I do not care for this method of communication.

I did think we were friends, Margret. I do not understand your silence in this matter.

Sincerely yours.

Baron Jefferson Tarkington, Esq.

Reardon House, Yewsford Village