The Telling of Tales

 

Who Dreams of Dragons?

By Andre Norton

For Anne McCaffrey

(As far as we know this was the last story Andre ever wrote.)

“This is a new one Aunt Kat. Where did you get it?”

Ashley surveyed the white dragon, just the right size to fit comfortably into one’s hand. The carefully carved scales had a semblance of flitting rainbows though she had not moved it. Katlin Rosswell, mistress of dragon lore, leaned forward.

“You’ve gone right to the heart of the matter, Ashley. We didn’t get it – it was just here yesterday morning. No one had entered in the gift book, nor will anyone admit being responsible for its appearance. It’s made of mother-of-pearl and it certainty is a work of art. Robbi and I went through the trash barrel, down to the bottom. There was no box, nor wrappings, to explain it.”

She moved on to her desk where a collection of papers was piled untidily, picking up one sheet after another, glancing at each before she discarded it. Suddenly, holding the last she had taken up, Katlin Rosswell moved closer to the desk lamp which she switched on.

“No!” Her denial was sharp and sudden.

“What’s the matter?” Ashley joined her to look down at the sheet of paper. Though she was seeing it upside down it was plain that the lines of printing there were not ordered as they should be. There were gaps here and there as if words had been erased and in those gaps were touches of brilliant red, green, blue and yellow such as crayons might have left.

The older woman stroked the page to flatten it more.

“King Fristan” she was reading aloud, “reached for the serpent – Serpent?” With the tip of her finger she pointed down a couple of lines. Now she indicated a purple slash: “Six or Eight make sure it’s straight.”

Having read, she looked up at Ashley sternly. “Who was here this morning?”

“She said her name was Winifred Monck,” Ashley answered readily. “There,” she pointed to a yellow slip protruding from a pocket of the desk pad. “Said she wanted to leave a note. But I was here with her all the time and all she did was write that.”

Aunt Kat had the note out and unfolded. She frowned as she read aloud.

“M. W. Monck – 6 Limington Court. Hmm – Limington Court.” Once more she rounded on Ashley, “What did she look like?”

“She was kind of old – well, her hair was white – what you could see of it. She had a knitted cap pulled down over it as if this was winter. Her face – her face was just plain ordinary. She had a big old cape, not a coat which came clear down to the floor. Still – she wasn’t any bag woman – I had a queer feeling somehow that she was someone important.”

Aunt Kat had sat down behind the desk. She brought out a large MS envelope from the lower drawer and slipped the page into it only to find more colored markings on the next one below. In the end she uncovered five such and they were stored carefully away in the envelope along with the yellow message slip.

“I understand you are going over to the Hobby exhibit with Sue Rogers”.

Ashley nodded. “Her mother entered a quilt her great-grandmother Swift had made – clear back around the time of the Civil War.”

Aunt Kat smiled. “That has visited about every exhibit in this part of the country for the last ten years.” She commented. “It is a family –”

She had only gotten so far when Ashley interrupted. “The dragon – the pearl dragon!”

Where there had rested, only moments earlier, in a shaft of sunlight, there was nothing now but the well polished surface of the table. Katlin was on her feet staring at the empty space.

“But you did not take it!” Her voice had risen a little.

“No!” Ashley replied quickly. “I never touched it at all.”

Her Aunt came from behind the desk, moved to the table. For some reason she was pointing at all which rested there now repeating names for each. “Chinese Fighting fish of Cinnabar – Willard’s birthday present this year. Carved ivory needle case from Looie, she found that in London. Mud figure of Chinese poet getting drunk – Spanish comb set in brilliants –”

Silent now, she stood just looking down at small treasures. Ashley stooped, and was searching the floor, though she could not imagine what had knocked the figure from the table. It should show up well against the rich dark colors of the Persian rug. There was nothing there.

Katlin had gone to her knees and was peering around the feet of the nearest chair which were carved in the form of great claws clasping balls. Even running fingers between the claws of the nearest foot. Ashley straightened up. There was no white dragon there, she was sure of it.

As her line of sight again flicked at the table top she stiffened.

“It can’t be!”

On the very spot of gleaming mahogany where it had been before stood the mother-of-pearl scaled dragon.

Staring at the dragon, then at Ashley, and back again at the figure, Katlin pulled herself to her feet and sat down in the very chair she had been examining. Ashley had retreated a little from the table burdened by curios.

“It was gone!”

Aunt Kat’s voice was harsh as she answered, after a pause which went on too long. “Yes” – just one word, no attempt at any explanation. Then she added, after another long moment of silence: “We can bear witness for each other. However I can do without such a trick again.”

She arose and went to the table. For a moment she hesitated before she gathered up her long white skirt and with that wrapped it well around the figure she picked it up. Ashley drew close, obeying Katlin’s gesture. The dragon was laid full length on the desk top to rest on a sheet of unmarked paper. Deftly Katlin swathed the paper about the fantastic creature and proceeded to use sealing tape backward and forward until she had a package the shape of its contents thoroughly hidden from sight.

“Make note of this, if you will, Ashley –” that was the voice she used when commenting on some important point of research. “Top drawer – left side.” She jerked the indicated drawer open roughly and brought it entirely out, to be lifted to the desk top. Into the space from which it had come she pushed her hand well in.

Ashley noted now her aunt’s heavy breathing. Then she heard the click and Katlin withdrew her hand, caught up the packet and put it into the drawer space. There came another lick. Katlin’s hand was out. With both of them, she reinserted the drawer and pushed it carefully closed, level with desk front.

“So –” Now her attention switched to Ashley. “You know my work.” A statement not a question. She pushed back her chair, turned it on its rollers a fraction so she was now facing the wall behind her, covered with shelves packed with books in bright colored jackets. “Thirty-five years of it. Two Hugos, a Nebula, – First Fantasy Award – all of it. I’ve dealt with fantasy, talked about, lectured, had two seasons of a TV series which they are talking about reviving. If I had been alone and had repeated to someone what just happened, as well I might, what could have been the result? The old lady – t’is a pity she has – as the saying use to be – gone around the bend. She’s taken to believe what she writes about is real.”

“I do not know what is real,” she moved, drawing herself straight up in her chair. “But I shall make every effort to find out –”

Ashley near jumped as the phone nearer to her than to Katlin rang. Her aunt signaled for her to take it.

“Yes, Yes – Sue. I don’t know –” To leave Aunt Kat here alone she should not do that. However her aunt was nodding vigorously shaping words Ashley was not able to translate. “In twenty minutes?”

Katlin continued to nod. “All right, I’ll be ready.”

Before Ashley could utter any protest, Katlin spoke. “There is something you can do –” she said quickly. “They are an estate sale in connection with the show. I had intended to attend but now there are other things to be done. “I’ve heard that they some very old books that belonged to the great-grandmother Edgehill. Look them over. I want very much to have any which deal with local history, have heard that she had some unusual ones. I will call Hannah Berryman – she is in charge of that sale and is always ready to help me with references. I’ll tell her that you are acting for me. Will you do this, Ashley?”

It was the sort of request she could always expect from her Aunt. To hear her make it was reassuring, making one believe that what had happened here was only a trick. One which Aunt Kat would speedily solve, Ashley almost had a feeling of relief.

“Of course,” she agreed. Catching sight of the outer world through the window behind her hostess she added, “If the weather lets us –”

Katlin laughed sounding just as she always did. “Don’t worry about that. They are using the old Acker barn to exhibit most things this year.” She was looking down at the surface of the desk before her and paused, then she spoke again rather swiftly as if she were afraid she would forget something of importance. “Ashley – no – I don’t think I need to say this to you. Our adventure is off the record as the reporters say –”

“Yes.” Ashley agreed. But it hurt a little – did Aunt Katlin think she would tell such a story?

She was still unhappy over that when Sue arrived in the red pickup the Rogers’ clan used. Apparently Sue was looking forward to some luck in buying for the shop at her mother’s Bed and Breakfast. She also was flushed with irritation and was only too quick to spill out the source of that.

“I tell you an old biddy like that shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car – car, it was more a pile of junk! If she has any insurance on it I’m the next home-coming queen! It was just plain weird – like it was out of Buffy – you know the Vampire killer.”

Her eyes were on the road before her with care however Sue was intent on what she had seen.

“That old wreck swerved around the corner. One of the back doors came open as if it had never really been shut and out fell this basket, to hit a hedge bush – she was that close to the edge. It opened, too, and out came this white thing. I swear to you Ashley it was a lizard of some kind. The old hag didn’t try to stop the car, she didn’t even have her hands on the wheel – was just waving them around in the air. Good thing she wasn’t going fast when the car hit against a fence post and stopped. Come on another foot or so more and we’d have met head on. I was trying to get out of her way.”

Sue pointed with her chin, still holding her tight grip on the car wheel. “I don’t think the fender was scrapped. I got right out and went to see – thought maybe she needed help she was acting so queer. And where did I land? Right smack down on my behind, she shoved me out of the way as she got out, paid me no attention but ran back to that basket – went hunting on the ground around it, and the caught up the white thing – never did see it clearly – I got there, asked if I could help. She never even looked at me while she rolled whatever it was up in a ball and pressed it tight against her.”

“I went closer, I really thought she might be hysterical or something. Some people get queer over pets – My cousin Ida kept a black rooster in the house – said they talked together –” Sue shook her head and took a deep breath. “Well, she looked up at me, had a cap pulled tight down on her head so you could see only her face. She was real old and she made a sort of face at me. Then she brushed right by me without saying anything. Slammed me out of her way – and did she jest me away! Look!”

Sue had glanced down at her right hand she loosed her grip and held it away from the wheel, flexing the fingers. A little above the wrist there showed a dark smear and the beginning of a bruise.

Crows – Ravens – what have you. Did they not appear as suggestions of evil in fantasy? Ashley had typed notes for Aunt Kat a good number of summers now. Surely she could remember – crows, ravens of evil – dragons to eat damsels – she knew well what appeared being normal in fantasy. Dragons –!

She was scowling. “You can see ahead a’ fairly good distance here,” she pointed out. “But my old woman and her rambling wreck had just disappeared.” She paused, when Ashley did not speak she added: “All right, just tell me I dreamed it all – if it that can be done while driving.”

Ashley thought of a disappearing dragon and shook her head. However she could not Answer Sue with her own strange see-not see adventure.

“Is there any turn off along here?”

“Just the one we’re going to pass shortly. It’s been closed off months now – otherwise we’d have a straight go to the barn. We have to circle around by the river now.”

It was a very few moments later that she did point out a light spot in the brush wall which she said was the closed turn off.

Sue said nothing more as she aimed the car down the road and hoped they did not have much farther to go. Ashley glanced once at her watch – fifteen to one – the cold lunch offered by the committee must be near over, the exhibit would be open at one.

“Eleanor Chesley was making her chicken salad,” Sue said suddenly. “She never will give anyone the secret of her dressing.”

Chicken salad – dressing – Ashley swallowed again and tried to quickly remember some feature of the North River Presbyterian Ladies’ specialties. Chocolate – those cookies filled with chocolate – Higgins – Rice –no, Pebbles. “I hope there are some of Mrs. Pebbles cookies left.”

The trees no longer fenced them in. They had passed what looked to be a log cabin fallen into rotting, displaced logs. From that the scene changed abruptly to a house some distance back from the road. Its walls were so tightly covered with a vine whose green leaves had a blackish gleam. Clearly nothing had been done to clear the vegetation and a large tree lay on the ground to bar the way to the door.

A structure on the other side of the road showed only a suggestion that it might once have been a house. What could be seen was blackened and charred by fire.

Ashley shivered. This was the third summer she had spent with Aunt Kat. She had never seen the dead town before nor even heard it spoken of. “Is it all like this – deserted and broken up?” she asked.

“I dunno. We go through here to reach Avery but we’ve never stopped. Not a place one wants to go poking through I would say. It is still marked on the old road map Mick has up on his wall; Limington Court is what it’s named there. Let’s get out of here!”

For some reason Ashley found herself staring as intently ahead as if she were the driver. Sue finally slowed for a corner and they headed north, another turn brought them on one of the state roads, across that into a lane. Ahead they could see cars parked, two long picnic tables still burdened, and perfectly ordinary people preparing to enter the huge red barn.

Ashley found herself trying to get the rest of a sandwich eaten one bite at a time while also attempting to return greetings in a fairly acceptable manner. Mostly people wanted to know where Aunt Kat was and she could only offer the weak excuse of busy and that her Aunt planned to be there later. Sue had been claimed to help transport some large boxes into the barn and they had had no time to discuss the mystery on the road.

Having finished the sandwich, and accepted a napkin laden with a trio of cookies, Ashley stood off a little to view the decorations forming a mural of sorts on the barn wall. The portrait of an intricate quilt she recognized. The model for that had been three times winner at quilt shows last year. Next to it was a column of HEX signs – She swallowed the last of the cookies and wiped her hands on the napkin. Nice to have a drink – but she couldn’t go in drinking. She turned aside to drop the napkin in one of the trash bins.

“------- took them out.”

Ashley made a little face. She knew that speaker – only too well. Bertha Ray was on the School Board, also the Library Board, and the President of the Ladies’ Aid Committee at the Church. She also was the personification of Queen Victoria and was seldom amused by anything.

“What did Vernon say?” asked her tall, thin companion of the moment, a stranger to Ashley.

“Some stupid thing about how popular the book was and that it had won prizes. It doesn’t matter if it has won the Noble Award. It is certainly not the sort of thing we want on the library shelves – witches – dragons – Black magic. NO! Then Miss Withers talks about good writing and the like. And I just cry evil was evil no matter how you dressed it up. The best thing that could happen to Summerset would be to have that woman move out of here. Oh – I’ll have to be on the run. You know that chest of books they found in the Edgehill attic – well, Marvin, he went and told Mrs. Berryman to sell them. They should have just dumped them in a good fire. And I am going to see that that’s where they go – but I’m to judge the Junior Quilters first.”

Best go and see Mrs. Berryman herself. Ashley entered the barn door stopping only to pay her dollar entrance money. She was sure that Miss Ray had been talking about one of Aunt Kats books. Maybe Drake and Dragon that was the latest. If so – time then for another letter from Bridget Boyd. Ashley grinned. Bridget was her own creation. Though she had never said so she was sure Aunt Kat knew who that fervent supporter was. She might have her Aunt’s gift for fiction but her defense and explanation of Halloween customs had been very carefully researched.

She did not allow a halt near the quilt display though that was one of her favorite places, nor a side visit to Leslie Morgan’s jewelry display. The open spaces were becoming crowded but she saw now the sign announcing the estate sale and was able to locate a table, much carven as to legs, on which was piled what could only be books with dull scuffed covers.

Ashley sniffed. There was a queer smell around the untidy piles of books. One or two had no backs left – were just dirty and raw looking. She knew that this was treasure hunting in a way but she had never been sent to do it all by herself before, just stood by and carried the choices Aunt Kat made.

“Winfred Garland’s Girlhood – “ she read the title of the top volume on the pile nearest her though it was so dim it was hard to make out the old fancy letters. As she picked it up the loose cover flipped open.

“To our dear Mattie for her fifteenth birthday, the Twenty-forth of June, 1872”

Ashley smoothed the cover back into place and reached for the next volume. In the end she had six books, one very much worth the worse for wear, which she thought Aunt Kat might want. There was a very old note book with an inscription that it had belonged to Howard Write, a school teacher. But the one which hardly hung together seemed to be a scrapbook in which there were cards and letters, as well as faded pictures. One of the others was what Aunt Kat had spoken of a local history of the town – the date was 1900 on the title page.

“Finding what you want, Ashley?” Mrs. Berryman came by her on her way to the register.

“I think my Aunt could use these –” she indicated those she had piled by themselves on a nearby piecrust table.

Mrs. Berryman looked over her selections. “I’d agree with that. Suppose we just them over here in this cupboard her to see if she does get a chance to come in later.”

Ashley saw them into the cupboard and then she dared ask a question: “What made Miss Ray sat these should be burnt?”

“She said that, did she?” Mrs. Berryman shook her head. “Well I did see her with her nose in one last Tuesday when Vernon brought the box into the church. This one I think.” She took up a book with a thick black cover from the table.

“But that’s just a cookbook!” protested Ashley.

“It’s a little more. Two people used it at different times. See – There’s a page of recipes, yes – but over here is something else in a different handwriting altogether.”

The handwriting she indicated was very dim. Ashley took the book closer to one of the lamps set alight to show off a Tiffany shade.

“Do not call upon that in the north wood for what dwelt there has no kindness for any Edgehill. Be certain that the proper call be used.” She looked up at Mrs. Berryman confused. “That sounds as if it were copied out of the Lovecraft Tales, a ghost story or horror one.”

“I would say perhaps someone was trying to write such in the old days and just set down bits.”

“But –” she looked to Mrs. Berryman. “I didn’t see this before. Just the recopies – things such as sweet potato pie and mint tea–”

“The recopies are mainly at the beginning. And a lot of the other material is very dim. Do you want this one for your Aunt also?”

Ashley nodded. “Indeed I do.”

She felt uneasy as she saw Mrs. Berryman put it with the others. How could she have made such a mistake? She was sure that she had examined the book more carefully than that. Uneasily she glanced down at her watch – nearly three – She did want to see the quilts and maybe the Winston dollhouses, and she had heard that Clara Dodds had added some stuffed animals to the doll display.

However she was uneasy enough to once again check everything left on the book table – most that was left were old school books and fiction – and none of them, though she shuffled pages from one cover to another, had anything written in.

That musty-dusty order which hung about the book display seemed to be growing stronger – then Ashley felt a push which sent her against the edge of the table and she half turned indignantly. The pusher was already on her way to Mrs. Berryman and all one could see was a knitted cap pulled down as it might be if the wearer were in the midst of a winter storm, and a body so muffled in a cape it might belong to anyone or anything.

This, the girl was sure, was the Monck woman who had wanted to Aunt Kat – and – and – maybe Sue’s wacky driver who knew how to disappear on a open lane. She was not sure why but she headed after her.

There was certainly no mistaking that cracked voice which possessed an almost crow-like stridency.

“----Corrie’s books, that’s what I’m talking about! And I don’t mean those nabby-dabby things you’ve got on that there table neither. She promised them to me – Now that lubloy of a lawyer says Corrie didn’t leave no will and, less she did, promises she made don’t mean nothing. That were never no Corries’s ways of doing things. You people sell her books to someone else and it’s just stealin’ ain’t never done anybody any good.”

“Mr. Hatyers is in charge of the estate legally. He himself turned then in to be sold –”

“Which by the looks of things you have gone and did. Who got them? I got a right to say I’ll pay what they paid and take them back.”

“I’m very sorry – Miss – Mrs –”

Ashley had come up right behind the queer old woman and Mrs. Berryman had seen her but she gave no sign she had. Which was fair—after all Ashley had selected what Aunt Kat wanted before this Miss Monck or whoever she was showed up.

“Sorry is, and sorry was, and sure sorry will be!” Proclaimed the would be customer. “Better you do some good thinking on that, woman. There’s them one does never want to get wrong-sided with.” With a jerk of her cloak she was off, apparently not sighting Ashley at all.

 


Continued with telling.of.tales-ch13-who.dreams.of.dragons pt. 2


 “The Telling of Tales

Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam and Sue Stewart

Edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lots-a-watts ~ May, 2015

Duplication of this collection (in whole or in part) for profit of any kind NOT permitted.