Part 20 - A Bunch of Babies

“Whatever you have, and please don’t put anything in it.” Edna completed her tea order. One of the guards who had led them to their room nodded and wandered off. The other stayed at the door.


“Are you sure that’s wise?” Highmond asked in a hushed voice once Edna had closed the door. “I only mea--” he stopped to spit out more bits of leaves, “Sorry. I only mean, what if they,” he looked around and lowered his voice even more, “poison it.” He raised his eyebrows and dropped his chin like he’d just heard someone make a very good point.


Edna rolled her eyes. We’re doing this one, I guess. Then she felt bad, reminding herself to be patient. “They won’t,” she said, taking in the room. Highmond was plopped in a comfortable looking chair, one of a pair that sat facing each other across an ornate, little table. The chairs were so close to the table that Highmond had to sit with his legs squished to one side like he was trying to let someone pass in the theatre.


On the walk in - once they’d been let off their poles - Edna had seen that the whole castle was like this - absolutely cramped with lavish decor. Tables lined the halls and were lined themselves with ornamental regalia, regal ornaments, and other such useless doo-dads. Paintings covered the walls - and some of the doors and ceiling, as well. In their room now, she stared at a huge landscape masterpiece, the scene broken by several small pictures of horses hung on its front.


She looked back at Highmond, sighed, and said, “If they wanted us dead, we’d be…” She stopped with purpose. When he only looked at her, she rolled her open hand toward him.


He paled in realization that he was meant to be talking - a realization he rarely came across. Floundering, he said, “Er, um... naked?” Edna erupted in laughter, and Highmond went red-faced. “I. Well. Or--” he began, but seeing his distress, she cut him off.


“--No. I’m sorry. You could be right. They might be that sort.” She wiped her eyes and calmed her breathing, “But I just meant we’d be dead already. They’ve had ample opportunity to kill us. As you do this more, Highmond, you’ll find that most people, in adventures as in life, aren’t interested in murdering us. They aren’t interested in us at all, actually.”


Highmond’s mustache tilted to one side, bringing the rest of his head with it. “What do you mean ‘as I do this more’?” he asked.


Edna took a slow, deep breath through her nose. She had hoped to have this talk in a safe, abduction-free zone, where there was no danger of anyone being beheaded or renamed Larry. This is what Edna Star always got for hoping. “Highmond, I know you’ve been lying to me.”


Highmond’s whole demeanor changed. He clutched his hand to his waistcoat, like she’d stabbed him. His shoulders rolled in and he shrunk by inches. His face went dark in a way that said ‘I’ve absolutely been lying to you, but how on Earth the Second should you know that?’ His mouth said, “Lying! Why! I!” Then he made a series of spurting noises that sounded almost like the word ‘preposterous’.


Edna spoke, raising her voice to overcome his outbursts, “Or misleading me, protecting me, trying to inspire me - whatever you’d like to call it.”


A serving woman came into the room with a tray of tea. Edna took a cup and thanked her. Highmond’s eyes darted to the newcomer as she set the platter on the table in front of him, then back to Edna, then to the various horse paintings when Edna’s glare became too much, then back to Edna (‘s shoes). “What, er, whatever do you mean?”


Edna Star looked into her tea and frowned, but then she took a deep breath of it through her nose and her whole body loosened like a violin string unwound. “Well, I still got tea out of it,” was all she said for a long moment.


Highmond didn’t know what she meant. Was it a code? He was thinking of synonyms and parallel meanings for ‘out’ when she finally said, “You aren’t an adventurer, Highmond.”


A schoolyard of emotions played across Highmond’s face and body language. There was too much there for Edna to even bother guessing what it all meant, but eventually, staring into his tea, he whispered, “No. No I am not.”


Edna’s voice was not unkind, but not forgiving either as she continued, “You told me your Adventurer’s League sent you.” There was a sudden clanking noise from the back of the room and Edna looked to see the serving woman was still there, tidying things on a pair of shelves in the corner. She was replacing a bust she had apparently dropped.


Highmond didn’t appear to notice as he rushed to his own defense. “Well, no, I said, well, that I came on their behalf, not at their behest, which is true, you know, after a fashion, only--”


Edna cut him off with a look that said things I am not allowed to print. With her words, she said - printably - “And how did you come to be their messenger? Why wouldn’t they just send one of their own?”


Highmond made a sound that Edna took for a snort, “This whole apocalypse drama has made them all a bunch of babies.”


“You’re not seriously telling me they were afraid? They’re adventurers, Highmond, fixing things like this is their only job - and, for most of them, their entire identity.” Edna watched the maid as she said this. The woman was still replacing the same bust.


“What? No! Sorry,” Highmond shook his head, “I meant that literally. All of my world’s great adventurers have, sort of, slid backward along their timelines to the point where they were babies. I thought about bringing a few anyway, in case you could - I don’t know - unbaby them, but Pythagoras convinced me against it.”


For the first time in many years, Edna was genuinely surprised by, well, anything. She pulled the watch out to fidget in her usual way as she turned to look at the old man. “Highmond that’s very strange,” she said.


He sighed, “Yes, I see that now. I’m sorry, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Perhaps I’m just not cut out for this the way I had hoped.”


“No, Highmond, not what you almost did - what happened. They were turned into babies? The adventurers, specifically?”


He looked up and saw in her face that she was indeed awaiting an answer. “Uh, er, yes! Just the adventurers! Very baby - wailing and pooping and everything!”


Edna looked up to see the other woman was now openly staring at her - not at her face, Edna noted, but her hand. She said, “And what does her majesty think of all this?”


Highmond responded, “How should I know?”


“I wasn’t asking you,” Edna said, “I was asking our guest.” She smiled at the other woman, who took a beat, then slowly smiled back.


Highmond said, “Who then? The serving woman?” as he followed Edna’s eyes around behind him. When they got there, he seemed to see her for the first time, and his jaw dropped.


The Witch Queen set the bust she had been placing and replacing back on the shelf and bowed deeply to them. Rising with a flourish she said, “Iona Plum’s the name, and I think you’re just the people I need.”

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