Exterlude: Caspian

“Thanks for the dinner, Ingrid, and for putting me up overnight, Dieter. Always a pleasure. And wonderful to meet your beautiful daughters and your fine sons. I won’t be taking any more of your time, though. Thank you again.”

Aelfgar’s accent got thicker the further into the Midwest they rode, and no wonder – he spent almost every night on the couch or in the guest bed of some generous, giving family with a rolling accent and a family story about how Aelfgar had saved their father or grandmother or great-grandfather from certain death, sometimes at the hands of an unnamed boojum, sometimes from more mundane dangers.

Late at night, after the children were in bed (and often, but not always, the women, as well), over copious beer and sometimes whiskey, then the other stories would come out. The women! Aelfgar would throw back his drink and tell some grizzled bear of a man that, after he’d gotten her out of the flooded house, he’d found the man’s grandmother to be very grateful. “And a wildcat she was, too!” he’d laugh, and, somehow, the giant bear of a man and his equally giant brothers would laugh, too.

Never their daughters, never their sisters or their wives. Maybe that’s how he got away with it, though how these men didn’t end up looking at a mirror and back at Aelfgar and wondering if maybe that’s why dad didn’t look quite like his black-haired brothers was a mystery. Maybe the too-many-head-injuries slow-wittedness bred true?

This morning was the sixth such morning, where cheerful hosts waved as the grizzled biker rode off into the sunrise, having nearly eaten them out of house and home. These people had treated him like a sort of folk hero, Robin Hood, and beloved friend of the family, all rolled up into one, not seeming to have any problem reconciling his supposed deeds – helping their first ancestor to the area to cut the sod and till the soil when their mule died – with his supposed age. Their teenage daughters had looked as if they wanted to ride off with Aelfgar, might-be-their-ancestor notwithstanding. Their pre-teen son had looked as if he wanted to be him.

Deep in his saddlebag, Caspian tried to hold himself together. He’d planned, insofar as he’d had time to plan at all, to stay in this tiny form for a day or two, and then shift to something with enough room to think in, preferably something human-like. But shifting up cost an enormous amount of energy, energy this form was having trouble finding, especially in the bottom of a leather saddlebag.

He’d tried to run off last night. On his own, in a field, he could start eating real mice and unsuspecting birds until he had enough fuel for the shift. But Ingrid and Dieter had a cat, a big monster of a thing that hissed madly at him and chased him back to the safety of his nest.

When he was big again, he’d eat the damn cat for dinner, and Ingrid and Dieter too. If he could get big again; if he could find a way out of this saddlebag without being eaten or discovered. If he could remember where he was going. The mouse-skull seemed to get smaller every day, squeezing out memories and personality-fragments like toothpaste from the tube. Pretty soon, there’d be nothing left of him but a cranky, hungry little carnivorous rodent… was that food?

He sniffed eagerly at the handful of crinkled green matter dropping on his head from the suddenly open flap, heedless of the dangers of being caught. That smelled like sweat and blood, but it tasted like paper and old t-shirts. He dragged it into his nest and shoved it into a comfortable shape before returning for the other, funny green stuff.

He remembered this smell, although it had been much less sharp and clear before. His sister had loved it. It wasn’t quite food, but it would do in lieu of food for the moment. At the least, it would fill his stomach, which was so very empty.

He had a belly full of tiny seeds and flower buds when the bike rolled to a stop again. A strange sensation permeated the sleepy, mousy haze fogging his mind. Something strong. Something important. Something he ought to be paying attention to. He blinked, squeaking out an approximation of a Working –

- and just as quickly pulled it back, a moment of terrified clarity shining through his misty mind. If he stayed very, very small and thought mousy thoughts, maybe that big, evil, nasty warding wouldn’t notice him. Maybe it would eat Aelfgar, who seemed to be knocking on its door and trying to get its attention, and ignore him altogether. Maybe –

- maybe it would let Aelfgar into its confines, entirely overlooking one small mouselike creature with no energy to speak of right now, bringing him ever-closer to whatever it was that someone had felt the need to ward that strongly. Woah.

Somewhere inside his tiny mind, the beginnings of an idea took hold. Something in here was going to be yummy enough to eat. And he was already inside the wards…

Oh, he was going to have fun when he got out of here.


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