Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Twelfth
“Ongit’s Galactic Kitchen?”
Priscilla read the Trade words aloud in accents of clear disbelief.
Shan paused, expression approaching amusement.
She waved a hand at the elegant facade encompassing the words.
“I think it’s a little misleading.”
“And so eminently Liaden. Which is also misleading, by the way. Ongit’s is owned by Jackie Ongit, and her husbands and co-wives — Terrans, every one. No, I’m wrong. My ghastly memory. Husband Number Four is Liaden. And the origins of Wife Number Three are in question. But not to her, please. Or to Jackie?”
“Do I need lessons in courtesy?”
A pause before he bowed.
“Of course not, Priscilla. Forgive me.”
“Shan. . .”
She caught his arm, eyes searching his face; inner touch sliding off the mirror of his armor.
“At least tell me how I’ve made you angry.”
His hand covered hers briefly.
“I’m not. . .angry. . .my friend. You did nothing but what you must, given circumstance. It’s only that I — of course you have lovers, Priscilla. I’m being churlish, which is neither your concern nor your fault. But I do feel the need of privacy.”
“Lovers? Fin Ton? Shan, that’s — “
She chopped off, eyes going over his shoulder. Gordy and Val Con were bearing down upon them, the boy carrying a large mint-colored shopping bag. He looked frazzled and damp and jubilant as he turned to his escort.
“See? We’re not late!”
“Indeed we are,” Val Con replied. “It is merely that we are all late. My sisters will scold us unmercifully.”
“Not Cousin Nova!” Gordy objected, in defense of that glamorous lady.
“Especially Cousin Nova,” her foster-brother said without malice. “She has a tongue like a wasp and a great belief that we should all of us behave properly.”
“Don’t let him frighten you, Gordy,” Shan said comfortingly. “By the time Nova’s done with me and with Val Con, she might not have much left to say to you and Priscilla. She does so dislike repeating herself. Isn’t that so, Brother?”
“Demonstrably,” Val Con said, straight-faced.
Shan grinned at him.
“Now, children — Gordon, what’s wrong with your hand, please?”
“Nothing! Oh. . .”
Gordy held up his right hand with a proud grin. Priscilla stared and swallowed, averting her eyes. Beside her, Shan sighed.
“Well, let’s see: red, green, blue, yellow. Don’t tell me you couldn’t find rings in additional colors, as well?”
“They had purple,” Gordy confessed, smiling fondly at his new possessions. “But I’m going to have a real purple ring — like yours.”
Shan glanced from the boy’s gaudy hand to his own, where the single gem glittered, sullen in the lowering sunlight. Looked up to find Val Con’s eyes on him; and sighed again.
“You do know, don’t you, Gordy, that very few traders become masters?”
“Yes,” said Gordy, unconcerned. “I know.”
“You do. In that case, I suggest we go in and face my sisters, children. The sooner the scold is over, the sooner we may eat.”
They were greeted in the comfortably appointed entrance room by a dapper Laiden gentleman dressed in the tunic and trousers of the host. He bowed greeting and volunteered the information that Korval-pernardi and her sister had just been shown to their room.
“Our last hope dashed,” Val Con murmured to Priscilla, who bit her lip.
“Their host (Husband Number Four? Priscilla wondered) politely inquired whether he might not keep the young lord’s parcel for him. Gordy declined in tolerable High Liade, and they were invited to accompany the host a step down the hall.
It was rather mor than a step down a deep-carpeted passage lined with doors made elegant with enamel-work. Most were closed, but a few were open, revealing a dazzle of crystal, china, wood and silk. The walls were cream-colored and unadorned; the seating oriented so that each diner had unobstructed view of the room’s centerpiece: a holographic ‘window.’
Priscilla glimpsed snow-topped peaks, a tumbling river, and a crowded city street, as she went by on Val Con’s arm.
“Not too bad, are they?” he murmured for her ears alone. He touched a closed door as they passed it. “This one’s very nice. Sol System in Renteld Sector, as seen from Habitat Johnglenn.”
“Terra,” Priscilla said; and Val Con nodded. “You must come here frequently.”
“I believe Anthora comes regularly,” he said after a moment. “In the old days. . .This was our mother’s favorite restaurant. She loved the Port — the different languages, you know. Mrs. Ongit was a great friend of hers.” He smiled. “I must have eaten in every room here, as a child.”
Ahead of them, their host paused, opened a door worked in silver, black, and azure; bowed them in.
“There they are!” Anthora cried merrily, while a thunderstorm raged in the center of the room. “Priscilla, my brothers are a bad influence on you!”
“I’m to blame this time. I saw an old friend in the Port and stopped to talk.”
“Much joy, ladies and lords. The meal will shortly begin.”
Their host bowed and exited quietly, closing the door behind him.
“Not a moment too soon,” commented Shan, waving Priscilla to a chair by Anthora.
“If you had been here timely,” Nova observed, “the meal would have begun sooner.”
“Would it? I wonder why.”
“Cause and effect,” Val Con explained softly, sitting at Nova’s right hand smiling at her. “I’ve read a monograph or two on the subject, Brother. The hypothesis is fascinating.”
“It sounds bizarre,” Shan said, placing Gordy on Nova’s other hand and sitting by Priscilla. “Would you do the kindness of lending me the pamphlets, Brother? One must keep abreast of these faddish theories. Especially when one will be going from port to port and exchanging views with all sorts of odd persons. . .Wine, Priscilla? There seems to be rather a quantity by my younger sister’s hand, if she’ll bestir herself to recall the few manners she has. And while you’re pouring for Priscilla, Annie, my love, I find myself in the unusual position of having no glass. Val Con I see is in a similar strait, as is Gordy.”
“I’d like water, please,” Gordy said.
Shan stared at him in disbelief.
“Water? Whatever for? You’re not going to bathe, are you, Gordy?”
“And you’re going to drink water? How peculiar.”
“Shan, don’t tease him.”
Nova poured from the pitcher at her place; and handed the boy a brimming crystal mug. “Ice cold, Cousin. Pray tell me if you would like more.”
Gordy received the glass reverently from her slim hand.
“Thank you. . .”
“Always of service.”
She turned her violet eyes to her eldest brother.
“Jackie visited earlier. She was sorry not to see you. Her schedule does not permit another visit this evening.”
“I’m sorry to have missed her, as well. Jackie would make you joyful, Priscilla,” Shan said, handing a glass down-table. “Your wine approaches, Brother. Be of good heart. Gordy, please don’t think I’m prying, but what is in that parcel? It would have been quite safe with Mr. Ongit the Fourth, you know. He’s rather particular in his care of other people’s property.”
Gordy glanced at Val Con, who nodded slightly.
“I — ummm — bought some things and I wanted to give them to — to everybody at once. To say thank you for — for fostering me and for — caring — about what happens and stuff. . .”
His voice faded abruptly and he dove into the bag.
“This is for Anthora,” he said, pushing a shallow bax wrapped in pale pink into Shan’s hands. Wordlessly, he passed it down.
Anthora smiled prettily.
“Thank you, Gordy.”
She tugged at the ribbon, lifted the top — and laughed.
“Well done, Cousin! The very thing to tame this mop of mine!”
She held up a red wooden comb cared in a rich profusion of birds and flowers, then caught up a handful of unruly dark hair, twisted in sharply and pinned it in place. The red wood shone like a coronation gem.
“It looks pretty,” said Gordy, unselfconsciously.
“So it does, sister,” Nova added. “You chose very well, Cousin.”
He vanished into his bag again and held out a slimmer packet.
“This one’s for you.”
She unwrapped it neatly; smiled with rare fullness.
“‘The Poetry of Samuel Delaney’,” she read aloud. She bent over and kissed the young cheek.
“Well done, Gordy.”
He gulped and pulled out a heftier package.
Yiptarean brandy, stasis-sealed at the moment of its perfection. Easily a cantra the bottle. Shan set the gift carefully before him; glanced over Gordy’s head to Val Con, who was staring into the thunderstorm.
“Thank you, my child,” he said to Gordy. “The gift is pleasing.” He paused. “You don’t have to give gifts to thank us, Gordy. We appreciate them, but we wanted you to be with us.”
“I know,” Gordy said, just as quietly. “But I wanted to give you all gifts — I’m so happy to be here. . .” He looked in danger of snuffling; snapped his fingers with shocking suddenness. “Crelm! What a dope!
Back he went into the bag.
“Priscilla — I hope you like ’em.”
A small box enveloped in the crimson silk of a jeweler. The earrings within were silver chains, matched black diamonds handing at the end of each.
“Gordy. . .Thank you, dear. They’re lovely.”
“You’re welcome. . .”
Gordy stood and reached into the bag once more.
“Val Con,” he said.
Both eyebrows lifted.
“Not, surely, Val Con.”
“Fooled you! They wouldn’t wrap it, though.” He bent over and put a small, gleaming something on the cloth before the man.
A sound of surprised pleasure. Val Con picked the object up, twisted — and was suddenly holding a slim and businesslike dirk.
“My very thanks to you, brother’s-son.”
He glanced up with a grin. “To speak with the sarl merchant, indeed!”
And the door opened to admit the beginning of the meal.
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I see we had some sentence fragments left at the bottom of the box. Too bad about that.
That’s nice that Gordy gave Nova a volume of Chip’s poems. I hadn’t recalled that she was poetical, but she seems genuinely pleased, as well she might be.
Is it just me, or are people forever giving Anthora combs? In I Dare she’d been wearing the comb Daav had carved for Aelliana in Scout’s Progress — and that’s interesting because it seems to me that this comb and Aelliana’s are very similar in design – which didn’t seem up to “taming” her “mop,” at all.
I’m a little displeased with that bottle of brandy for Shan, though we have Andre Norton to thank for its cellar. But, really, bottles of brandy are like aftershave; the sort of gift you give an uncle you don’t know very well. I feel Gordy could have done better, with a little thought. Certainly, Val Con ought to have done better.
It was clever of Gordy to fool Val Con, even if – just maybe — Val Con let him.
If I were doing it now, I might have had black tourmalines on Priscilla’s earrings; because Maine has taught me that black tourmalines are “worthless,” whereas black diamonds at least sound spendy. On the other hand, I might have let it go, simply because more people understand “diamond” than “tourmaline.”
Also, this whole chapter wants a stern going-over with a red pen, with a special eye toward the tone of the whole scene – but that’s the nature of first drafts.
Now. What I really want to talk about is Ongit’s Galactic Kitchen.
Ongit’s is one of those places in the Liaden Universe® that bear much more weight for the authors than for readers. Steve and I know Ongit’s inside and out; we’ve been there for lunch, and dinner — and for breakfast with Jackie, at the back bar, because Ongit’s doesn’t serve breakfast. We’ve hosted a number of parties there, and observed at least two Dangerous Assignations, yet. . .
Ongit’s appears in Mouse and Dragon — as neutral ground, which it is, ohmyyes. Jackie worked hard to ensure that her place of business was neutral territory. She had to do some unsavory things, back when she was just getting set up — only herself and Mr. Ongit the First, before even the wooing of their first co-wife — in order to make her point, and to impress upon High Port, Mid Port, and Low Port that she was serious and competent. The point did stick, and nowadays Jackie might be able to rest on her reputation. Or not.
Ongit’s also appears in “Certain Symmetry,” as the place where Pat Rin and Luken meet for dinner; and in this fragment, never published.
. . .not much air time for a venue that the authors know so well.
And this, Gentle Readers, is part of How We Do It. The worldbuilding part, where people say – “But your world is so real! How do you do it?”
This is how we do it. There are places, and people, that we’ve dealt with intimately, sometimes over a period of years. Such places, imaginary as they may be. . .accrete believability. I know this, as I know few things in life – Ongit’s exists. I’ve been there. And let me tell you, Wife Number Three is a terrible flirt.
This capacity for self-delusion and absolute belief in the existence of imaginary people and places, is also what allowed Theo to leap onto the page as a fully realized person at the end of I Dare. Steve and I had known – and known about – Theo for years – maybe a decade – before Stephe Pagel asked us to write an epilogue, so that people wouldn’t think that there would be no more Liaden adventures.
July 10, 2015
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