After patrolling all night only to be awakened by the screams of an angry human and discovering that helper elves have been sent to search people’s luggage for reasons unknown, I was looking forward to a nice, quiet lunch. Naturally, I was denied that.
If you ask me, that should go under “mortifications of the body.” Unfortunately, no one ever asks the dragon….
We’d just entered the con café, an elaborate affair this year thanks to the special guest, Jean Pierre d'Pasimmonierre, a human chef from Faerie Southern France. The banquet tables were loaded down with food fit for kings--better than our local Duke in Faerie got, that’s for certain. Diners were packing the tables and there was a line from the banquet table to the door.
Nonetheless, I smelled him even before I saw him. Polo cologne might be enough to fool humans, but with my nose, there’s no mistaking the smell of dog. “Let’s go--“ I started, but it was already too late. His nose was as good as mine.
“Sister Grace! Vern!” he shouted as he approached, smiling like a Labrador and trailing, as always, a couple of happy ladies. He wore tight leather pants and a black t-shirt, over which he’d tossed a dowdy tweed jacket. His membership button sported a green “hug me” sticker.
Coyote, the trickster of Native American legend and North American Faerie reality. My week just got worse.
“What are you doing here?” Grace tried not to sound accusatory. Despite the fact that she, too, wore a green sticker, she backed up a step.
I wasn’t so polite. “Why aren’t you in a Montana jail where we put you?”
He gave us his best whipped-dog look. “I’m out on parole. Good behavior. The reservation adopted me and I’ve dedicated myself to alleviating the plight of my people.” One of his groupies sighed.
I was losing my appetite. “That doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
“I’m a Mensan--and a panelist. Hug me!” At his yell, several people around us jumped up for a group hug.
Yep. There went the last of my appetite. “What panel?”
“’Thinking Outside the Box,’ of course! But you’re here, too! I saw that Sister Grace is on a ‘Magic in Music’ panel, but what about you, Vern?”
“Oh, just Grace’s sidekick.” The ladies on his arm giggled.
I ignored him. Easier, that way. Besides, at the end of the banquet table, I heard Jean Pierre talking to a man with a Midwestern accent.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m just here for some…intellectual…stimulation and pursuits.” He waggled his eyebrows at his friends who didn’t so much giggle as titter.
At this rate, I was going to be off my feed for a week. Fortunately, Jean Peirre chose that moment to let loose a blistering torrent of top-volume French.
“Excuse me, I’d better see what’s up,” I said to the ladies.
Grace acquiesced to a quick hug from Coyote and (after checking the pockets of her robes) followed.
By the time we got to the table, Jean Pierre was screaming about hot dogs and chips and the insults to his nation while a tall thin human sporting a tan cowboy hat and western wear and holding a cooling steak on his plate stood sputtering. Jean Pierre grabbed his chef’s hat and was about to throw it--a traditional challenge in Faerie France.
I snaked my tail around his arm and stopped him before he could drop it. “What’s going on?” I said in as amiable a tone as I could.
“Tex” couldn’t drop his mouth open any wider, so he just paled at the sight of me. I was relieved that he didn’t drop his plate. It would have taken the intercession of the Faerie Pope to stop an international incident if he had.
“This, this Mundane!” Jean Pierre spat the word. “He insults my art! He dares to dictate to me--me!--I, who have cooked for Popes and Kings!”
“All I said is, I’d like my steak cooked a little longer.”
“Do you hear?” Jean Pierre shrieked. The blood vessels were throbbing along his forehead and his eyes were wider than could possibly be healthy. He sneered up at “Tex,” who, despite having six inches and 70 pounds on the chef nonetheless shrank back. Smart man. “What would you know, you leetle man, with your fast food, oversalted and overcooked and bound by ze rules of fear! I come to free--yes, free!--your palates, but no!”
He whirled on Grace, suddenly entreating, his accent thickening faster than cold gravy. “Zey test me, Sister! I, who lived in ze tradition of ze d’Pasimmonierres; I, who learned at ze side of his own father, who cooked for Popes and Kings--yes, they test me! Zey feed each other swill, yet zey test me on temperatures and hand-washings and fighting ze BAC! If zey want to fight, zey have come to ze right man! I am Faerie! I am French!!”
In the silence (except for the muffled snickers) that followed, Grace tried to sooth the fiery French Faerie. I released him and placed my tail on Tex’s shoulder and led him away to the patio outside.
“Look, all I was saying is I like my steak well done. Always have. I didn’t mean any insult.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I assured him. Meanwhile, chemical processes were going on somewhere behind my stomach. “It’s cultural differences. While the Mundane French fought about religion and government, the Faerie French were fighting over how much pepper to put in the sauce. They had a whole war over desserts. Now, how do you like your steak?”
“Well done. Little crisp on the edges.” He was looking at me funny now.
“Give me your plate and stand over there.”
A minute later, I handed him back a flame-broiled steak, well done, crispy on the edges. “Courtesy of Dragon Eye, P.I.,” I said with a flourish. “But from now on, may I suggest you curb your tongue and stick to the chicken?”
If you like the story, the book is even better!
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(c) Karina Fabian. World Gathering first appeared in serial in The Prairie Dawg