There’s nothing like a bloodcurdling scream to wake you up in the morning.
The scream in question was coming from another wing--Gozon’s I guessed from the direction of the sound--but by the time I’d thrown myself out of bed, the screams had morphed into vows vengeance, so I relaxed. No one had been murdered. Yet.
When I got to the room, Grace was already there, checking for magic. A security guard was rolling his eyes and shooing people from the scene, but I just gave him The Grin, and he paled and let me pass.
“What’s the problem?” I asked as I moseyed into the room that was a smaller version of ours.
“The problem?! This is the problem!” shouted a pajama-clad male Caucasian with thinning blond hair. He had his back to me, and the momentum from the theatrical sweep of his arm he used to indicate the room spun him until he was facing me. His rant died in his throat.
“Calvin, this is my partner, Vern.”
I gave him a tamer version of the grin I treated the security guard with then looked around the immaculate room. “Something’s missing?” I ventured.
“It’s not that! Everything’s… organized!” Losing any fear of me in his rage, he stormed to a drawer and pulled it open. The shirts inside were folded more neatly than for a Macey’s Grand Opening. I glanced at the open closet, where the pants and Bermuda shorts were similarly neat.
My imitation of human facial expressions must be getting pretty good, for he glowered at my bemusement. “I’m color blind! Before I left, my wife packed everything in coordinating outfits. Now I have to get someone to help me match everything. And then there’s this--“ He shoved a puzzle magazine at me. Magic Squares.
“I know Soduku is the new thing, but I happen to enjoy these. But someone’s gone and filled them all in--wrong!”
Grace offered to help Calvin get his clothes coordinated while I perused his book. At first glance, it did look like numbers were filled in at random--every number was less than 19, some were fractions, some even had letters. Mishmash.
If you were using a Mundane number system.
Calvin took one of the outfits Grace picked for him and ducked into the bathroom to change. Grace went to work on the rest. “Well, it’s definitely helper elves, but why would they come to this room?” she asked.
“And who brought them?” Helper elves could be all but invisible. We never saw any on the airship, and none had been on the passenger list.
“Who?” Calvin asked as he came out of the bathroom in a pale blue collared shirt and navy Dockers. He reached into the closet for his shoes, then sat on the bed to put them on. Suddenly, he stopped and looked at the sole of his clean and polished loafer.
“Broken before?” I asked.
“Just starting to tear. I noticed it at the airport. How did you know?”
“You, my friend, have had the privilege of living a fairy tale. While you slept, the wee folk snuck into your room and cleaned. They even repaired your shoes--and probably anything else that was broken. They even finished what they thought was your work,” I told him as I tossed the Magic Squares book on his bed.
“But it’s all nonsense!”
“Actually, it’s a legitimate numbering system--and one you’re familiar with, though it’s far more complex than the one Mundanes use. You like a good mental challenge, right?”
Grace and I left him with a closet of neatly pressed coordinating outfits, a charm to keep out any future “assistance” and a grin on his face as he dove into his puzzle book, scribbling in the margins and trying to work out the number system.
Neither of us were grinning as we made our way down the hall. Faerie helper elves would not be at this convention on their own--someone would have brought them. That meant that someone would have ordered them to “clean” that room.
Somehow, I couldn’t believe it was a random act of kindness.
I said as much to Grace, speaking in Faerie Gaelic against curious ears of the Mundanes poking their heads out of rooms or passing in the hall. She sighed and replied in kind. “It gets better. There was a mix-up in room assignments yesterday. That room was supposed to be Gozonvabosomofic’s. I checked: there’s no trace of harmful magic or substances, and Calvin is sure nothing is missing. Seems to me that they were directed to the wrong room and, as long as they were there, did what comes naturally.”
“Except Gozon doesn’t like helper elves,” I protested. “In the centuries I’ve known him, he’s never once allowed someone else to handle his stuff. Neurotic, that way. See?” We were passing by his room. In addition to the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob, Gozon had put up a simple security spell. I did a quick listen, but there was no one in the room, High Elf or helper. “Breakfast?”
“Him or for us?” she teased, then turned back to the problem. “Remember how neat the luggage was in the airship? The purser only knew it was tampered with because everything was re-arranged. No one’s reported anything missing, either. So Calvin’s room wasn’t just cleaned--it was searched?”
“Looks like it. So we’re back to who and why.” I twitched my tail in annoyance.
More work we weren’t getting paid for.
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(c) Karina Fabian. World Gathering first appeared in serial in The Prairie Dawg