And here it is - the concluding part of this tale.
Earlier Chapters available at links below:
Fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves at the front desk of a tiny hotel facing the shrine itself. The “Traveller’s Rest” consisted of a long two-storied building, where the ground and first floors were let out to various shops, while the second-storey consisted of about fifteen rooms that were available to such travellers as made their way there.
“I had booked a super-deluxe room in the name of Elver,” the Queen Tigress informed the Lynx who manned the desk authoritatively, “with Air-Cooling and a Television.”
“Yes m’am, right this way,” he said, summoning a pint-sized minion and giving him a key, “show them Room No. 111.”
The minion led us down the corridor to Room No. 111 and opened the door. The room had a green carpet, two very comfortable-looking beds and a large flat-screen TV.
“Move the luggage in here,” ordered the Queen.
“Right ho,” I said cheerily and was about to move in when Ariel pointed out:
“Mother, there’s no air-cooling.”
“What!” the Queen wheeled around. “Jormund, follow me!”
I sighed, picked up the two humungous bags once again and followed her all the way back up the corridor to the front desk.
“I had booked a room with a Cooler,” the Queen informed the Lynx, “and Room 111 most certainly doesn’t have one.”
The lynx tried to be suave.
“Oh that room is going to get an air-conditioner later today, ma’m.”
“Later? What good is later? We’re here NOW!”
“It’s a very good room, ma’m and it’s not too warm right now anyway.”
“Oh yes, right now it isn’t, but pretty soon it will be and what then? Will you have my family baking in the afternoon sun?”
“As soon as a room becomes free we’ll let you know…,” he began
“Becomes free? Who cares when it becomes free? I had booked a room! I gave you a week’s prior notice! I said I wanted a room with a cooler and a TV and you can’t give me that. What’s the good of booking a room in advance? I ask you, what’s the good of it??”
He cowered meekly. She has that effect on people. Ariel looked at her with admiration writ large in her eyes. Papa Jormund tried to look as if he was intensely interested in the movements of a passing pig. Fenderis and I stood at the head of the staircase, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.
“Well, m’am,” he began meekly, “There is a room with an air-cooler, but it doesn’t have a Television.”
“Hmph! Let me take a look at it.”
So we walked back down the corridor, this time to Room No. 104. It had no carpet or Television but there was an air-cooler.
“Get it swept and cleaned and we’ll settle in here…for now.”
“But as soon as a better room becomes available I want to hear of it. D’you hear me?”
“Y…yes, of course, m’am,” replied the Lynx and fled the scene.
Having put our bags down, we now settled in to breakfast. After a while we were visited by the keeper of the shrine, who gave us an appointment for 9 am. Then the power went MIA.
“The lights are gone,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Hardly matters,” said Fenderis, “It’s quite bright outside.”
“What about our baths? Where do we get warm water from?” I pointed out.
“Oh,” said Fenderis cheerily, “I had a bath last week, don’t need another one.”
Like any self-respecting canine, Fenderis detests the idea of taking a bath.
“Nonsense, everyone has to have a bath,” came the fiat from the Queen. “Jormund, go ask the front desk about warm water. “
I trotted along to the front desk. The lynx had left his post, obviously too shaken to function normally for a while. I told the bloke who was there about the hot water problem.
“Hot water here,” he said, pointing to a tap in the corridor, “but not much left, with the lights out, the geyser won’t be functioning. You’ll get whatever has been pre-heated. Three buckets at best.”
I returned and relayed this information. Orders for baths to be immediately undertaken were issued. My suggestion that Ariel and I bathe together to conserve the hot water was unceremoniously shot down. Fenderis’ suggestion that he dispense with a bath altogether met the same fate. In any event, the water wasn’t hot at all, so about half-an-hour later, four shivering but well-scrubbed members of the House of Loki and one shivering but well-scrubbed prospective member stood dressed in their Sunday best, ready to face anything.
What we did face was a dark bloke who barged into the room and offered sweets.
“Sweets,” he said, “the finest offerings to the shrine of Freyja this town has to offer. Home production. Round sweets, flat sweets, cubical sweets. Yes sirree. Offer ‘em here, taken ‘em home, share ‘em with friends. Low on sugar, high on taste. Good for diabetics. Yes sirree. Last for three days without refrigeration. Give them to your friends and relatives. Share them with your neighbours. Yes sirree.”
The Queen Tigress imperiously demanded a sample, declared it to be good and ordered him to fetch more. He disappeared.
Then a mysterious hand appeared at the door bearing a newspaper. Papa Jormund who hates reading anything apart from London Edition of The Financial TImes didn’t want any of it, but the Queen took it in and pored over it for a while.
Just as I was reaching out to grab it for a comfortable read, she informed me not to be a time-wasting incompetent, and to join the family in offering their respects at the shrine.
When we returned to the Hotel about an hour later, we were informed that a room with a Television was now available. The Queen’s initial survey revealed that this room, too, would have to be subjected to a thorough cleaning before it could be rendered habitable. This done, I shifted the luggage once more from Room 104 to Room 112. I had just done so when Lynx re-appeared.
“M’am, the people in Room 111 want this room too seeing as there are six of ‘em so can you shift to Room. 113?”
He should’ve known better. The Queen Tigress gave him the sort of look that had once made no less a person than Odin wilt with fear. The Lynx barely survived to tell the tale. I followed him to the front desk.
“Lynx, my pal,” I said, giving him my ingratiating smile.
He gave me a suspicious look.
“Any idea how one gets back to Midgard from here?”
“You take a bus,” he replied.
“Go on, tell me more,” I said.
“Well, there’s WorryGem’s bus. That leaves from here at about eight-ish.”
“No good, we detest WorryGem, any others?”
“There’s the Off-spinner. It’s 20% cheaper than WorryGem.”
I gave a silent shudder. Anything cheaper than WorryGem would be an invitation to disaster.
“What about a break journey? Maybe we can get to some place nearby from where there’s a better service.”
He pondered for a while.
“You could go to the adjoining district,” he said finally. “They have a daily air-conditioned bus to Midgard from there. But it’s 50 kms further away.”
“You had me at air-conditioned, my man,” I informed him. “How do I manage the 50 km journey?”
The Lynx brightened up considerably.
“Plenty of buses from here to the next district,” he clarified, “and you can book both legs of the journey from here itself!”
“You rock,” I said, grinning widely. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
“Go down to the Bus Station and talk to the Agents,” he said, handing me a card, “pay up and you’re about done. You can leave from here in the evening at about 7 - it’s an hour’s journey, and then catch the bus to Midgard at about 9pm.”
I thanked him profusely and returned to our room. Fenderis had located a remote control and was flicking through the channels. The first thing I realised was that the reception was better than I got at home.
“This is RIDICULOUS!” I said, exasperated. “This place, THIS place, in the middle of nowhere, gets better reception than we do!”
He changed the channel and arrived at a music channel. Then he changed it again and landed on a Classic Hollywood Movies channel.
“By the @#$* trident of Poseidon!! They even get more channels than we do!!” I swore.
“You shouldn’t swear by Grandpapa,” said Ariel softly, “it’s not nice.”
“You shouldn’t swear by Greek Gods,” said Papa irritably. “We have a perfectly capable Norse Pantheon”
“You shouldn’t swear at your Cable Guy,” said Fenderis pontifically. “At least you have cable at home.”
“You shouldn’t swear at all,” said the Queen Tigress decisively.
I hung my head meekly and handed the card to her.
I repeated what the Lynx had told me in succinct terms.
“Good work, Jormund,” the Queen Tigress condescended to give me a smile. “Your father and I shall go and do the bookings. You stay here.”
“Take Fenderis with you!” said Ariel, perking up.
“I’m staying put,” said Fenderis firmly.
“We’ll be back by lunch time,” said the Queen, closing the door behind her.
“It’s a lovely day outside,” said Ariel, smiling at Fenderis. “You can go out and get some sun.”
“In case you didn’t notice, I’m a Fenris Wolf. We are from up north and we like it cold,” said Fenderis, turning on the air cooler with a swish of his tail.
“You pathetic mutt,” she muttered under her breath, giving him a murderous look. “It would’ve been hot enough in here if you’d gotten out.”
My mind raced back to an incident about ten years ago when Fenderis had been swimming in the North Arctic and been captured by a shark. I’d only been a young Elver then but I had fought off that shark until Papa Jormund and Uncle Fenris had arrived on the scene and torn it to shreds. In short, I’d saved his life. Up to that moment I had regarded this incident as something of a highlight of my otherwise worthless existence. Now I wasn’t so sure.
“I’ll go get us coffee,” said Ariel, and stalked out.
Fenderis went back to changing channels. I glowered at him.
“What are you looking at me like that for?” he asked, a note of alarm creeping into his voice.
“Like you want to boil me in oil?”
“Oh, that. I do want to boil you in oil, actually. But I’m not fussy – Lard or Fat will do just as well.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Fenderis. “I only stayed back for your sake.”
“For MY sake? Are you nuts? Or do you think I am?” I said, clenching my fists.
He leapt off the bed and peeked out of the door, presumably to make sure Ariel was not within earshot. Then he turned to look at me and hissed,
“You idiot, if I’d left you alone with her, she’d have squeezed a long-term commitment out of you in less time than it takes to fry an egg!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Think about it, you poor louse! You know you can’t resist her any more than I can resist a leg of mutton.”
I thought about it – for about five seconds – and then fell to my knees.
“Fenderis, old chap, I think you just saved my life. Well, at least, my life as a bachelor!”
He smiled and tried not to look too self-important.
“I owe you an apology,” I went on. “I was thinking the most terrible things about you.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said, jumping back onto the bed, “and watch out, she’s coming back.”
Sure enough, the door was pushed open and the sea-princess entered bearing a tray with three cups of coffee on it. I gathered my wits (such as they were) and helped myself to a seat. She put the tray down on the bed.
“Coffee for all,” she said brightly, and we each picked up a cup, at which she suddenly pulled my hand and said, “that one’s for Fenderis, Jormund. Wolf’s special, extra strong, light on the cream.”
“I’m all right,” said Fenderis hastily, “I don’t mind this one at all.”
He’s a smart kid, is Fenderis. All that time he spends with me hasn’t dulled his senses. He could recognise this was a Borgia-esque plot immediately.
She grabbed the cup from my hand and thrust it at Fenderis.
“No, you take this one.”
He gingerly completed the exchange, saying “Well, well, if you insist, you know…can’t say no to you of course, after all…oh crap! Looks like I spilled it.” - which, by a dexterous move, he had, right into the flowerpot that stood next to the door.
A sea-princess never actually wrings her hands or gnashes her teeth, but Ariel came as close to doing so as I’ve ever seen one do.
“I’ll get you another cup,” she offered.
“No thanks, I’m quite all right, really.”
“Jormund and I would feel awful if you didn’t have something,” she insisted, a steely glint in her eye.
“Oh hardly, don’t mind me, I can do perfectly well without,” he replied, smiling weakly under the onslaught.
“Some juice, maybe? Or Tea? Name your poison,” the girl was relentless, and for the moment, none too subtle ether. I found myself wondering whether she got it from her father Triton or her late mother Amphitrite.
Fenderis gave me a helpless look. I bounced to my feet; ever ready to help a cousin in distress.
“I’ll get him some cola myself,” I said, and dashed out.
Front desk took a while getting a cola, and I fell into a reverie, thinking about my Mickey-related troubles. I was shaken out of it rather rudely by the sound of yelping coming down the corridor. I grabbed the bottle of Pepsi that the Lynx was holding out to me and ran back to the room. Pushing the door open brought to light a rather alarming sight.
After having her bath in the morning, Ariel had dressed up in her favourite black and white shirt and black skirt, and worn her favourite pink satin ribbon in her hair. This ribbon was no longer in her hair, but was firmly wrapped around Fenderis’ neck, and from the looks of it, she was trying to wrap it around a lot more tightly. Fenderis was writhing with the effort of keeping himself from being asphyxiated and not hurting her at the same time. He’s a very strong young wolf, is Fenderis, and could probably have shaken her off with very little effort, but he knew better than to injure someone whose grandfather was Poseidon. She was pressing down on him, her green eyes flashing with anger, her face flushed, her hair disheveled and breathing heavily. She’d never looked angrier – or more beautiful. The top of the Shrine of Freyja was clearly visible from the balcony of the corridor where I stood. I turned and said a silent prayer to that kind deity for preserving my bachelorhood from this irresistible force.
Then I leaped in and separated them.
“What on earth are you two up to?” I asked, shoving the cola at Fenderis. “Take this, old chap, you’ll feel better. Ariel, I demand an explanation.”
She sat with her back to the wall and didn’t meet my eye.
“I was checking if the ribbon was the right length.”
Even from her, this was a pathetic excuse, but I didn’t push the issue. Fenderis inched back to his position facing the TV and picked up the remote. I seated myself between them. It was a long time before anyone spoke. In fact I don’t think we spoke to each other at all until that night. Papa Jormund and the Queen arrived shortly after the events outlined above; lunch was had in a desolate atmosphere, and in the evening we took off for the adjoining district from where the connecting bus was to be caught. There was a cool breeze drifting in through the window, and with the bus having no lights, it was even pitch dark. Needless to say, with my rotten luck, I spent the entire time sandwiched between a silent Papa Jormund and a resentful Fenderis.
Things didn’t change much on the bus home either. Once again I spent the night seated next to a random stranger. To his credit, he wasn’t oily, and slept like a log right through the journey.
We got off the bus as it pulled into the city.
“Well, this is where we part,” I said, feeling quite a bit better at the thought. “You go your way and Fenderis and I go ours.”
“Nonsense, we’re coming with you,” said the Queen and hailed a Taxicab.
Before I could protest, everyone but me was nestled inside it. Since a taxicab isn't allowed to ferry more than four, with an air of resignation and a Cicero-like flourish, I waved them off and went looking for a bus.
On arriving home after a long wait for a bus I found myself greeted by a roaring fire, a friendly “Holla” from Papa Jormund who had adjusted the TV to receive faultless Cable reception, the sound of the Queen Tigress bustling about in the kitchen, the smell of fried shrimp wafting out of it, and the sight of a beautiful sea-princess seated demurely on the staircase, a jar of cappuccino in her hand and an inviting look in her eyes.
“You know,” I said, taking my place next to her, “maybe life isn’t so bad after all.”
“Feels like heaven, doesn’t it,” she asked, patting my arm.
Fenderis emerged from the top of the stairs.
“I’ve put your luggage in your room,” he said.
“Oh Fenderis,” said Ariel in a voice dripping with the milk of human kindness, “Come have some coffee.”
He gave a look of unmitigated alarm.
“I think you should eat out for a while, old hombre,” I told him in Spanish, “you can escape from my balcony.”
“Yes, I think I shall do exactly that,” he replied, “and you take care, Senor. She’s a dangerous one!”
I winked at him as he gamboled off and turned to find her beaming at me with a smile on her lips, a mischievous twinkle in her green eyes and an even-more-than-usually pronounced flame-like lustre in her red hair. I realised that Fenderis had it spot-on.
“Dangerous” was putting it mildly.
[Apart from a so-called novel I wrote before I was 15 and a little satirical look at the interviewing process for admission to Business Schools that I wrote perhaps a month before this, 'Not quite a Travelogue' was my first completed short story. It lacks a number of elements that go to make a 'story', I guess. As I was editing it for putting up here, I found a few punctuation issues, especially with dialogue and typos - which were apparently as much my bane when I wrote on a desktop PC as it is now. This is Ariel's first appearance in the Midgard canon. Not the last.]