Monday, April 23, 2018

The Wizard’s Task: Part Three

I spent most of the rest of the trip asking simple, perfunctory questions of Andris Wolfe. It seemed that the delivery of the book was important. The summer Solstice would take place on Friday, June 19th, 2015 at 6:35 pm. Wolfe believed, from what he knew of their rituals, that the Druids would use the occasion to destroy the book. By me delivering it in the early morning on Wednesday the Druids would have time to review the book and with any luck, they would agree to talks with Wolfe. He was remaining in the area for that very reason.  
The goblin drove us through Sevierville, through Pigeon Forge, and took us toward Cades Cove from the Gatlinburg side. I was surprised when we turned toward Townsend. Andris explained,” The fork in the road moving toward Cades Cove also marks the domain of the Druids. If I were to take you further it would be seen as a Trespass against them. I would not insult them in such a manner. I also want to provide you with a means of transportation to and from the meeting. As my emissary, I would be remiss to not see to your comfort before having you complete my request. All of that aside, the Druids do not make it their habit to venture into the tourist areas of the park. The dawn meeting is set to facilitate their affairs with the larger world.” 
I gave him a puzzled look not able to quite formulate my question into words. I wasn’t sure if he was reading my mind or my facial expression but he explained,” I know that there has been something of a modern interest in Druidry, but what you might call these pagans come nothing close to the original practices. Since the Roman cull of the Druids, they have become extremely xenophobic. While this is understandable, it is something I would like to remedy. A belief system needs believers if it is to flourish.” 
I lifted the book slightly and asked,” Why have you not begun to train Druids yourself if keeping their faith alive means so much to you?” His toothy smile returned and he said,” I would only consider teaching druidism if the Druids were truly extinct.  Luckily the Smoky Mountain Circle has remained strong since 300AD or thereabouts.”  
“If my history serves me at all the Roanoke colony wasn’t established until 1587. I think Erik the Red visited in the early 1100s, but there has been no evidence of European settlers in North America before then.” I said appreciating my degree in American History for the first time in many years. “After your delivery is completed I would be more than happy to enlighten you on the Croatoan Mystery. The Druids worked their magic to escape the Romans. As I understand it one of the ancient druids who founded came here before the birth of Christ. Waypoints were established which allow Druids to move from one place of power to another. It is a fascinating bit of spell construction. Those are stories for another time.”  
With my interest piqued I began rattling off history related questions. So much of what he answered just made sense. It wasn’t information that any college professor would present, but I learned more in a half hour of back and forth with the Wizard than I had in years. He spoke willingly and at length. It seemed to please him to pass along his knowledge and secrets. My mind seemed filled to bursting when we arrived at a  cabin rental office.  
Andris bade me follow him inside. The goblin waited in the car. As we exited I heard loud hip-hop music with a heavy baseline begin to pour from the car’s speakers. The car began to shake slightly with what I presumed was Githix seat dancing to the beat. I could just make out his over large arms waving about through the dark tint of the Cadillac’s windows.  
Wolfe conducted business with an almost brutal efficiency all the while keeping the grin on his face. I ended up with a small cabin of my own rented to me until Monday. The young girl behind the desk also agreed to arrange for a vehicle for me that would be available later this evening. Andris gave her specific orders to make the vehicle “fun”. That gave me a slight pause, but I realized I had embraced the adventure and would see it through to the end. I was surprised that the Wizard paid for everything with an American Express card.  
We came out of the office and Andris went to the driver’s window. The music vanished, the window dropped rapidly, and the Wizard spoke in low tones to the goblin. I heard one gruff response before my pack was pushed out the window. The Cadillac sped away. As it exited the parking lot the bass line returned louder than ever before. Wolfe watched the car fondly before turning to me and saying,” Githix has gone out to fetch us some food, supplies, and entertainment. He will take his time because that is his nature. Go and make yourself comfortable.” He passed me my pack and the keys to my cabin. I took a moment and stuffed the book reverently into the top of my pack.  
The sales girl came out a moment later and introduced herself as Amber. She guided me to a golf cart, and together we rode through row after row of little log cabins. We rode in silence. I appreciated that she did not need to fill it with meaningless chit-chat. I quickly lost track of the turns we took.  We finally stopped at a cabin that was a little bigger than the ones I had seen on our drive. She asked me for the key saying that she would show me around.  
The porch was covered and had four heavily padded chairs set around a round table. I had always enjoyed sitting on porches to watch the sunset and made up my mind to do exactly that. Living off the grid, I had not had many opportunities to enjoy simple pleasures.  
Amber showed me into a small sitting room. The comfy looking loveseat and chairs excited me more than the big TV and fancy satellite box. She showed me the tiny kitchen and dining area. There were delivery menus stacked neatly on the table. She smiled and said,” We used to stock a mini bar, but if you need anything like that just let me know and I will have it delivered to you.”  
Amber took me through the bedroom. It was a large room compared to the rest of the cabin with a King sized bed, another large TV connected to another satellite box, and a swing run through a ceiling beam. I eyed it in embarrassment that turned into a deep blush when Amber caught me looking. She arched an eyebrow and said,” Let me show you the washroom.” I followed her through the other door in the bedroom.  
The washroom took up as much of the cabin as the bedroom. It had a hot tub surrounded by mirrors from every conceivable angle including the ceiling. Separately there was another tub and shower with multiple shower heads. There was also a washer and dryer tucked away behind a set of folding doors. I looked around fascinated before finally sitting my pack on the top of the washer.  
I followed Amber back to the front door where she told me several times to call her if I needed anything. The words had an odd weight to them that I thought meant she was flirting. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was heavily attracted to the possible wealth Andris Wolfe had rather than any true interest in me.  I shut the door and put on the chain. 
I had made the decision several years ago to forsake the traditional life that American society offered and to live life on the road. I did not miss any of the bills, jobs, or structure that life had imposed on me before my choice was made, but I dearly missed baths. The first time I had read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I had been fascinated with Douglas Adam’s obsession with Baths. I tried it. I loved it.  
I wanted nothing more than to make use of both tubs, but the lifestyle I was used to had taught me that necessity has to be seen to before entertainment or pleasure. I needed a bath, but I needed to wash my clothes more. Nothing I owned would be considered clean by civilized society. Having my own private washing machine and dryer was a luxury I had not had in years. I had learned to appreciate the laundry mat but that always left me with at least one change of clothes dirty. With the Goblin on a supply run and the Wizard seemingly vanished, I decided to take a few hours for myself and clean up.  
Living on the road in modern America isn’t as simple as a “normal” person packing for camping. Even the poorest person tends to gather a metric ton of possessions during the normal course of their everyday life. When you don’t have a home to go back to you either have to carry it with you or leave that stuff behind.  
The bare essentials you need to sustain life are not simple. You need a means of obtaining food because there is no way to carry enough food to last a meaningful period of time on your back. You need a means of obtaining water, but you also need a small quantity of you all the time. Going without food is feasible for a short period of time. Going without water is not. You have to have the means to obtain more of both. Beyond that, you need a serviceable way to maintain your biological needs.  
To that end, I carry two old army canteens that I refill as often as possible. I carry two metal flasks for the same reason. On the side of my pack, I had a large steel thermos that works equally well for water or soup. Since I don’t always have a reliable means to wash the thermos is seldom contains soup. Water fountains normally aren’t too hard to find, but finding one that isn’t being observed long enough to fill up all of my containers almost never happens. Because of that I saved up and bought myself two camel pack reservoirs that fit inside my pack. All told it is possible for me to carry nearly three gallons of water.  
I took a moment to run the tap water and let it get cold before tasting it. It was cold and clean. I took all of my hydration gear to the kitchen sink and spent some extra time in cleaning it. I refilled one of the camel packs immediately and hung it over a chair in the sitting room. It simply wouldn’t do to get caught unprepared if the situation suddenly changed.  
Next, I dug out all of my hygiene kit. Being clean and presentable isn’t necessary to survival, but it does make survival in society easier. A scruffy beard and long hair come in and out of fashion, but at times it is a dead giveaway that you are living off the grid. A resourceful person can find tons of place to fuel up and pass time if they don’t look like a bum. I always keep myself as clean cut as possible, but long hair and a beard are small problems compared to dirty clothes, stains, bad breath, and body odor.   
I laid out my kit and started taking inventory of stuff I was running short on. I would need batteries for my electric trimmer, water purification tablets, some odds and ends for my medicine and first aid kit, some Ziploc bags, and mouthwash. I started to make a list using the little tablet and pen provided left by the phone in the sitting room. The money Andris paid me would easily replenish my pack. I even started considering luxuries like a crank-powered radio when there was a knock at the cabin door.   
Suspicious, I peeked out the window.  The Wizard was standing with two women. They both were carrying gym bags. One of the women had a large canvas bag that held something huge and square.Wolfe had several shopping bags gathered by their plastic handles in one fist.  He caught me looking and winked at me in an overly exaggerated manner.  
I rolled my eyes and moved to open the door. Wolfe said,” Greetings!” I stood back and let everyone inside. I eyed first one woman and then the other carefully. They were identical twins. They both towered over the Wizard putting them a little over 6 feet tall. They had tan skin that seemed to indicate that they spent a good deal of time in the sun or in a  tanning bed. They were both extremely fit and shapely. They both had dark brown eyes. The only difference I could find was in their hair.Both of them had straight, dark brown hair  One of them had dyed a wide streak of her hair forest green. The other, in the same area, had dyed her hair a dark blue.  
Wolfe sat his packages on the kitchen table, and then he made quick work of tucking things away into the refrigerator and the cabinets.  It seemed excessive even if I stayed in the cabin until Monday. The women disappeared into the bedroom area without a word. I went to Wolfe and asked,” What are you doing?” He smiled and said,” Seeing to your comfort,” as if that simple statement was all I needed to know.  My mind went to a dark place and I hissed,” I will not sleep with a hooker!”  
The wizard laughed loud and long. He laughed so genuinely that tears formed and trailed down his cheekbones to disappear into his beard. I stood in shock and waited for him to subside. Eventually, he quieted and motioned for me to take a seat at the kitchen table. I sat down and he sat opposite me. Just louder than a whisper he said,” Calliope and Callista are not prostitutes. They are Muses. They are friends of mine, and they have skills that will help to prepare you for the work ahead.” 
I frowned and said,” I am handing off a book.” I left it unsaid that this did not sound like a skill. He smiled and answered,” Callista is a beautician. She will cut your hair, and if you like, she can give you a shave. Calliope is a massage therapist. She is sitting up her table now. After you are groomed, bathed, and properly laundered she will give you a message to help you relax. They are also well versed in history and what you might consider the supernatural. I could think of no better companions for your evening to prepare you for what is to come.” 
I apologized for my assumption. He waved my apology away and said,” I can understand your concerns. The twins are muses. Very little inspires a man more than beauty and the vitality of a sexually attractive woman. They have been known on occasion to inspire men to greater heights in just that way. Just know that if you manage to bed one or both of them it would not be because they were paid to do so.” I blushed and said,” That won’t be an issue.” He gave me a fatherly smile and nodded.  
He rose quickly and said,” My apologies but I must take my leave.” He reached into his pants pocket and drew out a thick envelope. ” I have grown rather fond of you, and to reflect that I have doubled our agreed upon rate. This is half in advance. Either of the twins can contact Githix and have any requirements you have seen to at no cost to you.” He handed me the envelope, shook my hand, and then hurried out the door. I watched him go feeling confused at his abrupt departure. 
I took a deep breath and then walked into the bedroom. Both women were standing waiting for me to arrive. I introduced myself, they each introduced themselves, and then they smiled and spoke in unison,” Pleased to meet you.” Callista had the green stripe in her hair. I vowed to remember it. She motioned me toward the bathroom and said,” Come and I will cut your hair and, if you would like, I will shave you.”  
I nodded and followed her. Calliope followed us into the bathroom.  A chair had been set up. I sat down and Callista stepped behind me with a pair of shears. She did not ask any questions, but she immediately began to cut. Her hands were strong, but she seemed to make a point of being gentle. I had never been comfortable having my hair cut. Yet, with the twins, I felt no apprehension.  
I watched my hair falling from me in the mirror. Calliope asked,” Would you like something to drink or eat?” I answered in the affirmative and she left the room. I heard the sound of electric clippers and I closed my eyes. Gooseflesh broke out on my neck. I had always hated having my neck and around my ears trimmed. Callista was a quick hand. I relaxed into the seat and felt her begin to cut away the scruff of my beard. She evened up my eyebrows, and after asking permission plucked away my unibrow. I surrendered completely to her attention and began to enjoy the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. I didn’t even tense up when she shaved my face and neck clean with what felt like a straight razor.  
When she finished I had almost dozed off. A warm wet towel cleaned my face, neck, and finally behind my ears. Callista removed the drape and had me check my reflection in the mirror. A hand lifted mine and prodded my fingernails. One of the muses asked,” Would it be acceptable if we gave you a manicure and pedicure?” I nodded my agreement and felt her go to work.  
The manicure and pedicure were followed by a massage. The treatment left me more relaxed than I had ever felt. They brought me a small plate of sliced apples and cubed cheese to nibble on at my leisure. When the massage ended I was lead back to the bathroom where a warm bath had been run complete with bubbles. The twins left me to undress and bathe in private. It was amazingly relaxing and I spent more time in the tub than I should have.  
I got out, dried off, and found a heavy bathrobe had been laid out for me on the bed. I slipped it on and opened the bedroom door. The sitting room was empty though a light jazz was playing through the sound system just loud enough to project into the kitchen. I hadn’t even heard it through the closed bedroom door.  I went into the kitchen and found Callista and Calliope laying out a feast at the table. All my favorite foods seemed to be in attendance.  
I knew the pampering and the bath had taken some time, but I couldn’t see how they had managed to cook up everything is so short a time. The centerpiece was a well-done meatloaf that looked strikingly similar to the ones my Mom always made. There were several ears of corn, a large dish of baked Mac and cheese, a huge bowl of lumpy mashed potatoes, enough brown gravy to cover the meatloaf and potatoes both in a big tureen, cornbread muffins piled high on a plate, green beans, and a skillet of fried squash. My stomach gave a loud rumble of appreciation.  
Callista said,” There is a cheesecake in the icebox, and when the buzzer on the stove goes off the chocolate chip cookies will be ready. Let them cool for a few minutes before you eat them. There is also vanilla ice cream in the freezer.” They rose in unison to leave. I asked,” You aren’t going to stay and eat with me?” Calliope smiled and said,” The repast here would not satisfy our dietary requirements. We can keep you company, but my sister and I will not partake. We believe you would find it disquietening to eat in front of us. The Magus believed that you would want to perform carnal acts with us which we would not have been put off by, but we know that is not the case. Given your history, it seems respectful to take our leave. Enjoy this meal and be not troubled.” I stood quietly and watched them leave. It confused me, but not enough to warrant worry.  
I fixed myself a plate. There was far too much food for me to eat alone. The food was heavenly. Everything tasted as if it had been plucked from my childhood memories.  I didn’t eat enough day to day to have a large appetite. I got a little of everything and had the largest meal I had eaten in months. When I finished, I was pleased to find a few pieces of Tupperware. I packed a considerable amount into them before I covered everything in foil from one of the cabinets. Everything went into the refrigerator except the cooling cookies and the large piece of cheesecake I dropped onto a plate and summarily devoured.  
I was full to the point of drowsiness, relaxed, and almost in a stupor when another knock sounded at the door. Darkness had fallen while I was in the bath and I realized it was quite late. I tried to peer out into the dark through the window but all I could not make out anything. I called out,” Just a minute,” hurried to the bedroom, grabbed my heavy flashlight, tucked it into the belt of my robe, and opened the door just a crack.  
The man on the other side was more than eight feet tall. He was broad enough that I couldn’t see anything past him. As soon as the door opened he put a large fingered hand in the opening and pushed. I am thin, but I have plenty of muscle power when I need it. When the big man began pushing I put my back into the effort of keeping the door closed. My feet slid across the floor and I was pushed back as if my weight and strength were complete without consequence. I retreated several steps, tripped over a chair, and sprawled on my butt.  

He said,”Sorry,” in a rumbling basso voice and stepped inside. The man was completely bald and the biggest person I had ever seen. His shoulders would have touched the ceiling and he was forced into a strange crouch when he came inside. He barely even fit through the door.  Once he was inside he seemed to look around a moment in confusion before centering on me. He smiled showing huge squared teeth that would have been comfortable in the mouth of a Brontosaurus and said,” Hello! Krunk am here to save you from Wizard.”  

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