Categories > Books > Diana Wynne Jones

Silver and sense

by mushimimi 0 reviews

Christopher, Millie, and Conrad visit Cosimo and Miranda in Japan. It is the typical meet-the-parents scenario, with the best-man-to-be tagging along. Or is it?

Category: Diana Wynne Jones - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Humor - Characters: Christopher Chant,Conrad Tesdinic,Millie Chant,Miranda Argent Chant - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2007-05-23 - Updated: 2007-11-07 - 2842 words - Complete

"Cosimo, dear, guess who is coming for dinner next week?" Miranda said cheerily as she smoothed down the back of her billowing silk skirt before taking her seat at the dining table. "The telegram arrived this afternoon."

He was quite taken aback when she announced the content of the missive. "The best-man-to-be as well?"

"He is a policeman/, it seems," she replied, wrinkling her nose. Miranda never wasted any opportunity of airing out her opinion on a career under or even /as the Chrestomanci - the dead-end of all dead-ends where ascendancies up the best circles were concerned.

Cosimo kept his peace, gnawing silently at a piece of bright yellow pickle instead.

"I wonder what she's like," Miranda prattled on.

Me too, Cosimo thought, staring thoughtfully at the miso soup. Maybe it's time I cast Christopher's horoscope?

Aloud he said blandly, "Someone who will take no nonsense from him, I suppose." At least, this was how he remembered his only progeny, from what little time he did spend with Christopher. Frivolous and air-headed, with the unshakeable conviction that no one knew better than him. Well, if he really did, he would be a cricket player today instead of Chrestomanci-in-training, wouldn't he? Sometimes Father does know best, Cosimo thought smugly. For who was the lone person who had insisted, long after Gabriel's people had decided otherwise, that Christopher was a nine-lived enchanter?

"I'd rather think she would be someone who will make him see sense instead," Miranda countered as she chewed delicately on the boneless eel.

Cosimo could tell that Miranda was both delighted and disappointed at her future daughter-in-law. Millie, ordinary-looking and down-to-earth Millie, would never rival Miranda in the social butterfly department, which delighted Miranda. On the other hand, Millie was more at home with discussions on the mechanics of inter-world communication spells than discussions on instant beauty in jars and bottles. This fact guaranteed that both women would be mutually unintelligible. So Miranda's tinkling laughter mingled with Christopher's glib pronouncements, while Millie's low, clipped replies to Cosimo's questions tiptoed discreetly in the background.

The outcome was the formation of two obvious alliances: On one side, there were Millie and Cosimo, engrossed in an exchange about the concept of living deities. They were united in common defense against the butterflies of the Chant clan, Christopher and his mother, who were engaged in a lively debate on the pluses of hand-spun silk against the minuses of machine-made silk. Halfway through the after-dinner banter, Cosimo realized that almost everyone seemed to have forgotten about the best-man-to-be.

Which was not really surprising, he thought as he eyed the outsider, Conrad Tesdinic, who looked slightly younger than Christopher. A quiet young man, with a serious, eager-to-please expression and an ability to blend in with the wallpaper. The latter trait reminded Cosimo of the footmen and butlers who used to serve Miranda and him in London.

Cosimo took advantage of a lull in the conversation to ask Conrad, "So, how do you find Japan?"

"Um, it is... different, Mr. Chant," Conrad replied hesitantly.

"Conrad is from Series Seven, Mr. Chant," Millie supplied helpfully, "a mountainous world where the British Isles have never separated from the European continent."

"Ah! I wonder if it's the same with the Japanese isles over there...."

"No, sir. The People's Republic of Yamato consists of a series of isles just like the ones in 12A."

Cosimo made encouraging noises. The young man went on.

"Only, they had long done away with both the shogun and the emperor, and are now ruled by three alternating tyrants, who are annually impeached by the senate and then reinstated by the voting citizens...," Conrad explained, seeming to lose his timidity as he grew absorbed in the comparison between the worlds.

The conversation droned on in the same ilk, but as bedtime approached, Cosimo felt that he was no nearer to knowing Conrad than he had been before dinner, aside from the fact that he came from Series Seven, and that he wanted to specialize in Phantom Photography at Ludwich University. The uneasiness which resulted from his reading of Christopher's horoscope the week before still haunted Cosimo. There was one element he easily interpreted as Millie, based on the few letters from Christopher during the last few years. And there was this other element....

It was a simplistic assumption, but Cosimo, though critical in so many matters (such as the quality of the domestics) was an unquestioning believer in Occam's Razor. The second most important person to a bridegroom-to-be is the best-man-to-be, is it not? Thus, if element #1, which promised to be a beneficial force in Christopher's life, was tied to Millie, then the other, somewhat ominous element in the reading had to have something to do with Conrad.

He knew he had been very careful with the horoscope this time. For the second time in his life, that wretched metal had appeared in his reading of Christopher's horoscope. But this time around, try as he might, Cosimo could not fathom whether it was supposed to be auspicious or otherwise.

The following day was a Saturday, so Cosimo was home early from his office at the imperial palace. He found a note from Miranda on the dresser reminding him to feed Echo-chan. The second assistant of the empress' chief wardrobe attendant had requested Miranda's advice on urgent modifications of Her Imperial Majesty's new western dresses. Cosimo heaved a sigh. A full team of servants in the house, and none to feed the cat!

He found the cat sunning herself on the veranda, which looked out to the rock garden. A little way beyond the garden, the laundry was flapping serenely in the afternoon wind. Usually they consisted of ordinary daily wear. Today, however, the duvets joined the ranks of fluttering fabric - someone must have decided that they needed airing out.

When he emerged again from the kitchen with the bowl of cat food, the calico bundle of fur was no longer lounging on the veranda. Cosimo frowned. Echo-chan almost always decided that she would like some pre-lunch game of hide-and-seek if anyone but Miranda was feeding her. This was one of the milder forms of her mealtime antics. Once, after a feeding session, the gardener had to get shots against rabies. The tooth marks on the glove he was wearing at the time of the incident had been carefully preserved. "I want my future grandchildren to see it," the gardener was often heard to say.

In short, the cat was not a great favorite among the domestics. It was not that none of them would feed her. No, it was the thought of what the ones who volunteered would actually feed Echo-chan which prompted Miranda to direct the note to Cosimo rather than the scullery maid.

Cosimo armed himself with a spoon and stepped resolutely into the rock garden.

He reached the edge of the garden. Still no Echo-chan. He was about to bang the spoon against the bowl when his ears caught a rustle from behind one of the duvets. He took a while to recognize the speaker. It was Christopher, still as flippant as ever, but there was an uneasy seriousness beneath the irreverent banter. Listening to him was like watching a person decorating the heart on his sleeve with a 'Kick-me' note.

Slowly, feeling like an intruder on his own property, Cosimo peeked from the shelter of the pine tree that marked the western border of the rock garden. A dark mop of hair, teased into the semblance of its former childish curliness by the wind, was visible just above the clothesline.

"So, you are going right back to Series Seven after the wedding?"

"Yes," Conrad's voice, serious as ever, replied. "I've got a test next month."

"There's nothing you are studying in Ludwich that you can't study here," Christopher was grumbling.

"Look, didn't we talk about this last year, before I left for Series Seven?" Conrad said, half-exasperated and half-puzzled. "See, if I stay here, I will start to fade away."

"Don't swallow every bit of drivel that old dried-up stick feeds you. It's not a proven rule."

"You seem to have run out of names to call Gabriel recently. Are 'stick' and 'spoilsport' the best you can do these days?"

Christopher ignored the bait. "Hmmph. I think he's wrong. Not everyone who stays away from their home world dwindles into nothing. Look at Ta- Mordecai!"

"Well, I did check up on that. Gabriel was right about the fading away. Maybe it is something to do with the elves, but Mordecai is an exception rather than the rule, which should be obvious to anyone who would see sense. Though I don't think he would be much welcome in Series Eleven if he ever went back."

There was a sigh from the taller figure.

"Why are we discussing my future between these flapping sheets, anyway?" Conrad said after a long silence from Christopher. This sounded so reasonable to Cosimo that he almost chimed in: "Yes, what on earth are you two doing here?"

There was no reply from Christopher. Conrad went on: "I mean, I was just taking a walk in this garden, and then you dragged me here. What is it that you really want to talk about? In private, away from Millie? Not having the pre-ceremony jitters, are we? Cold feet...?"

Cosimo could tell that Conrad's chatter was now powered by sheer nervousness caused by either the lack of reply, or whatever he was seeing in Christopher's expression. "If it is tips about what to do after the ceremony, I can't help you much, but there's this book I've been reading, it's called...."

Finally, Christopher cut him off with the words, "Sod the book, Grant". And more.

Cosimo, spoon still poised against bowl, reminded himself to breathe. By the time the shadows broke their embrace, he realized that he had dropped the spoon. Fortunately, the clatter was muffled by the grass. Besides, not much could be heard above Conrad's surprised exclamations and protests, which eventually became muted and were replaced by noises suggesting something other than vexation.

Cosimo turned back towards the house and carelessly placed the bowl on the veranda. For all he cared, the cat could go hide the whole day and then complain to Miranda (by way of making a great show of interest in human food at dinner time). He marched straight to his den, where he fished out the compass and the protractor from the drawer and begun to reconstruct Christopher's chart. Now and then he threw furious glances at the rows of reference tables on a well-thumbed page. He was damned well going to find out the ramifications of the silver element in his most recent reading of Christopher's horoscope.

He was relieved to find Millie sitting at the edge of the veranda. At least, the horoscope had been right about that. It was just past midnight, a sultry summer night when crickets reigned, as if summer would not be summer without the official sanction of their constant chirping.

"A warm night, isn't it, dear?" he greeted her as he sat down beside her and offered her one of the glasses of lemonade he had brought from the kitchen.

"I grew up in an even warmer climate, Mr. Chant," Millie said companionably as she sipped at the straw. "Once, it was so hot that we took to sleeping in the yard, all of us. In the morning we had to wash the sands right out of our eyes...."

"That must hurt. Does it happen every summer?"

"One out of three years or so."

Millie went on about her former life as a living Goddess among war-like priestesses and even more belligerent temple cats, in a world full of swirling dusts and hot sands. It was all wasted on Cosimo, who was too worried about the incident he had stumbled upon during the afternoon to pay attention.

Cosimo kept wanting to ask Millie what she felt about Conrad. Conrad and Christopher. Did she know?

"Mother Proudfoot sneaked to 12A twice to visit during the hols. Once she brought me the bangles I used to wear in the temple," Millie was saying. Cosimo gave her a perfunctory nod. "I thought they belonged to the temple, but she said that the new Goddess didn't like them... really, I think it was just an excuse to take a day off from the temple and come see me."

"I suppose one needs a break from the routine from time to time," Cosimo said and remembered to put on an attending look, which always worked with Miranda.

"Well, I can always use them on Christopher," Millie continued. "You know how annoying he can be, when he is so full of himself and won't listen to sense..."

"Eh, use what?" Cosimo asked guiltily. He still had not figured out how to broach the subject of Conrad with her, and he felt dreadful for not really attending to what she was saying.

"The bangles. They are silver. Silver works on Christopher, like, er, magic," Millie said. "And a good thing that is too, especially when nothing else, not even common sense or a big stick, does."

Cosimo put a hand over his forehead and groaned. "That was all my fault. The horoscope was pointing to a person called Argent, but I thought it said silver. So I neutralized the supposed effect of silver on him - or thought I did. In the end, it turns out that -"

"It's not your fault," Millie said in a reassuring tone, "It's all right as long as he does not stay near silver too long, especially in Conrad's world."

Cosimo leapt at the chance to steer the subject to Conrad. "Why is that so?"

"It seems that the effect of silver is stronger in Series Seven. Here it only stops him from doing magic, but over there it makes him physically sick," Millie explained. "At least, that is what Conrad told me."

Cosimo stared pensively at his half-empty glass of lemonade. Could that be it? The solution to the blasted horoscope riddle? he thought. Conrad Tesdinic hailed from a world where silver is strong. It did not take him long to imagine what foolhardy action Christopher was going to take if the other fellow insisted on returning to his own world. A world where silver is strong, he repeated to himself.

"So, what do you think of Conrad?" Cosimo tested the ground.

"Gabriel said Conrad's the only person who could make Christopher see sense," Millie replied. For some reason, she seemed to find her toes a very interesting study. "He'd be the last person I'd expect to cause Christopher to... to..."

"Commit senseless acts?" Cosimo probed.

"Oh, bother it all!" Millie said in exasperation. She turned from the garden and faced Cosimo. A look of understanding, worth more than ten after-dinner conversations, passed between them.

"You will take no nonsense from him, then," Cosimo said in a clipped, careful tone. "Marriage always changes a man, often for the better. For instance, a newly wed gentleman may see the wisdom of -"

"- not running away with Conrad to Series Seven?" Millie interjected, a half-bitter, half-amused grin on her round face, which had again turned to contemplate the garden. "Did Christopher ever tell you how we got to meet Conrad?"

Cosimo nodded. "In his usual vague way. Something about you getting lost in Series Seven...."

Millie gave him a rueful look. "See, I ran away from school to Conrad's world and Christopher went to look for me there."


"It'd be sort of funny," she said gloomily, her feet poking at the grass underneath the veranda. "Maybe I am supposed to return the favor he did me the other time, by being the one to go look for him and drag him back to Chrestomanci Castle this time around."

"Millie," Cosimo placed his hands on the young girl's shoulders and turned her around gently. "Millie, listen. He did propose to you. That means he cares for you too. So do your best to make him see sense."

He sighed at the blank look on her face.

"Make him stay. Help him stay," he said, and added encouragingly: "In the end, the woman is almost invariably the one who wins." The image of a man in fox-colored tweeds, with foxy red hair and even redder mustache, flitted through his mind. Cosimo shooed it away with the thought: And she did win, Ralph.

"Almost?" she asked dejectedly. "And how did you know that, by the way?"

"Almost," he repeated, ignoring her other question. "So you have to really try your best."

The End
A/N: Many thanks to mikeneko and mjj for throwing in bits of ideas for me to play with. Also to (long-suffering betas) qwerty and mikeneko for comments, suggestions, and edits. Any shortcomings that remain, however, are mine and mine alone. Sadly, the same is not true of the characters, all of whom belong to DWJ.
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