The Queen Gives Me My Allowance
I drew Ivlivs, and Reyna produced a knife from her bag. Bobby pulled out his gladius.
Dakota raised an arm and put it on Bobby's wrist, but looked at the pirate, "Guess you're in town for the big party?" he asked.
The pirate, who I saw was in much better shape than the ones this morning, said, "Yeah… and it's not here. And besides, weapons are supposed to be peace-tied." He looked at Bobby's gladius. "That's not period, either. Did someone try to sell that to you at the fair?"
Bobby frowned, looking confused. "Um…"
The pirate moved, and I saw what Dakota must have seen right away. On the wall behind him was a sign for the Excalibur Medieval Tournament and Market Faire in Arcata. As soon as I saw that, I also realized that our pirate was slurping large soda and carrying a road map in his pocket. I'm not even sure he was a pirate, just a sailor of some kind. A Viking, maybe, in the middle ages? I wasn't sure.
I stepped forward and said, "The weapons are just plastic toys."
He wrinkled his nose. "Of course they are. I can see that."
"And we're putting them away now." I looked at Bobby, then at Reyna. Bobby put his gladius away immediately. Reyna was more hesitant, but finally complied. I hadn't flipped Ivlivs yet, but I put it away anyway as a show of good faith. I'd have to put a commendation in for Dakota, for noticing the real situation so quickly.
A few other people in medieval garb drifted in. There was a jester, a pair of wenches in low-cut dresses, and a guy wearing part of suit of armor. At the very back, a tall woman dressed as a queen, with her hair piled up in a crown-like arrangement, stood watching the rest dispassionately. Her dress was long and peacock blue.
"What's going on?" the half-knight asked.
"These guys wanted to duel with plastic swords," the pirate said.
"You shouldn't do that off the fairgrounds," one of the wenches put in, snapping bubble gum.
"We couldn't get out to the fair," Reyna said. "We wanted to, but no ride. I guess you guys just looked like you were having fun."
"We can drive you," the queen said suddenly. She stepped up between the others. "We're on an… excursion. They needed supplies. I am…. shuttling." She smiled coolly.
Alarm bells went off. Harmless role-players or not, the idea of just jumping in a stranger's car seemed like a colossally bad notion. Except… I looked at the queen. The long peacock-blue dress. The cold eyes.
"No thank you," I said, and tried take a joking tone. "You know… quests of our own!"
The queen continued smiling her cold, practiced smile. "I see. Well, be careful, young knights. Quests are not always as simple as they seem." She turned at this and walked serenely down the hall toward Famous Footwear. The others followed her.
"O…kay," Bobby said. "Let's get something to eat." He nodded toward a small row of fast food places on our left.
Dakota went for the Subway store, Bobby got Burger King, and Reyna and I went for Chinese food. We met at dirty little table, our trays piled high. Dakota had a large ice water, and he poured in red Kool-Aid mix and about ten little packs of sugar.
"Hey," I said. "Good job back there, but let's not blow up your heart on a sugar rush, okay?"
He shrugged. "It won't hurt me."
"I'm thinking we should go out to Arcata," I said.
Bobby frowned. "Um… you're the boss. But why?"
"The queen… I think… never mind. Let me think it out."
So we ate without talking about our new acquaintances. Dakota kept drinking Kool Aid long after I thought his cup should have been empty, and I realized that my Diet Pepsi wasn't getting any lower, either, no matter how much I drank. It had never occurred to me to wonder if he had any powers from his father, Bacchus. This was a pretty good one. "Thanks for the bottomless drink," I told him.
He grinned. "Cheers."
"You didn't tell me about this."
He shrugged. "Yeah, well, we can't all summon lightning. Or fly."
"I can't fly."
"You said you couldn't call lightning, either."
"He can fly?" Reyna asked.
"He says he can't."
"At least now he does," Bobby added.
"Guys," I warned.
They paid no attention. Reyna was listening avidly, and I realized with some dismay that they were preening for her.
And the preening consisted of telling my story.
It was embarrassing.
"Jason," Dakota said, nodding toward me, "used to say that he flew to camp."
"Yeah," Bobby said, leaning toward her. "He's a legend. He showed up in the middle of the night after a thunderstorm -- "
"-- three years old, best as they could figure --"
"-- with monsters running in behind him, but he was just toddling in -- "
"The clouds were rolling up behind him, covering the moon." Dakota moved his hands in front of his face. "There was lightning behind him but it wasn't raining in the camp, and BOOM!" He clapped his hands. "A monster just got fried right on the road."
"Stop it," I ordered. "I mean it."
For a second, it worked, then Bobby grinned and said, "The praetors asked how he'd gotten so far by himself and he said, 'I flew.'"
I felt my face getting warm, and I stared down at my orange chicken. "I. Was. Three." I looked apologetically at Reyna. "I must have had a dream or something."
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. No one else saw anything like that."
She looked doubtful.
I ground my teeth. Life as the son of Jupiter: They don't doubt that you might have flown down from Sonoma sans plane, but they completely doubt it when you deny it.
After we finished eating, we found a mall map and headed to Walmart to get Reyna some clothes of her very own. She deliberately picked some purple tee shirts from the bargain table, then got a couple of pairs of jeans and some sneakers. While she looked at underwear, the rest of us went to camping supplies and got her a duffel bag. It matched ours, mostly. We did get a few odd looks from salespeople who noticed us carrying large bags, but none of us had exactly felt comfortable leaving all of our worldly goods in an open truck bed. We had to submit to a couple of searches, though a quick sniff should have been enough for security to know the bags weren't full of new clothes.
We checked out and went to a bench in the hall, where Reyna packed up and changed out of the oversized flip-flops. I noticed that she didn't throw them out, even though they were wildly too big for her, but I didn't make anything of it. Bobby was regaling her with a story about how, when we were seven and he hadn't been in the legion yet, I'd let him wear my armor and play war games, and then he'd gotten in trouble with the centurion, which was hardly fair, since it had been my idea and --
She zipped up her new duffel bag and was just putting the strap on her shoulder when she froze, looking down the hall.
A group of six men had just rounded the corner.
"More people from the fair?" Dakota asked.
"No…" Reyna said.
And that was all the time we had.
The men who were not medieval role-players spotted us and one of them shouted, "There she is!"
The floors were slick and security guards yelled at all of us to stop running, but none of us listened. I passed a book store and dumped a cardboard bin of paperbacks across the floor. It slowed the pirates only a little bit as they dodged the slippery little things.
We burst out into the sunny parking lot and Bobby let out a string of curses.
It was easy to spot the truck. For one thing, in a parking lot full of SUVs, it was the only early-50s model work truck to be seen.
For another, the windshield had been shattered and the tires were slashed. The hood had been popped up and something under it was steaming.
Bobby turned around to start a fight. He started to run back inside.
I put on my full centurion voice. "Legionnaire, stop."
"We need to get away," I said. "Bobby, we'll fix it somehow."
"How, exactly, do you propose we get away, centurion?"
A large blue SUV glided up beside us and the tinted window came down.
The queen was at the wheel. "Get in," she said. "It seems you need a ride after all."
An automatic sliding door opened on the side.
We looked at each other.
The mall door burst open and the pirates started to pour out.
We tossed our duffel bags into the SUV (the court jester shouted "Hey!" as one of them clipped him), then launched ourselves inside. The vehicle was moving before the door even closed completely. We were on our way to Arcata, for some reason, and I had no idea how to get control back. Maybe there would be a shuttle back to town and we could catch a bus up the coast.
For the first few minutes of the ride, no one said much. The roleplayers buckled into the seats glared at us until we buckled ourselves in as well.
One of the two wenches (they were both busty girls with red hair; this one was wearing a blue dress) said, "So… this is your first Excalibur?"
Reyna, who seemed to be very adaptable, smiled and said, "Yeah. Always heard about it. Never went."
"It's fun. You should catch the jousting."
"I don't know much about medieval fighting," Reyna said. "Never tried it."
"What kind of fighting do you know?" the pirate/Viking/sailor asked.
"Lots. But mostly either modern or gladiatorial. Roman."
The jester rolled his eyes. "Everyone skips the middle ages. It's like they think nothing happened from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance."
Since that is, more or less, how they teach history in New Rome schools, I didn't say anything.
"Well," the queen said, "I'm sure it was a bit of a letdown after the Empire."
"Everyone thinks that," the jester pouted. "It's not true. There was a lot of advancement." He sneered. "'Middle Ages.' At least it's not 'Dark Ages' anymore, but still, like it's just some transitional thing." He shook his head. "It's a lot of years. Lots of inventions. Good military stuff, too. I'm taking military history from this new guy at Stanford this semester, and he was showing us this cool siege tower that he recreated and…" He sighed. "We get bad publicity. I blame the Renaissance."
The pirate/Viking/sailor snorted. "Well, if ships keep disappearing, we might have to start putting, 'Here there be monsters' on our sea maps again."
"That's complete crap," the other wench (this one in a yellow dress) said.
"Is not," the jester told her. "Ships have been going down like crazy. Atlantic and Pacific."
"No. I looked it up on Snopes. Total urban legend. There are no more shipwrecks than usual. We just start paying attention to them and it looks like a lot. The numbers don't back it up."
I looked at Bobby, and guessed that he was thinking the same as I was. "Like… like the ones up in Oregon?" I asked.
"Exactly," Yellow-Dress said. "There are always fishing boats going down out there. There were a couple in a really short time, but we're not off the curve. The sea is dangerous."
"And what about the monster rumors?" I prodded.
She laughed. "Yeah. Just full of monsters." She rolled her eyes. "A boat goes down, then someone sees an orca or something, and the next thing you know, people start talking Loch Ness."
"Loch Ness?" Dakota asked. "That's a -- "
"Weird story," I finished. While Camp Jupiter had been in England, they'd used the Scottish lochs for training, and there were a few times that the mist had apparently not worked exactly right. "So, there've been what, five boats down?"
"Twelve." Yellow-Dress shrugged. "Maybe a little more than last year, but Snopes said it was well within the curve. The seas have been choppy."
"It's not like anyone's seen tentacles," Reyna said.
"Exactly," Yellow-Dress agreed. "Complete crap."
After this, the conversation drifted back to the medieval faire, and the utterly unfair treatment of the era from classicists and Renaissance thinkers. The jester talked about his college class in military history (the professor was apparently more interested in the early twentieth century, but was knowledgeable about… well, pretty much everything), and the wenches were in a theater program at the College of the Redwoods. The knight was a freshly minted accountant. The queen kept them talking. It wasn't until the car pulled into a parking area that I realized she had deftly steered them away from asking what any of us were doing, where we were from, or why we, all of us too young to be on our own, were hopping into cars with strangers.
She pulled the SUV to a stop and got out, opening the doors and gesturing to all of us to exit the vehicle.
She held back Dakota, Bobby, Reyna, and me. She actually put her hand on my shoulder, and for a minute, her form shifted, and I thought, monster.
But her form wasn't a monster.
She waited until the others were clearly away, then said, "Open your hand, Jason Grace."
The woman standing in front of me was no longer in the peacock blue dress. She was wearing black, and there was a goatskin cloak over her shoulders. The others' expressions didn't change, so I guessed I was the only one seeing it.
She put the car key in my hand.
I blinked. "I, um…"
"Hitchhiking to a mission is ill-advised," she said.
Bobby's eyebrows went up. "Are you a legionnaire?"
Lady Juno smiled. I'm sure that, to Bobby, she was just a medieval role-player in a blue dress. "I should hope you knew who I was before getting into the car." She turned back to me, and now the glamor was there for me as well. "Take it, centurion. Consider it… an allowance. A gift to the camp when you have finished."
I'd never heard of a god granting anyone a car. Or anything else, other than cryptic visions. "If we could just contact the camp…."
"You did contact the camp. This is an answer." She looked at me with no compassion whatsoever. "You don't have time to waste with pirates. You have places you need to be, and… various things you need to see."
"What do I need to see? The sea monster?"
She drew her shoulders up, and even in her disguise, she was too regal to look at directly. "This is your first test, champion. The first of many. I would know what you're capable of seeing without having it pointed out to you."
My first thought was, That's not a fair test. In fact, that was pretty much my second thought, and my third. But since this was a goddess -- and a seriously powerful one, who was known to abruptly lose her patience with sons of Jupiter -- I didn't say anything other than, "I hope I'll see what I need."
"As do I." She turned toward the faire. "Now, perhaps I should see if… " She wrinkled her nose. "If I missed anything in Dark Ages."
She glided away majestically across the parking lot, and then she wasn't there. She didn't disappear, exactly. There was no moment of "poof!" She was there, and then she wasn't.
I turned to my companions, who looked dazed. I wondered what they'd seen, and decided not to ask. That might lead to even more questions.
I gave Dakota the keys, as an early driver's license wasn't part of the gift.
We got back in.
While we'd been standing outside, the main body of the SUV had been loaded with coolers full of healthy fruit drinks (Dakota sniffed one experimentally, then added Kool Aid powder to it) and a picnic basket full of sandwiches. There was also an envelope of mortal money.
We ate as we continued our trip north. This time, we stuck inland a little bit. As we drove, the encounter at the fairgrounds seemed to get fuzzy, like I was looking at it from the wrong end of a telescope. The others didn't mention it at all… it was almost like they had forgotten where we'd come across transportation.
Dakota found a country music station, and tortured all of us with it for a couple of hours.
We crossed the Oregon border and found a little motel. It wasn't terribly late, but I decided that it would be better to get to Winchester Bay in the morning, with the full day of daylight ahead of us. If I was supposed to see something, it would be easier that way.
It was a cheap place, and we took four rooms, using the money from the envelope. (I was going to get two -- one for the three of us, and one for Reyna -- but Bobby had complained that it wasn't fair for her to get her own place if we all didn't. She agreed. ) We worked out a system of knocking on each other's walls in case of emergencies, then turned in.
As strange as it was to stay in Bobby's family home, it was even stranger to be by myself at night. It was just not a luxury that I could indulge in at Camp Jupiter.
I took one of the sandwiches from the picnic basket and burned it in the ashtray for Juno, opening the window and hoping hard for a breeze to keep the smoke from hitting the smoke detector. (I was lucky. I was often lucky with the wind.)
I decided to watch television. There was a marathon of Buffy, which I figured I could talk about with Lucie back at camp. I was halfway through the first one when Bobby opened my door and said, "I thought I heard that music." Dakota was in twenty minutes after that, just about bouncing off the walls from mixing heavily sweetened drink mix into sugary juices. Reyna wandered by on a walk, noticed all in there, and promptly climbed into an armchair. She'd never seen the show, and we all took turns telling her who everyone on it was, and about Lucie's obsession with it, and then about other kids at camp.
By the fourth episode, we were singing along with the theme song.
We all ended up sleeping in my room. Dakota, who crashed down from his sugar high and nearly passed out, got the bed. The rest of us were on the floor.
I was the last to fall asleep, though I'd been drifting in and out for a while (I kept missing parts of the plot). Bobby was snoring loudly, and Reyna was sprawled out on her stomach, drooling on the rug.
The television droned on. I fell asleep.
At first in my dream, I took the bronze shield for the edge of the moon, but I recognized it soon enough. It was reflecting the early light of dawn as I ran through a forest, bashing at small monsters. Somewhere, someone else was training with me, but I couldn't see her. I could only see my reflection in
the shield -- a small, dark-haired girl, with heavy black lines around my eyes. I couldn't see myself very clearly, partly because of the curvature of the shield, mostly because it was bouncing as I ran.
Something burst out of the shadows, and I smashed over to the side, then pulled back and said, "Jeez, Grover. That's a good way to end up a shrub."
The creature in front of me was a faun, standing in heavy shadows under a tree. "Nah, I almost had you."
"No, really, you didn't." I shook my head. "I could have zapped you, you know. I'm a little slower recognizing you, and we all have goat soup."
"Yeah, but you're not slower." The faun grinned. "You're never slower."
"I've been a tree," I said. In the dream, this felt like it made perfect sense. "I've been used to going a little slower."
"You're the same as ever." The grin broke into a wide, fond smile, and I felt like this faun was genuinely happy to see me. "The monsters don't stand a chance."
"They stand plenty of chances if I don't get back to training."
We were both quiet, looking up at the stars. "Where are they, do you think?" the faun asked. "Where would he go?"
"I don't know," I said. "They were out at sea. Could be anywhere. A little assist from certain nautical powers would be helpful."
"Tyson says there's a lot going on there."
"Yeah. Well, we're seeing precious little of it here, as usual," I said. My voice sounded broken and betrayed. "They never help us much, do they…?"
The dream went on a little longer, but it stopped having any real thread to it. I looked down into the shield again, but instead of seeing my face, I saw the black night sky. The stars set into it began to fall.
I awoke to early dawn, and got the others up.
We piled into the SUV, closed out the rooms that we mostly hadn't used, and started north.
Three hours later, we met the Trojan Sea Serpent.