The Mural and the Cabinet, part 05 of 21

“Do you want me to show you how to sew?” Pasyala asked. “Or has your mother already shown you?”

 

“No,” Devi said at first. “Girls do sewing and knitting and stuff.” But then he reflected: People go into other worlds to learn valuable lessons and have adventures and stuff. The portal made me a girl, so maybe it wants me to learn about girl stuff before it will let me go home and be a boy again? “I guess I’m a girl now, so I can learn how to sew and stuff.”


The Mural and the Cabinet

part 5 of 21

by Trismegistus Shandy

Thanks to Lucario and Maplestrip for feedback on story ideas, and to Yuki Kitsune for beta reading the manuscript.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.



The day after Syuna posted the letters, wizards started showing up to look at the cabinet. There was one on the first day, three the next day, four the day after that, and one or two a day for the next eight days. Several of them wanted to talk with Devi; Syuna chaperoned these meetings and cut them off after about half an hour. She didn’t want them to tire out or distress the poor child. She might have an overactive imagination, or she might be telling the exact truth, but either way, she was lost far from home. After a couple of days, realizing that most of the wizards were asking the same questions over and over, she sat down with Devi and wrote up a list of answers to those questions, and gave copies of it to all the customers who came in, and only allowed them to speak with Devi in person if they had important new questions that weren’t on the list.

The ones who seemed most serious about buying the cabinet were Nidlaya, her second cousin; Sumshar, a woman who’d grown rich from the royalties on a talisman she’d invented some years ago; and Kashpur, an older man with inherited wealth. They all came around to examine the cabinet more than once, bringing herbs and talismans to help cast analytical spells. The second time she examined it, Sumshar said to Syuna: “I think the portal will spontaneously open at long unpredictable intervals, but to get it to open on demand will take a lot of time-consuming work. You may want to have the child hang out in the furniture aisle when she’s not eating or sleeping, so she can go home if it suddenly opens without warning. I don’t think it’s likely to open again within the month, but it could happen.”

Kashpur confirmed this when Syuna asked him, the next time he came around; he sounded less sure than Sumshar, who’d been tentative enough, but it was enough for Syuna to tell Devi what they’d said and instruct her to wait around near the cabinet in case it should open again. The child said something curious: “All right, but I don’t think it’ll open until I’ve had my adventure.” She seemed fixated on having an adventure out of a storybook, which in Syuna’s opinion argued for her being as young as she looked. Zindla, at least, had been more mature and responsible when she was ten. But she hadn’t spoken in such complex sentences when she was five.


The next morning after the breakfast dishes were cleared away and washed, Devi expected that the whole family would be working in the shop. But Tyemba went downstairs to open for business, while Pasyala, Syuna and Zindla sat down at the dining table with some books and papers.

“You can join us if you like, Devi,” Syuna said. “Or just keep reading the storybook you borrowed from Zindla, or whatever. We’re working on history today, and I don’t suppose the history of our world will do you much good when you go home to yours.”

“No, that’s cool, I want to learn about stuff,” Devi said. He was sure that the history of this country must be more interesting than the history he’d learned in school back home. They had wizards and magic here. And those stories he’d been reading were supposed to be based on real history, though parts of them were made up.

The lesson mainly consisted of Zindla answering questions from her mother and grandmother about the pages of the history book she’d read since her last lesson, and asking them a few questions about things from the book she hadn’t understood. When they asked a question she couldn’t answer, they opened up the book to the right place and found the answer and made her read the passage aloud. It wasn’t as interesting as Devi had expected, but even more confusing than his history classes back home. Of course he was jumping into the middle of the story, and hadn’t read the book they were talking about. But he was disappointed that they hardly talked about magic at all, except that Pasyala asked Zindla at one point, “Who invented the weather-control spell, and when and where?” and she named some wizard that had lived two hundred years ago.

“Awesome!” Devi exclaimed, finally breaking his silence. “You can control the weather here?”

“Why don’t you explain to Devi about weather control, Zindla?” Pasyala said.

“Um, all right,” Zindla said. “So they don’t control the weather around here. They use it along the coast, to prevent storms that would cause shipwrecks, and in the most fertile farming areas, but not in the inland cities. It’s because it works by shifting the storms or rain from one place or time to another, and it takes a lot of wizards working together. So you can make it rain more when you need it in the farm country, but that makes it rain less in other places, and you can make it rain less when they’re bringing in the harvest, but then we get rain in the cities. And the storms are worse out at sea than they used to be, but they get sort of toned down when they get close to the coast, unless they’re so big they break the weather-control spell.”

“Very good,” Pasyala said. “Now... what problems were the reforms in the hundred and twelfth year of the Republic supposed to solve?”

When the lesson was over, Syuna and Zindla went downstairs to work in the shop for a while, Pasyala continued working on Devi’s new gown, and Devi went back to reading his book. But after he’d finished another story, he went over and watched Pasyala sewing together the pieces she’d measured and cut out of a large piece of cloth. It was interesting; he’d never seen anybody make an article of clothing that big before, though his Grandma Woolcombe knitted scarves and hats.

“Do you want me to show you how to sew?” Pasyala asked. “Or has your mother already shown you?”

“No,” Devi said at first. “Girls do sewing and knitting and stuff.” But then he reflected: People go into other worlds to learn valuable lessons and have adventures and stuff. The portal made me a girl, so maybe it wants me to learn about girl stuff before it will let me go home and be a boy again? “I guess I’m a girl now, so I can learn how to sew and stuff.”

“I would offer to teach you if you were a boy, too,” Pasyala said. “Here, watch how I do this...”

A few hours later, Zindla came upstairs. “There’s a wizard here to look at the cabinet, and he wants to talk to you, Devi.”

“All right,” Devi said. She got up and went downstairs with her.

Tyemba was behind the counter in front of the store. In the furniture aisle there was a man almost as old as Devi’s Grandpa Woolcombe, lighter-skinned than Zindla’s family, with grey hair that still had some brown strands in it. He wasn’t wearing ornaments in his hair like Tyemba or Nidlaya did. Syuna was talking with him.

Devi noticed that the cabinet had a new, much larger label. Instead of “Strong unknown enchantment... 35,000 crowns”, it said “Interdimensional portal. Details available on request. To be auctioned on the sixteenth of Tuspir.”

“This is Kashpur,” Syuna said, in that language that the secretary at Nidlaya’s office spoke, bending down and looking Devi in the eye. “He’s interested in buying the cabinet, and he thinks he might be able to get it to open a portal to your home again. He wants to ask you a few questions. If you don’t feel comfortable answering some of them, just say so.”

“All right,” Devi said, and looked up at the old man. He looked like he wasn’t used to dealing with kids. After clearing his throat, he asked Devi a bunch of questions about her home world, what she was like before the portal transformed her, and how she’d discovered and gone through the portal in her bedroom mural, much as Nidlaya had done. He wanted to know what time of night it had been, which Devi couldn’t tell him because she hadn’t noticed the clock when she got up to go to the bathroom, and what time of year it was; Devi told her the date, which came out as “the eleventh of Skapush”. Devi was pretty sure they used a different calendar back home, but that was the only way she could think of it now.

After a while, Syuna said: “I think that’s enough. You can come back and ask more questions if you think of more later.”

“Very well, ma’am. I think I shall.” He bowed to her and went out.

“You think he might buy the cabinet?” Devi asked in a small voice.

“Maybe. There are a lot of other people who might buy it — Nidlaya, for instance. He sounded interested. And it’s only a day since I posted those letters to our best customers about the cabinet.”

“Would I have to go and live with him, or whoever buys it?”

“If you want to stay with us, you can. You can wait until the buyer tells us they’ve figured out how to work it, and then go over there — Tyemba or I will go with you — and go home through it.”

Several more wizards wanted to look at the cabinet and talk to Devi in the next few days, but after three days, Syuna took her down to the office one morning after Zindla’s lessons and got her to help her write out a list of answers to all the questions the various wizards had asked. She used a magic box to make a bunch of copies of each page, and when they were done, they went through and matched up pages from each stack and folded them up. After that, wizards kept coming to look at the cabinet, but most of them were satisfied with the answers in those papers, and didn’t need to talk to Devi. Then a few days later, Syuna told her she should start hanging out in the furniture aisle when she wasn’t busy with something else. “The portal might open again at any time,” she said. “Sumshar and Kashpur both think so. But they said it probably won’t open again for a month or more, at least not by itself, so don’t tire yourself out. And whatever you do, don’t sit on any of the other furniture — if you get tired of standing, go upstairs to the sofa or Zindla’s bed.”

Since all the other furniture had mysterious enchantments on it, Devi took that warning to heart. She started going downstairs with the rest of the family after Zindla’s lessons, and standing around in the furniture aisle. When customers came and looked at stuff on that aisle, she was supposed to go away and leave them alone. Once Devi woke up in the middle of the night to pee, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so she went downstairs and watched the cabinet for a while to see if it would open. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go home yet, and she doubted the portal would open yet until something more interesting and adventurous had happened. But she was starting to get a little homesick, even though she liked Zindla and her family, especially her grandma. And she wanted to see more of this world, but so far she’d hardly seen anything beyond this shop — they wouldn’t let her go out by herself, and having been made into a little girl, she was a little frightened of going out alone in this big city.

She sat on the floor, watching the cabinet, thinking deep thoughts, until she fell asleep. Zindla found her there the next morning, leaning back against the “Thinking chair (175,000 crowns)”.

After that, Devi thought that if the portal had opened up in the middle of the night, and if she’d gone through it prematurely in a fit of homesickness, Zindla and her family would worry about her. They might guess the truth, but they’d also wonder if she’d left the shop and gotten lost in the city, perhaps kidnapped by people who wanted little kids for those nefarious purposes that Mom and Dad vaguely alluded to when warning Davey and Amy to stick close to them when they went downtown.

So she asked Syuna for some paper, and wrote out a note — in pencil; their pencils were twice as big around as the pencils back home, and looked funny, but they were easier to use than their pens — saying:

“The portal opened up and I went through it. Don’t worry about me. — Devi Plata.”

After that, she kept the note in her pocket whenever she was going to be hanging out around the portal, day or night. She sometimes went down there in the middle of the night for an hour or so, until she got sleepy, but she didn’t fall asleep beside it again. She was still wondering how she was supposed to have her adventure when she was so little. Maybe she’d stay here for years, like the kings and queens in Narnia, and grow up before going home? The Narnia books only talked about a few of their adventures, but if they lived in Narnia for years and years, they must have had some boring times, too.

Pasyala finished the first of Devi’s new gowns the day after Kashpur came to look at the cabinet and talk to Devi. She made two more over the following days. By then, Devi had been paying attention to her sewing for long enough that she let Devi sew the pockets onto the last gown. The seams were crooked, but the pockets were capacious, and that was what mattered.

Zindla’s family followed the same routine for several days after Devi’s arrival, except that some days Tyemba taught Zindla’s lessons while Syuna opened the shop, and they covered different subjects on different days. Then one morning there were no lessons after breakfast, and nobody opened the shop. Everybody got dressed in their nicest clothes, and packed up food that didn’t need cooking in a couple of baskets, and went to church. It was a short bus ride in the opposite direction from the way Devi and Tyemba had gone to see Nidlaya.

The church service was kind of long, and even more boring and confusing than the services back home — more than half of it was in a language Devi didn’t know, and suspected Zindla at least didn’t know very well — but Devi tried to pay attention because she thought she was supposed to learn something from it, like what other religions were like, and because it was the only the second break in routine since she’d arrived.

After church, they went to a nearby park and had a picnic. There were a lot of benches in the park, and after a fair bit of walking they found two adjacent ones that weren’t occupied, enough for everyone to sit down, if a bit crowded. Devi didn’t recognize all the kinds of trees in the park, though admittedly she didn’t know the names of all the trees back home either.

“Well, Devi,” Syuna said after they’d finished eating, “what do you want to do for the rest of the day? Would you like to ride the buses around and see more of the city, or stay here and explore the park for a few hours, or what? You’re our guest, so we’ll let you decide.”

“Is there anything really cool in the park we haven’t already seen?” Devi asked. “Like carnivorous plants or something?”

“No,” Zindla said, “I mean, there are some interesting things. There’s a flower clock in the west garden, and fountains with statues, but no carnivorous plants. Do you have them in your world?”

“I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen any. They don’t grow where I live.”

“We have them in our world too, Zindla,” Tyemba said, “but they don’t grow around here either. They grow in the swampy southern country. They eat insects, not big animals — do the ones in your world eat animals, Devi?”

“No, just insects, I think. I’m not sure.”

So, after walking a little way and seeing a couple of fountains with statues pouring or vomiting or peeing water, which made Devi giggle, they left the park and rode a bus back toward home. Pasyala got out when they got to the stop closest to the shop and apartment, and the rest of them went on past that stop a bunch of blocks east, then changed buses and rode north to a big square that allowed only pedestrian traffic, no vehicles. It had a big statue in the middle, a man on horseback, and smaller statues of men and women around the four corners. Big fancy buildings with domes and short spires, none as tall as the building Nidlaya’s office was in, were on all sides of the square.

“That’s the Wizards' Court,” Tyemba said, pointing at one of the buildings, “and that’s the National Court, and the Prime Minister’s offices, and the Parliament.”

“What does the Wizards' Court do?” Devi asked.

“They judge wizards who are accused of crimes, and ordinary people accused of crimes committed using magic talismans. Like if someone used magic to steal or cheat somebody, they’d be tried there. And over there, that tall building behind it, is part of the Wizards' Academy. I went there, but only for a year; I don’t have enough power to make it worthwhile learning advanced spells. Back when it was built, you couldn’t build buildings that tall without magic, but now we can build them up to twelve stories without magic, and nearly forty stories with magic.”

Devi wanted to go inside and see some of those buildings, but unless you had business there, they wouldn’t let you inside. Not like back home, where Devi’s third grade class had gone on a tour of the state capitol. Oh, well.

From there they took another bus to a church; it was built in the same style as the church near the shop they’d gone to that morning, but a lot bigger. They went in and walked around it, quietly, looking at a lot of pictures and statues. Devi wanted to ask questions, but they wouldn’t let her talk until they’d left and were waiting for the bus.

They got back to the shop and went upstairs, where Pasyala had supper ready.

As she was getting ready for bed, Devi wondered if any time at all was passing back home. Surely not much.



If you want to read the whole novel (51,700 words) right now without waiting for the serialization, you can find it in my ebook collection, Unforgotten and Other Stories. It's available from Smashwords in epub format and Amazon in Kindle format. (Smashwords pays its authors better royalties than Amazon.)

You can find my earlier ebook novels and short fiction collection here:

The Bailiff and the Mermaid Smashwords Amazon
Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes Smashwords Amazon
When Wasps Make Honey Smashwords Amazon
A Notional Treason Smashwords Amazon
The Weight of Silence and Other Stories Smashwords Amazon


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