Moosekateer Castle sat peacefully upon its rocky height. That is not to say quietly, but there was a happy, content quality to the occasional clangs and shouts of triumph as Morty and Mufo jumped and swing about the place that made the sounds for more soothing and reassuring than one might expect. For one thing, Aurora was home and making her own portion of the din as they practiced at being dashing adventurers, and Aurora’s friend Moog could be heard shouting advice, comments, or just laughing from time to time. An unsteady counterpoint of bangings and whirrings could be detected coming from the castle theatre, proof that their more reclusive friend Moozie had a new project in poof, making the list of castle residents complete with not one marked absent.
The only one not adding to the cheerful, homey clangor within the walls sat curled up in a great, soft chair in one of the reading sections of the castle branch of the Moose Valley Great Library. In addition to being a Moosekateer, Marius held the honored title and responsibilities of the Valley Librarian. Marius, of course, felt as much joy and excitement as the rest to have everyone home at once, but the obstacle course where they practiced had gotten too busy with all four of them swinging around at once, so Marius retreated to study tales of adventure and research new skills they should add to their repertoire.
The books stayed quiet and still (which was not always the case when dealing with that library and its librarian). The sigils and lines of power on the walls and shelves lay dim and invisible unless one knew where and how to look. No emergency loomed. No disaster threatened, but as he sat, Marius grew aware that one of his tomes did want his attention for something more than the exchange of ideas or an exercise of imagination.
A small table sat against Marius’ chair ready for a mug, sandwich plate, notebook, pen, or whatever the moose might want to keep at hand. When Marius sat down, the dark polished surface supported nothing more than a rectangular mat woven from multicolored reeds. When Marius looked up from an exciting, world-saving encounter between an aquatic, prehistoric embodiment of hunger and a group of animal avatars with the help of a lady mechanic, a second book sat beside him upon the mat.
Carefully, Marius marked his place with a strip of tan ribbon decorated with a small bronze coyote charm at one end and a small medallion marked with a coyote or possibly a wolf paw print at the other. Once Marius closed the book he held, the other stirred. The cover lifted slightly and the pages rustled, resettling after only a moment.
“Yes, go on,” Marius encouraged. The book was quite small. He could hide it with one poof. The edition was something suitable for carrying in a pocket for waiting rooms, long lines, or other idle moments. It wore no dust jacket at that time, leaving the red, cloth-covered, hardback book with the gold edged pages anonymous except for the image of a two masted schooner with four sails pressed into the front face. The book lay with the spine facing away from Marius, so any marks there were no help. He recognized the ship and knew that it had more to do with identifying the printer than the book’s contents.
Suddenly, the little volume reared up. First it stood on its front edges in a tent like attitude, flashing the gold lettering of the spine at Marius as it caught the light. Then it rocked back and the thin, translucent pages fanned back and forth as if searching for the correct place.
The pages opened wide and there was a sensation or image or illusion, or perhaps a memory of a small girl’s hand pulling aside a curtain that started off as a line drawing of black ink on a white page. It blossomed into color, first watercolors and then bright animation. A series of real hands drew the curtain in several shades and fabrics aside until nothing remained except a small door, more than twice the height of the original book, but still smaller than the table’s surface.
A small, golden key turned in the door’s lock and an unseen force opened the door to reveal a charming, sunlit garden. Without hesitation, Marius set aside the book he held and accepted the blatant invitation, though of course, he had to shrink down quite small first to do so. There would be time later to save the lady coyote’s world, and this story invited him in to participate.
Once through the door, the sculpted garden he saw faded from sight and Marius fell with no particular sense of urgency past cabinets, through water, past a mouse and some birds, through a house, past a rabbit with some lizards, and many other things until he landed with a not unpleasant thump in a high backed chair at the end of a long table.
On a brightly colored tablecloth patterned with bats, cats, and hats lay one of the most elaborate, mismatched, but undoubtedly tasty meals Marius had encountered in a long time. Cups did not match their saucers, or any other saucer on the table. Forks did not match spoons and every teapot and plate had a different pattern and often a different shape than every other one.
The table sat in the front garden of a neatly thatched cottage under a bright blue sky and though there were places set for at least a dozen with a wide variety of seating, when Marius landed he seemed to be the only person seated at the table. Then a soft, but deep toned voice spoke up from a position half way along the length next to an arrangement of flower shapes carved and otherwise formed from fruits.
“Welcome, welcome, Marius. It is such a pleasure to have you with us again. Please feel free to make yourself comfortable where you are. My two friends are just fetching the last of the sandwiches and the kettle to fill all the teapots. The other guests should be arriving shortly.” Marius quickly traced the words to a small, grey furred, gentleman of sleekly furred rodential aspect walking down the great table straightening napkins and forks on the way to a second, smaller table floating on the deck of a wide barge afloat in a shallow, silver punch bowl, complete with hinged gang plank to connect it to the table top.
Before Marius could respond, a young, well fleshed girl with a skipping rope over her shoulder and a smudge of earth on one cheek ducked through a door completely hidden by the stone wall’s ivy shroud until that very moment.
“Welcome! Welcome!” the mouse called again.
“Tha’ were most kind ta be thinkin’ on me when tha made out t’ invitations,” the girl said in her broadest yorkshire with a neat little curtsy.
“Sit yourself anywhere you like,” the mouse said with a graceful wave.
Two red haired rag dolls with broad smiles and sweet hearts emerged from the neighboring woods in the company of a worn plush rabbit that could never be ugly to anyone who understood. At almost the same time a lanky, long-eared fellow emerged from the cottage with three large plates of neatly cut sandwiches balanced in his arms which he somehow fit onto the already crowded table without shifting anything.
A dark haired girl wearing blue and white checks on her dress and shining silver slippers spun out of the sky to a neat landing and pulled a little dog out of the half ripe lunch pail she carried even as a boy in green with a red feather in his cap flew in from the other direction with a flying spark for a companion. A waft of sea air brought a boy in a loose shirt and vest with knee breeches and bare feet. Just before stepping onto the grass he shoved a mop, a map, and for some reason an apple behind a tree before straightening his hair to join the company.
A large headed man in an impressive top hat emerged from the house carrying a steaming copper kettle almost as big as himself and everyone scrambled to find seats as he filled the teapots, often seaming on the point of spilling upon a guest, though never coming to it.
From somewhere, the door mouse had been joined at the barge table by a frog in a mackintosh and galoshes with his particular friends; the newt in his black and gold waistcoat and a very gentlemanly old tortoise who brought a net bag of salad along. When, after a brief and mildly chaotic scrum, everyone had a full plate and a generous cup of tea the long-eared gentleman who brought out the sandwiches stood and raised his cup to first his guests and then his companion in the tall hat. “My friends and companions, many thanks for coming to be with us this afternoon. I bid you,” he paused while everyone lifted their cup and many stood to join him facing the blushing man now trying to hide within a hat that might be a trifle too big for him, “Happy Mad Hatter Day!” The company broke out in cheers and an impressively broad assortment of hats.
(Written for Mad Hatter’s Day, October 6, 2016)