(It turns out when Minion looked at the front of her original, hand written version of this story, that she did have a more interesting title for it. We will be putting more of this novel up for most of the month while she puts her usual short story time into trying to get some bigger things done.)
“I wonder where you came from,” Nathan said, walking around the bed to get a closer look.
“That uniform is much more modern than the one my Gramps wore, but it is not quite up to the current U.S. Military pattern, is it.” Along with his uniform and pack the moose had an envelope on his lap, held upright under one arm with ‘Nathan’ written upon it.
“Maybe this will tell me where you came from,” Nathan said pulling a simple bit of heavy, pale grey card stock out of the unsealed envelope. On it, the words were not simply written or printed by a computer, but deeply etched with shining gold ink or leaf pressed into the indentations. “Every Good Adventurer benefits from a Trusted Companion.”
Nathan turned the card over, double checked inside the envelope, and the inner and outer surfaces of the envelope itself, but there was no further clue. He studied the words for a bit longer. Then he dropped card and envelope on the bed and went back to his suitcase for clean clothes. Mostly, Nathan felt he had outgrown teddy bears and the like. There were extenuating circumstances and some precedence, but the decision as to what to do with the moose and further investigation could wait until after his bath. Plus, Nathan decided he should really email his Gramma, parents, and probably Aunt Judy. Nathan did not notice the small pair of bright eyes watching him in the shadow of the Moose’s hat brim, not yet anyway.
Left to his own devices, Nathan decided to take a shower and a bath at the same time. He pushed down the plug, but ran the shower instead of the tap. This way Nathan could sit in the tub and imagine himself an explorer in the rain forests, searching for the treasures of a legendary, lost city while still using only one bathtub full of water. The hotel probably had enormous reservoirs of hot water, but Nathan had no interest in turning his tropical adventure into an arctic one.
In spite of the game Nathan played, the soaps the hotel provided smelled a bit too strongly of flowers for that particular boy. Nathan climbed out of the tub to grab his own soap from the suitcase. Nathan was still wrapping himself in a towel big enough to carpet a small room when he stopped to stare a moment. Nathan could have sworn he left the moose up against the pillows, but now it hung over the edge of the suitcase, head and shoulders inside.
Slowly, Nathan lifted the lid and shifted the moose so it leant against the side, and dug out the wash bag. Nathan double checked to make certain no one else was in the room. He double checked that both locks on the door were closed. Then he returned to the bathroom, locking that door, as well. With no one there to see, the Moose pushed up his cap and briefly rubbed his forehead. He had not intended to get caught nosing about in Nathan’s things, but now that he had, Mathis could not really regret it. The operation would go much more smoothly as an overt rather than a covert mission.
Nathan emerged clean, relatively dry, and a trifle cautious. He poked his head around the corner into the bedroom. He was not disappointed. The moose was nowhere to be seen on the bed, but but with a little hunting, Nathan finally tracked him down, sitting on the desk, bent over the room service menu.
“Okay,” Nathan said, stepping fully into the room. “What in the name of Ned is going on here?”
“I thought you might be hungry. Growing boys always seem to be hungry. The pizza Barnaby got you was a while ago,” a gruff, but not altogether unpleasant voice responded promptly.
Nathan’s mouth slowly fell open, but since no sound came out, the other voice went on, “Or would you rather get some proper sleep first. Dozing off a few times on the flight and the few minutes you caught in the car can only take you so far.” Slowly, and very deliberately, Mathis sat up from his stuffed animal slump and turned to look at Nathan from under the brim of his hat.
“Is this some kind of trick?” Nathan asked fisting his hands at his sides and glancing around the room when he caught himself addressing the soft toy on the desk.
“You know about Winston, right?” The moose asked standing up briefly so he could move to the edge of the desk and sit facing Nathan with his bare, furry feet hanging off the edge.
“Yes,” Nathan admitted grudgingly, still refusing to speak directly to the moose. That was the precedent mentioned for adventurers and stuffed animals. Winston was the small teddy bear that always rode in Nathan’s grandfather’s breast pocket during his travels, ever since nineteen-year-old Gramps received him from the girl aged Gramma when he had to leave behind to go to France during World War II. Winston had two, neatly patched holes in his four inches of body, one from a bit of shrapnel during the war and one from a bullet in an almost equally inhospitable bit of nowhere years later. Family legend held that Winston saved Gramps’ life on more than just those two occasions. The little bear went even into the grave with Nathan’s grandfather, to look after the old man for that next great adventure.
“He and I have some friends in common. One of them is looking after your grandmother, and I have come to look after you, now that the two of you can no longer look after each other while your parents are gone. You can call me Mathis,” the Moose said with a jaunty salute. “I already know your name, of course.”
“You have been watching me since the plane?” Nathan asked, watching the moose out of the corner of his eye and taking a tentative step closer.
“Since the doctors all but had to tie your Gramma to her bed to keep her from stealing a wheelchair to help you pack and get you to the airport,” Mathis said with a smile. “She is a fiesty woman, your Gramma.”
“She is,” Nathan acknowledged shortly, but he was not going to be distracted that easily. “But why have you come all this way to look after the friend of a friend of a friend’s grandson? And why now?”
“I may not have personally known Winston or your grandfather, but my friends and I have been looking after your family for over four generations. As such, some of our enemies have become…aware of you as more than just targets of opportunity they missed, and they are not above striking at family as a way of getting even. Up until now, you have mostly stayed within the general defenses we set up, but the attack on your Gramma has put us on alert.” Mathis kicked the desk twice producing two soft but clearly audible thuds. It was quite an impressive result for the back of an unshod bit of floof and started to explain how four inches of teddy bear might stop a bullet.
“It was not an attack. It was an accident. I was there. If that driver meant to hurt Gramma, he could have done a lot worse. The doctor’s said almost all of the damage was done by the way she got all tangled up in her bike as she fell,” Nathan said, his voice unconsciously gaining in volume as he spoke.
“Yes exactly,” Mathis agreed paradoxically, making Nathan frown in confusion, yet somehow still back down from his aggressive posture. “I doubt the driver even saw either of you, much less ever dreamt of hurting her. Some accidents are less accidental than others, and the Imps are experts at engineering.
“Someone definitely did something to her bike. I know of at least two incidents where she had much closer encounters at higher speeds without falling off her bike or horse. The doctors and police might talk about the debilitating effects of age on the reflexes, but I have seen the replays of the accident and the marks left by the stick that went through her spokes at just the wrong moment. You can not convince me that all those little accidents all just happened to pile up in just the right order at just the right times without a little help. It is possible, but a highly improbable possible.” Mathis crossed his arms and glared at the floor.
“Is she going to be okay on her own? Maybe I shouldn’t have gone so far away.” Nathan stepped closer still, looking around, perhaps for some way to get back to the hospital.
“She is hardly on her own. She has flocks of visitors every day and has already found several allies on the staff. We are also keeping a close eye out for anymore mischief of the type that tipped up her bike. Your Gramma is ridiculously proud that you chose the adventure over one of the safer, more comfortable choices. If you want to salve your conscience, send her a message to let her know about the adventure so far. She knows all about it from Barnaby, but that is not the same. When you are done with that, we need to decide about bed or breakfast,” Mathis said, reaching back to pat the menu behind him on the desk.
Without further discussion, Nathan went to compose and send that message. It took longer than one might expect. Nathan had to fight a bit to get his tablet and the hotel wifi to play nicely with one another. With that battle won he wrote a brief, pithy account of the trials and tribulations with customs and the weather. Nathan did not mention anything about talking soft toys or imps behind Gramma’s fall. The email was going out to everyone, after all. If he got the chance to talk to his Gramma, and maybe his Mum, he might tell them, framing it like one of the Winston stories. Then again, maybe he should write it down instead, with pen and paper, like Gramps’ letters in Gramma’s memory box, but something he could edit, to get the words right, too.
Nathan had the feeling Mathis could have helped with the wi-fi, though the moose spent the time prowling around the room. Mathis lept easily from desk to bureau to bed to chair back to table and around again without ever touching the floor. Nathan was wondering about that and still thinking of writing an adventure journal version of his trip when he fell asleep, sprawled across the covers at the top of the bed with his suitcase, still open, taking up the bottom. I guess napping won out over breakfast. Mathis turned out the lights and continued to patrol the room, sticking to the high ground.