And with that, they all climbed aboard the wizard's wagon, and headed for Penny's house. She glanced over her shoulder at the golems wading through the field, and wondered to herself what what 'Important Matters' needed be discussed.
Little did she realize that tonight''s dinner would change her life, forever.
Penny's father, and the wizard sat up front, talking animatedly, and exchanging farming hints and tips like a pair of excited schoolboys.
Penny sat in the back with her mother, who looked at her with encouraging wonder.
"Isn't this exiting, Penny! Just think! We have golems in our fields, and a wizard coming to our house!"
Penny was excited, to be sure, but there was a nagging little thing in her mind. Something she couldn't quite place. There was no doubt
that the miracles they'd seen today were extraordinary, but Penny was concerned that there was a catch, somewhere.
Arriving a short time later at their house, Penny's mother bustled on ahead, and went straight for the kitchen, Guests were not uncommon,
but usually consisted of neighbors, friends, or the occasional visit from a traveling merchant. Never before a wizard!
Penny followed her father and the wizard into the house, and she looked at it as she imagined the wizard, who was seeing it for the first time,
must bee seeing it. It was a plain house, nothing out of the ordinary. But it was well build, clean and practical. There were not a lot of decorations to be seen,
more the unused farm implement here and there, a butter churn in the corner, old yokes placed 'artistically' over the mantle. Just like Penny,and farming life in general, the house was much more
"function", much less "form".
"Welcome to the Dreadful home, M'lord wizard!" exclaimed her father, as he ushered the wizard to the seat of honor at the head of their table.
"Oh, really, I must insist, I..." began the wizard, but was interrupted by the singsong voice of her mother, whisking out of the kitchen with a tray of drinking glasses.
"Nice, fresh-squeezed lemon water, sweetened with sugar beets!", she cheerfully offered. "I apologize that there is no ice, but it's rather late in
the Summer, and our winter stockpile has all melted away."
"Oh! How delightful!" beamed the wizard. "Please..allow me."
With that, he reached into his sleeve, and pulled out what looked like an icicle. Tapping each of the drinking glasses in turn, Penny watched as each glass frosted over.
"Wondrous!" claimed Penny's father, as he began handing out the now cold glasses on Lemon water.
"Well, gentlemen." announced Penny mother, to get their attention. "Our pantry is not so bare that we can't put on quite a dinner for this special occasion."
The Old Hedge Wizard lifted his hand, as if to halt her enthusiasm. "Dear woman! Sit and rest your weary bones! When I invited myself to dinner here, it was not so
you should exhaust your holiday reserves, ho,ho! No, madam, your part is only to provide the table, which you have already done so kindly. It is I who shall provide
the dinner tonight, if I may."
Penny thought back, trying to recollect her trips in the wagon. There was nothing in the wagon that could be considered parts of a meal.
Reaching into the sash of his robe, he pulled out a small black velvet sack. It really wasn't much bigger than a medium size potato sack, Penny thought.
Then the wizard did something amazing. Laying the bottom of the sack on the table, he opened the top, reached in up to his shoulders, and began pulling out an amazing
assortment of silver plated dishes from across The Spiral. Fresh fish from Grizzleheim, Palm dates from Krokotopia, Teriyaki Pork from Moo Shu, and thick breads and spicy
curries from Dragonspyre. In no time at all, there was more food on the table than they could possibly eat.
"I'll have to have you come and cook more often, sir! Penny's mother joked.
The wizard caught sight of Penny's curiosity , and simply stated "Bag of Holding." , which clarified exactly NOTHING to Penny.
"Ah, Mrs. Dreadful, I cannot take credit for the preparation of this food.." he explained, as he pulled out a tall bird perch, and set it aside.
Then, the bag began rustling and moving on it's own and an owl, in flight, blasted through the bag's opening, startling all but the wizard.
"A fine, and dramatic entrance, old friend." The wizard commented approvingly.
"Oh, I do say, it's about time!" the owl chided, as it circled the rafters, and settled down on the bird perch.
"please, dear friends, do allow me a moment of proper introductions", he requested, as he pulled a monocle from his sleeves, and affixed it in place, "I am Merle Ambrose, Headmaster
of Ravenwood Academy of the Magical Arts. And this is Gamma, my friend and confidant."
Ravenwood!, Penny thought, Oh the stories she had heard of that place! Many a made-up story in The Spiral began with "One day, at Ravenwood.."
"Headmaster Ambrose, we are truly honored to have you here tonight! You and Gamma are welcome at any time!"
"Well, that's certainly good to hear", said The Headmaster, who made a motion towards the floor. A luminescent blue 'X' appeared, showering particles of light like a fountain.
"and now", he continued", it shall be much easier to get back. That's the whole downside to teleportation, to set it up, you have to get there by more 'conventional' means."
"Now, please, let us sit, and dine, and make small talk. What we are gathered for can wait just a little while longer."
And so they did. Sampling the varied foods from all over The Spiral, listening to Merle's tales of deeds past, occasionally corrected by Gamma, who tended to correct at length.
It was during one of those pontifications, that Merle Ambrose, with Gamma rambling on at his back, began secretively writing something on a scrap of paper. He then surreptitiously slid
the paper over to Penny, and mouthed the words "Ask him this".
Penny looked at the writing on the paper, and looked at Merle with furrowed brows, unsure of what she was asking, and why. The Headmaster had a wicked gleam in his eyes, as he again encouraged her
to ask the question on the paper. Reluctantly, Penny obliged him.
"Excuse me.." She offered in Gamma's direction, interrupting his scholarly diatribe on the political structure of gryphon society.
"Yes, dear child, what is it?"
Clearing her throat, she read the question aloud: "Mr. Gamma, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a charmed candy pop?"
The owl looked at her, stunned. Then he exploded into a fury of indignant feathers!
"Wot? WOT? WOT!?" shrieked the owl, at which point Headmaster Ambrose fell apart in laughter, slapping the table.
"MERLE ABROSE! You intolerable old trickster! YOU put her up to this!"
The Old wizard simply laughed even harder.
Penny and her parents all looked at each other, unsure, It was as if they were watching a family fight that was not meant for their eyes.But the more the Wizard laughed,
the more flustered the owl became, which made the wizard laugh more. Soon, the laughter became infectious, and the whole room, except for Gamma, of course, was laughing. The owl simple
turned on his perch, putting his feathery back to all of them with an audible "Hmmm!".
"I have found", Merle gasped to explain between laughs, "That nothing stops a know-it-all like an unanswerable question." he said, wiping a tear from his eye.
"Not even your best one!" Gamma's voice chided.
Penny now understood. This was some long-standing game they had. Much like the questions 'clever' children would ask younger kids to show them how 'worldly' and 'smart' they were.
Questions like "How many pips fit on the head of a Seraph", or "If a treants trips and falls, and there's nobody around..does it still make a sound?"
Soon enough, all was once again settled and placid, the euphoria of unbridled laughter surrounding the diners like a warm afterglow of memory.
Merle was the one to break the silence. "Now, dear friends, we must be on to business. I will state it quite plainly, actually.", he gestured at Penny.
"I am here for your daughter."