Now, what to do with that lightsaber. It belonged to my ancestor, Marbile Beauchamps, née Marbe Tasou, a Jedi Knight. No, I'll do the Scarlett thing and not think about that now; I'll think about it tomorrow...
Touching up her makeup, Madeline Tasou sat at the dressing table as Mary applied fragrant powder to her bare back. The maid said very little since coming up to help Maddie dress, so her mistress had to ask, "Mary, you're very quiet this evening. Anything wrong?"
"Oh, no, miss," replied Mary, brushing Maddie's long dark hair into a fashionable 'up-do', "I was just thinking of the dinner party you and Mr James are going to. In my last place, miss, before I come here, the Master and Her Ladyship gave many formal dinners."
Now Madeline became curious, and restless. She still didn't know exactly where she was, and James deftly dodged her questions earlier. Even more curious was Mary and her former 'place', wherever that was, so Maddie pressed further, but not too obvious.
"I like fancy dinner parties. Formal balls, too. So tell me about those dinners at your last place."
Mary helped Madeline into the vintage 1950's cocktail dress: A lovely number of black chiffon and crepe de chine with the full bouffant skirt that skimmed the calves. Then she produced the jewel case, allowing Maddie to chose appropriate necklace and earrings.
She replied while fastening the pearl necklace's clasp, "Well, Miss Madeline, I wasn't there long, but I do remember one dinner Lady Marjorie gave. It was for the French ambassador, and Mrs Bridges – that was the cook – did a lovely saddle of lamb. I remember helping Rose lay up the dining room. Oh miss, Lady Marjorie had such beautiful things, all silver and crystal."
"Lady Marjorie," said Maddie as she slipped on the black pumps, "Wasn't that Lady Marjorie Bellamy who lived on Eaton Place? You see, James is named after her son. He died, you know, after the '29 crash. Suicide they say."
"Oh, miss, I left there long before that. In fact, I was here when Captain James did himself in."
Madeline didn't press anymore, but she did ask, "After you left Eaton Place, Mary, did you keep up with what went on there?"
"No, miss. But one evening I did, and this was years after I left, go by there, on my way home. There was a huge crowd outside, so I asked a man on the street what was happening. He said the King was having dinner at 165."
"King?," asked Madeline. "This was London, right? Britain has a queen now...Uh...which king...?"
"Why, Edward VII, miss."
Now Madeline nearly reeled. She didn't know if Mary was making this up. Even so, with the past days filled with odd dreams and even stranger visitations from long-dead Jedi Knights, not to mention learning her ancestor was from a distant galaxy, anything would not surprise her. So she asked point-blank, "Mary, when did you leave Eaton Place?"
"You're very quiet tonight, Madeline," said James as he sipped his sherry. They hadn't been on the road long, and it pleased James that Boatwright supplied the car with ample potables. Nice thing about this car, despite its age, to have a compartment for small flasks of sherry or brandy.
Odd, thought Maddie, that James asked the same question as she asked Mary. Only Mary offered rather odd explanations as to her former 'place'. Was the maid telling the truth? About her former employer? That she left that place back in 1906? But this is 2003. No way could anyone who lived during the early part of the 20th Century could retain...
I must be dreaming. Yeah, that's it. If it is a dream, will someone please wake me up! No wonder I've been experiencing strange visitations – Long dead Jedi Knights, that woman at the depot handing over the woven picture, James giving me Marbile's lightsaber and claiming she was from a distant galaxy. Her real name was Marbe Tasou, and she had a brother...And now, I learn Mary is really from the distant past...This has to be a dream.
"You're not dreaming, Madeline. It is as real as your breathing, your very existence. This is no fantasy. You're here for a purpose, and you will learn of that purpose, in part, this evening."
No, that wasn't James speaking to her but a familiar voice inside her head. It was a man's voice to be sure; it was Anakin Skywalker's. She closed her eyes and imagined the Jedi sitting next to her, easing her mind about so many unanswered questions.
"You will learn more, Maddie," he said. "After receiving Marbe Tasou's journal and letters, you will read them. Later you will visit the valley. It holds secrets to your past – your distant past."
She said nothing, oblivious to her surroundings as she continued to listen to Anakin's words.
"Most of Marbe's letters are the regular kind, on paper, written by her own hand. But the journal...It is really a recorded treatise of her entire life, and of her family. Study it well, Madeline. When the time comes, before you visit the valley, you will meet two Force masters: Deke and Rath, who live here in Oz. Although they're not Jedi per se, both knew Master Windu, and both are well intuited to the Force. They will train you, in conjunction with what's in Marbe's journal, in all ways of the Force. But you're already half-way there, Maddie. You've already touched the Force and channelled that knowledge into your music."
"There's one more thing: In time you will receive something else, something very powerful. I can't tell you what it is, but someone else, a descendent of a Dark Jedi, once possessed it. He is not a Jedi, not even a Force Master, but a man of pure evil who will stop at nothing to maintain his very existence. You will meet him some day. Only then shall you confront the true reason that has brought you, many times, to the brink of the dark side. Tonight is the beginning of your journey..."
The car stopped at the city gates, prompting Madeline to ask James, "What kind of city is this? It's all gated, as if straight out of the Middle Ages. Don't tell me it's one of those godawful suburban gated communities – McTown as Tony calls them."
James laughed, saying, "Oh no, nothing like that. It's really a lovely city, and the people are very friendly. The gates are there for a reason but they're mostly for show."
Maddie shrugged as the car wound its way through the streets. Did James say this was an elegant city? Surely he didn't exaggerate! This has to be one of the most beautiful urban areas Maddie had ever seen. The buildings and houses were lovely beyond compare; the streets wide and tree-lined. Everywhere Maddie looked there were huge precious stones embedded at regular intervals. Generous streetlamps flickered, illuminating the neighborhood with soft glow. There was much traffic on the streets not not so much to cause congestion. The many conveyances – elegant cars, horse-drawn carriages, coaches, and motorbuses – scurried here and there but at a relaxed pace.
"They must be awfully rich to have all this. James, how many times have you been here?"
"Since I've moved here? At least two to three times a week. There's always something going on in town. Parties, balls, dinners, luncheons, shopping. Really, since moving here I've come to love this place, as I'm sure you will, too."
The car turned a corner onto Carefree Avenue then slowed as it approached the house.
"Carefree Avenue," said Madeline. "Sounds so relaxing and easy-going."
"Yes," said James. "Most of the streets have similar names: Carefree Avenue, Leisure Lane, Rocking Chair Road..."
"Rocking Chair Road?," Maddie laughingly said. Then, more seriously, she asked, "James, how long have you lived here? You said nothing in your letters about this place."
James replied, "I've been here nearly a month, and I can honestly say there isn't a place like it on the planet. Good people, much to do, not the hurried rat race as in London or New York. Ah, I think we're here."
The car stopped in front of a tall, elegant townhouse. The house was all white with imposing columns; in fact, it was one of many such houses all neatly situated on this street. Somehow, Madeline swore she saw a similar house in London long ago. Oh no, it couldn't be, as the house I saw was once a single family dwelling but had been transformed into flats.
Boatwright parked out front then got out to open the door for his passengers.
"Here we are, sir. 561 Carefree Avenue. I'll pull the car around back then take my place down in the servants hall."
"Thank you, Boatwright," said James as he assisted Maddie from the car. "My guess this will be a lengthy evening, so you let Mrs Deering, when she's not too busy with dinner, fill you with her scrumptious chicken pie."
"Mrs Deering?," asked Maddie.
"The cook here," James said. "One of the best around. Here, shall we go in?"
He took her arm then led her up the steps to the highly polished mahogany front door. He rang the bell then waited.
Within seconds, the door flew open and an elegant man in what Madeline could tell was a butler's uniform loftily greeted the pair. He was middle-aged, rather short, average build, and had neatly cropped light brown hair and brown eyes that seldom missed nothing.
"Good evening, sir, miss," the man said with a smile.
James returned the smile, saying, "Ah, good evening, Breeze. I gather everyone is here."
"Upstairs in the drawing room, sir," said Breeze as he directed a footman to take James' hat and coat. An elderly woman took Maddie's velvet evening cloak, and Maddie could tell the woman literally fawned over her. Okay, so it's probably the first time she's seen a celebrity up close and personal, but I wish she wouldn't go ga-ga. I really hate it when people fawn over me. I'm just a musician, not a movie star, for crying out loud.
As they climbed the stairs, Maddie took in the house's sheer elegance. The entry hall was rather large with a shiny floor of alternating black and white tiles. A table stood in the center of the hall. On that table was a hand-cut crystal vase filled with fresh yellow and blue flowers; a small silver tray lay next to the vase. Ah, so this one of those families who still use silver trays for mail and visiting cards. Wow, the whole house looks as if it's traveled back in time, to an era where manners mattered. Hello? What's this I hear?
"My goodness," she said to James as they approached the upper landing. "Someone has a way with Debussy. Lovely how they play 'Arabesque'. Sounds almost like Tony, but he couldn't be here."
James said nothing as Breeze opened the door, announcing, "Mr. James Fairburn and Miss Madeline Tasou."
Into the room they went. At once James began shaking hands with a elderly man with twinkling blue eyes, generous white hair, and apple cheeks. He was, to Maddie, dressed rather retro, almost Edwardian in style with his elegant tailcoat, white vest and tie. She glanced around the room, not readily noticing the other guests; she was just in awe of the fabulously furnished drawing room. It was indeed a beautiful room, all soft grays and lavender walls, and a huge mirror over the massively ornate fireplace. A quiet, efficient footman carrying a silver tray laden with champagne-filled flutes approached James and Maddie; James took two glasses.
"Ah, champagne," he said, handing Madeline the Waterford flute. "Madeline, may I present Professor Diggs, a very influential man in these parts."
Madeline smiled at the professor who took her free hand and said, "Miss Tasou, at last we meet. Your cousin and godfather have told me much about you. Of course, I do follow your career. My goodness, such talent for one so young. I understand you made your professional debut at fifteen. That is indeed an accomplishment."
Again Madeline smiled, replying, "Thank you, professor, for the compliments. But I don't understand. Is Charlie here?"
Professor Diggs said, "Oh yes, so is his sister, Lenore. They arrived just this afternoon. Charlie and I have known each other for years. He is very fond of you, as he tells me all the time."
Maddie looked around and saw no Charlie or Lenore, not yet as Breeze had just informed the professor more guests had arrived. Charlie and Lenore were downstairs in the morning room; they will join the company upstairs in a few moments. She then glanced around again to see the huge Steinway grand on the opposite end of the room. She had to go meet the young man playing Debussy so well.
"Excuse me, sir," she said, "but I must compliment your pianist."
As soon as she left, Professor Diggs took James aside and said, "She still does not know she's in Oz. Give it time, for Charlie and the others are on their way."
James, now worried that his cousin may end up hating him for not telling the truth, said, "What are they doing downstairs? I thought everyone would be here."
Professor Diggs, ever mindful of Madeline's potential reaction once it's learned she's really in Oz, and that she's here for a purpose, whispered to James, "They've been in conference: Charlie, Albus, Lenore, Ozma. Something happened today, in Paris, that has much bearing on your and Madeline's forebears, but more so for Maddie. I've informed my contact in Paris to send the item here via Hagrid. He will deliver it to Glinda tomorrow. Now, no one is to know what that item is as it contains potent magic that could, if it fell into the wrong hands, wreck a havoc unprecedented."
An abrupt halt to the music and raised voices emanated from where the piano stood. Apparently Maddie and the young pianist know each other.
They embraced, with Maddie saying enthusiastically, "Tony! What a surprise! I didn't know you were going to be here."
Anthony Watson, a handsome African-American man in his mid-thirties, of smooth caramel complexion, active brown eyes and closely cropped wavy hair, hugged his best friend. He and Maddie had known each other since middle school.
He said, "They needed a piano player, so I accepted the invite. Besides, when do you know me not to turn down a free meal?"
Madeline laughed, so pleased to see her dear friend, the only, outside James, familiar face in this crowd. Only, where were the other guests? Just James, Tony, and herself and Professor Diggs were present. This she asked Tony.
He replied, "They're all downstairs; they'll be up in a few...Hey, did you know Ron is here, too?"
Huh? Ronald Gilbert, tenor par excellence, another of Maddie's old school pals, is here as well? Now she wondered just what kind of 'vacation' hot spot this was. It was no coincidence that so many of her family and friends were here; something is up, and Maddie began to feel that strange sensation again. However, not wanting to alarm Tony of her apprehensions, she said, "I'm glad my cello is back at the house, or else I'd be expected to play trios with you and Ron."
Tony laughed again, noting the approach of the other guests. "Oh boy, they've finally decided to come on up. That butler, Breeze, should be announcing dinner soon. I'm getting hungry. Say, you haven't sampled Mrs Deering's cooking yet. I tell you, Maddie, this woman can thrown down some fancy grub."
She laughed and smiled as the footman produced fresh champagne. Taking a second glass, and she knew she shouldn't drink too much as not to spoil her dinner, Madeline glanced at the drawing room door and noticed the many people entering.
Okay, there's Charlie and Lenore. I see Ron, that big strapping guy, looks more like a football pro than a classical tenor of operatic proportions. But he's sweet and so funny...
Okay, who are these others? Two young ladies who appear to be royalty. One is quite young, about twenty, sweet face, blonde haired, and wearing a crown. The other is also twenty-something, dark-haired, bright blue eyes, very pretty...Are those poppies in her hair? Love that gown she's wearing, all flowing green chiffon and satin. Now, who's coming next? Oh my God...
She felt herself swoon when she saw the final dinner guests enter the room. One was an elderly man with long flowing white beard, small wire-rimmed spectacles, a kindly and wizened face. His dress was rather different, an ensemble of flowing robes and tall pointed hat that made him look like a wizard of sorts. Her guess wasn't far from the truth. The last man to enter totally floored her, literally and figuratively. He was tall, rather handsome, but not of flesh and blood; he was completely made of nickel-plated tin. He carried an axe, an item not needed at this occasion, but according to Tony, "He used to cut trees for a living, so he carries that axe everywhere he goes. Sometimes, around here, it comes in handy."
The very pretty dark-haired lady approached Madeline, extended her hand, and said very sweetly, "I am Princess Ozma. At last I meet the famous Miss Tasou. We've been awaiting your arrival for so long, Madeline, and I hope you will love our land and embrace it as your new home."
She embraced Maddie, adding, "Welcome to Oz."
A thunderstruck Madeline felt her head spinning, her legs giving under her. She felt herself fainting and wouldn't regain conscious for some several minutes.
Answers...I need answers...Will someone please explain what's going on!
Copyright©2007 by PRP