The Pilgrims' Inn is a lodging house that travels in time and space. Ozymandius, the proprietor, runs the place with the help of a small staff, of which the most crucial member is an entity called the Oracle. Is the Oracle a computer? Perhaps. Is the Oracle a god? Maybe. Decide for yourself.
Nov. 1 Odysseus and Penelope
Nov. 2 Moses
Nov. 3 Julius Caesar
Nov. 4 Cinderella
Nov. 5 Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin
Nov. 6 Sepperl and Consuelo
Nov. 7 Mystery Guest
Nov. 8 Jack Sprat
Nov. 9 Poor Richard's bad dream
Nov. 10 Romeo and Juliet
Nov. 11 Orestes
Nov. 12 Father Christmas, Moore or less
Nov. 13 Rosencrantz ad Guildenstern
Nov. 14 Befana
Nov. 15 Alice
Nov. 16 Papageno
Nov. 17 Gulliver
Nov. 18 Oracle of Oz
Nov. 19 Baba Yaga
Nov. 20 Jean Valjean
Nov. 21 Frogs of Calaveras County
Nov. 22 Ozymandias and Frankenstein
Nov. 23 Pirates in Penzance
Nov. 24 Toyland
Nov. 25 Bah Humbug
Nov. 26 The Peterkins
Nov. 27 Abandon all hope Signor Dante
Nov. 28 Existential Moment
Nov. 29 Wayside Inn
Nov. 30 Denouement
Chapter 1: Odysseus and Penelope
Penelope was happy that Odysseus had returned, but.....
This forty-year old man who shared her bed now was not the same man who had bade her goodbye twenty years ago as he went off to fight in Troy. Granted, he still had his strength and agility - hadn't he made short work of the suitors who had wooed her while he was gone?
The light in his eyes did not shine as brightly as it used to, though. What unimaginable hardships had caused it to dim? He wouldn't -- probably couldn't -- talk about what he had seen on his trouble-plagued journey back. She could tell from the way he tossed and turned at night that his nightmares were excruciating.
Her life had been no picnic either. The local men had assumed her husband was dead, so she was plagued by suitors. She had stayed home, pretending to weave a cloth and then undoing it each night. She couldn't be ready for remarriage, just look at her unfinished cloth! Then her missing husband returned. He had seen too much of the world and she hadn't seen enough of it. What a mismatched couple they were. And he had killed her suitors, so the couple would be unpopular here. The gods didn't seem to want a peaceful future for Odysseus' household.
It was morning. She was preparing the day's first meal when there was a knock at the door. A shadowy figure greeted her -- Athena in disguise, perhaps? The stranger removed the cloak to reveal that he was just a man, about the same age as Odysseus and with nice features. He held in his hand a black box covered with runes. Sounds emanated from it. Was there an animal inside? He gestured to her to let him come in. Strangely enough, she felt safe doing so.
He set the box down on a table, and it began to speak to her. "Hello," it said in her language, "I am a manifestation of the Oracle at Delphi. The man who has accompanied me is called Ozymandius, named in honor of an Egyptian pharaoh. He is an innkeeper who, like your Odysseus, has traveled throughout the world. He wants to offer you and Odysseus a chance to join him in his travels. He owns the Pilgrims' Inn, which, with the help of the gods, goes through time and space to give nightly shelter to wayfarers. If you accept, you will help keep the inn neat and orderly, for which you will be well-paid."
"But this is our home," Penelope protested. "What will happen to it while we are gone?"
"The gods will guard it for you. But more importantly, you and Odysseus will see things no one else in all of history or the times to come will have ever seen. I think you will enjoy your part in this voyage."
Odysseus came out of his room and put his arm around her. "The gods have spoken to me about this," he reassured her. "We are serving them by doing it. It's going to be all right."
Penelope thought about Telemachus, their son. Perhaps he could bring his young bride to their home while they were gone.
She looked through the door of their home. At the edge of the garden was a stone building which had not been there before. Ozymandius led them through the garden, fragrant with irises and hyacinths, and through the front door of the building, carrying the oracle. All was neat and tidy inside. "You will not have to cook, unless you want to," the oracle told Penelope. "We have someone named Mrs. Sprat for that. Over time you may learn English, the language which Ozymandius and Mrs. Sprat speak. Until then, I will gladly translate for you."
"The will of the gods is strange," Odysseus mused. "But then, could anything be stranger than what I saw on my journey back to Ithaca from Troy?"
"We will find out soon enough," Penelope said softly. "But having you beside me will be a great comfort."
They accepted Ozymandius' offer.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 2: Moses
The mountain was noisy with thunder and lightning. The tablets were heavy. Moses knew the Israelites were waiting for him at the bottom, but he was tired. Who wouldn't be? He set the tablets down, found a patch of grass to lie down on, and before he knew it, he was asleep.
When he woke, the sun was setting and the path he had used for his ascent was hard to find. He wished he felt safe going back to sleep, but who knew what animals might come out at night here? He decided to climb down as far as possible before the last of the light was gone, and hope for the best.
Just as the light began to fade, he took a wrong turn and found himself falling. It was hard to know how far he had fallen, but the water that broke his fall was refreshing if a bit unnerving. Equally strange was the fire that was visible ten feet from where he was treading water. Another sign from Yahweh! Moses had seen enough burning bushes for one day, but at least the light would help him find the shore.
But when he got out of the water, he found that the light was a torch, not a burning bush. The man who held it was not one of Moses' people, but he seemed to pose no threat. He gestured toward a stone shelter. Aha, an innkeeper! Moses had no money with which to pay the man for his night's lodging, but Yahweh might provide for this.
The man did not try to make conversation. This was just as well. Moses' ears were still ringing with the sound of Yahweh's commandments. Moses followed the man through a door. Inside there were torches in sconces around the walls. In the center of the room was a table laden with bread, wine, cheese, and figs. The bread was especially nice, white with coriander seed and sweetened with honey.
“Welcome, Moses,” said a voice. It seemed to come from a scroll that rested on a black box in the corner. In reality it was the oracle, but Moses thought it was Yahweh. Moses reached for the tablets to see if they covered this kind of thing, but they weren't there. He must have dropped them when he fell.
“Don't worry about the tablets,” the voice continued. “They'll be in front of the door when you leave in the morning. For now you may rest from your labors. Your people will disregard my commandments anyway. You know how they like to worship false idols. Do not blame yourself for their unfaithfulness. Just satisfy your hunger and get some rest.”
The voice was silent for a while, then resumed. “The innkeeper will not charge you for your stay here. His name is Ozymandius. He was not the friend that you knew in Egypt, but a different one. The people who run this inn are named Odysseus and Penelope. Your cook is Mrs. Sprat. It was she who baked the bread. Last night you fell into one of the mineral springs for which the inn is famous. In the morning, your aches and pains will be gone.”
Then it was Odysseus' and Penelope's turn to address the oracle. "Who is Moses?" Odysseus asked.
"He is leading his people out of Egypt, where they were badly treated," the oracle said. "Yesterday he climbed a mountain so he could talk to the gods, who gave him stone tablets with commandments on them. He climbed down from the mountain in the dark, fell into a pool, and dropped the tablets."
"He was pretty hungry just now," Penelope observed.
"I wish I could have smitten those Egyptians who were harming his people," Odysseus declared.
"That's all right. That has already been done."
They went about their work. Ozymandius discussed the day's events with the oracle, who understood the languages of all times and places, and also decided where the Inn should go. “Moses will stay the night here," Ozymandius said. "There's a pile of soft straw in a room out back. As soon as the sun comes up I will send Odysseus to the pool to search for the stone tablets.”
Ozymandius turned and noticed that Odysseus was holding the tablets. The oracle asked Odysseus to be sure Moses got them in the morning. Odysseus put them next to the door.
“Oracle, why did you bring the Inn here, where we were sure to pick Moses up?” Ozymandius asked.
“I can't explain it because you wouldn't understand,” the oracle replied.
Ozymandius shrugged. He liked helping the lost travelers of time and space, and could not do this without the oracle's help. But oracles were maddenly mysterious at times.
Moses was awakened at dawn by the sound of Odysseus knocking on his door. When he reached the dining room, he saw Mrs. Sprat putting a tray of warm bread and fresh cheese on the table. The tablets were by the front door. He made short work of breakfast, thanked Yahweh and his hosts, and left the inn. In the distance he could hear the sounds of the Israelites.
He thought about the tasks that lay ahead of him. Some time in the night, Yahweh had told him he'd need all the rest he could get, for today he would need to straighten out his people. Heads would have to roll.
With a weary sigh Moses got to his feet, picked up the tablets, and walked back to his people. The desert was alive with lilies and roses, but he hardly noticed them.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 3: Julius Caesar
The legion was camped on the northern bank of the river known as the Rubicon. The soldiers awaited Julius Caesar's signal to cross. It was no secret that crossing it would subject him to the sanctions of the Senate. Had Caesar not broken pretty much all of the Senate's laws by operating on his own in Gallia? But his friends in Rome had told him that the Roman people had a certain admiration for the results Caesar had gotten: a million Gauls killed, a million enslaved, and the remaining million subjugated.
Or so he liked to claim. The trouble was, it was illegal to lead an army out of the area to which it was assigned. Once he crossed the Rubicon, he would be outside his assigned area. The Senate controlled the area south of the river.
However, Caesar's cousin and ally Marc Antony had come yesterday to report that his attempts to be a peacemaker had gotten him thrown out of the Senate. So, should Caesar come to Marc Antony's aid, knowing that this would touch off a civil war? Well, doing so would be an irrevocable action. Alea iacta est. Caesar needed to think about this.
It was dusk now. Caesar stood on the bank of the river, looking into the distance, not just the land but also the future. He was tall, of a fair complexion, round limbed, rather full faced, with eyes dark and piercing. He wrapped his cloak around him to keep out the cold January air. It was hard to think with so many soldiers close at hand. Maybe he could think better on the other side of the river. The river! He remembered the time he said to Cassius, "Darest thou, Cassius, now leap in with me into the angry Tiber and swim to yonder point?" But the current was strorng, and before long, Caesar had to say, "Help me, Cassius, or I sink!" This stream, however, was small and shallow. Caesar climbed on Genitor, his horse, and rode across the narrow, shallow stream. To be honest, it wasn't much of a river.
After the crossing, he sat down on a rock and surveyed the landscape. Genitor found some grass to eat nearby. There was a stone building roughly one actus away*. A man stood in front of the entrance. He was unarmed. “Ave Caesar,” he said in an accent that was hard to place. He was well built, but hardly scrawny. Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep of nights, Caesar thought to himself. Those men who think too much are dangerous. The man before him now did not have the lean and hungry look he was wary of.
Of course this could be a trick. On the other hand, the stranger didn't seem to be a soldier. More likely he was simply a resident or maybe an innkeeper. It was hard to imagine the building as any sort of fort. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be cautious. Then Caesar smelled a delicious aroma coming from the inn. Could they be serving pig's neck roasted with apples? Caesar loved this dish, and hadn't had it in ages. He slowly closed the distance between the river and the inn. The area around the building was deserted. Above the door was a sign that said “Taberna Viatoribus.” The stranger opened the door for him. There were a few servants inside. A plump woman was arranging food on the table. One of the other servants greeted Caesar in Greek, and Caesar reciprocated.
The innkeeper's name was Ozymandius, and the servants were introduced as Odysseus, Penelope, and Dominae Sprat, who brought out more food so Caesar could eat his fill. He could smell the food on their breath – if this was a pretext for poisoning him, then at least they would be poisoned as well. Odysseus offered to tend to Genitor.
Through a veil Caesar could see the dim outline of a man at the back of a room. The man began to speak, in good Greek: "Good friend, come in and taste some wine with me, and we like friends will straightway go together. I have heard the oracle say, 'The Eagle has broken his wing. Blood flows. Hail the emperor.'” Then the oracle spoke in the strange language that Ozymandius spoke.
Caesar had been waiting for a sign from the gods. Was this the sign? The innkeeper knew that Caesar sometimes ignored omens. The screen grew dark again. With a few steps Caesar walked to the screen and pushed it aside. All he saw was a hard box with unfamiliar inscriptions and runes on its surface. His host cast a sympathetic look at him. Oracles sometimes didn't want to be seen. And you never could tell what oracles would say. But Caesar was a stoic about prophecies. What could be avoided whose end is purposed by the mighty gods? In any event, the things that threatened him never looked but on his back; when they saw the face of Caesar, they were vanished.
Caesar yawned. He had enjoyed his supper, and felt safe in this inn. His hosts ushered him into a room with a metal bedframe. A feather-stuffed mattress lay on top, as befit his status. He was soon asleep. In his dream, he was surrounded by enemies. He scoffed at them. Cowards die many times before their deaths, he thought, lashing out at them. The valiant never taste of death but once. It seemed to him most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.
Caesar tossed and turned in his sleep. Ozymandius went to the doorway of his room to look at him. Tomorrow Caesar and his horse would wake up on the other side of the river, and this whole episode would seem to have been a dream. Ozymandius hoped the oracle was not going to tell Odysseus and Penelope that this Caesar person was descended from Aeneas via Venus. That would be overload. They were still getting used to this strange place and the strange food and the strange guests.
Odysseus smiled at Mrs. Sprat. She spoke an odd language, but her cooking was first rate. Penelope sat next to Odysseus and worked on her needlework. Might she be making clothing for their first grandchild? He put his arm around her. "Once Telemachus' wife delivers her baby, we should be there in Ithaca," he said. Penelope nodded. Like Odysseus, she had noticed the large number of soldiers across the river. Soldiering was for young men, not someone whose son was of military age. The gods had made a world where war or threats of war were omnipresent. But Penelope had hoped against hope that this Ozymandius person would lead her and Odysseus to a place where the threat of war was somewhere off in the distance. This was not such a place. At least Ithaca was off the beaten path.
Then again, maybe it was rash to consider bailing out of this adventure after such a short time.
*roughly a hundred feet, or 35 meters
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 4: Cinderella
It was late in the day, but Ozymandius was still up. The oracle had told him that a visitor would call at ten minutes after midnight. Would the person need a room for the night at such a late hour? Well, the oracle wasn't telling.
Ozymandius opened the front door around ten because he heard a lot of commotion outside. It must be the Eighteenth Century, he thought, because ornate coaches pulled by well-fed horses kept going past. One coach in particular caught his eye, for it was almost round, and such a bright orange color that he wondered how the designers had come up with such a brilliant hue. A beautifully dressed girl (she was probably a woman, but only just) sat inside, looking at the scenery as if for the first time. She seemed a bit nervous. Maybe procuring this glamorous conveyance with its six white horses had set her back a pretty penny.
At promptly 12:10, Ozymandius heard someone weeping on the front steps. It was the same young woman, but this time she was dressed in peasant costume.
"I'll be on my way in a moment," she said when she saw Ozymandius. "I've been carrying this heavy pumpkin, and I had to stop to catch my breath. My house is just six blocks away."
Ozymandius came out and sat next to her. On closer inspection, he could see that there was black soot under her fingernails, and she was only wearing one shoe. The shoe that she did have was out of keeping with the rest of her garb, for it was a beautiful glass slipper. She saw him looking at it and shrugged.
"I was told that my coach and horses and clothing would all turn back into what they originally were at the stroke of midnight," she said. "But why the glass slipper is still a glass slipper I can't fathom."
The girl didn't have to tell Ozymandius her name, for it was obvious who she was. "The fates write the story of our lives in mysterious ways," Ozymandius said, but what he was really thinking was that this one anomalie was vital to the story of Cinderella. Not that he cared. It was time to cobble together some sort of endgame. He could see the palace in the distance, and there was quite a lot of activity there. Soon the coaches that had gone past at ten would be going back to their homes, and this girl would need to be home before her own family arrived.
He told the girl he would try to help her, and went back inside. "Oracle, can you summon a fairy godmother?" he said, as if this were something he did every day.
"Put up the screen and bring her in," the oracle said. "I can give her Celeste Holm or Verna Felton. Or Helena Bonham Carter or even Edie Adams."
"Verna Felton would work."
"Fine. Send her in."
The girl seemed wary as she entered the Inn. "I don't want to put you to any trouble," she told Ozymandius.
"Oh, it's no trouble at all," he reassured her. "Here is your fairy godmother," he said, pointing at the screen.
"Go home, Cinderella" the image on the screen told the girl. "You can leave the pumpkin and mice where they are. The mice will find their way, and pumpkins are useful everywhere. Besides, you have others in your garden. Keep the slipper handy. But hurry, as your stepmother and stepsisters are just now leaving the palace. And if you don't mind my asking, why did you not leave the ball in time to return home?"
"The clock in the ball room was broken," Cinderella said softly.
The fairy godmother raised her eyebrows. "I set it myself," she said sternly. "Try again."
"I got so wrapped up in dancing with the prince that I didn't keep an eye on the time," the girl admitted.
"That's more like it. You are forgiven, of course. He would be just as taken with you as you are with him, so he is sure to come looking for you. In any event, by going home on foot you have just gotten some aerobic exercise, which is good for you."
"What is aerobic exercise?"
"Forget I said it. Now, go. Ozymandius, get this future princess a pair of comfortable walking shoes. But not Adidas or Nike. Those would not have existed in the 18th Century."
The girl was soon on her way, though her state of puzzlement was at a very high level. Ozymandius stood in front of the Inn. He could see that Cinderella had reached her home. Soon the carriages began rolling past.
"I think Mrs. Sprat should bake a couple of pumpkin pies tomorrow," the oracle said as Ozymandius passed him on the way to bed. "Mice, we need you to go to your home as well. I hear a cat prowling near the back entrance, and it is sure to find that spot where the stones don't quite meet."
Ozymandius suddenly stumbled. "Why am I wearing a glass slipper!" he exclaimed.
"So you can do all the steps that Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in high heels," the oracle said tartly. "Why don't you bring the slipper to Cinderella's house tomorrow?"
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 5: Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin
He was on his way back to Camelot after winning a tournament. There was much to think about as he rode: how he had fallen in love with Guinevere when he escorted her to Camelot to marry King Arthur. How he had let this love for her prevent him from accepting the love of Elaine, who took his rejection badly. There is no greatness in me, he thought, except for my ability to see that I am not great. Who cares if I have won diamonds at nine of King Arthur's tournaments? I am unworthy of the name Lancelot, given that I feel this forbidden love. Would that my mother had drowned me at birth!
But he must have strayed off the path, for up ahead he saw an inn made of stone. And Guinevere herself was converging upon the building from a different direction.
"My lady," he exclaimed.
She flinched, but recovered quickly. "I was just walking and thinking," she said softly. This was an understatement, of course, for it was Lancelot she had been thinking about. On the one hand he was a man who never failed in gentleness, courtesy, or courage. He was consistently serving others. And yet this basically good man had let love tear the kingdom apart.
"We could be together," he said. "You could live in Joyous Garde with me."
"Nay, I must go to the convent at Almesbury," she protested.
"Could we retire to yonder inn and talk about it?" he suggested. "Rumor has it that Mordred is around, spying on us. The less he hears, the better."
The door to the inn opened and a well-built man appeared. He beckoned to them, and they rode up to the inn. A second man, in archaic clothing, came out. He saw to the horses and helped Lancelot remove his suit of armor.
Once inside, Lancelot heard a familiar voice from the back of the inn: "Hello, Lancelot and Guinevere". It seemed to come from the trunk of an oak tree, which was improbably nestled against the wall of the room. "You will forgive me for not appearing to you, for I have fallen under a spell that has imprisoned me in this tree."
"Merlin!" Lancelot and Guinevere said in unison.
"Anyway, where are my manners?" Merlin said. "Welcome to the Pilgrims' Inn. Ozymandius is your host." Ozymandius took a bow. "The man who tended to your horses is Odysseus, who helps run the Inn with his wife Penelope. Ah, and here is Mrs. Sprat, our cook, who will serve you your supper."
A good-sized table had been set up in the room. A plump middle-aged woman came in with bread and baked meats and good red wine. Odysseus, having finished with the horses and armor, waited discreetly by the door. The woman whom Lancelot presumed to be Penelope disappeared into the interior of the Inn with some linens and cleaning implements.
As Lancelot ate, he kept one eye on Guinevere and the other on the tree where Merlin was imprisoned. After a few minutes, Merlin resumed his discussion. "I'm the only one here who speaks our language. I can also speak many other languages. If you need to say anything to the staff of the inn, you'll need to go through me."
"But how did you come to be so encumbered?" Lancelot asked.
"Vivien enchanted me. I made her swear to love me in exchange for teaching her any magic she asked for. I was a fool. I taught her the spell that she used to bind me here."
Lancelot and Guinevere exchanged knowing glances. They too had fallen into traps by loving not wisely but too well.
His appetite satisfied, Lancelot got up from the table so he could have a private word with Merlin. The trunk of the tree did not seem substantial enough to imprison anyone. Lancelot noticed a plaque at the base of the tree. It said:
"Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,
And lost to life and use and name and fame."*
Behind it was a black box with strange runes on it. "The spell is powerful, I assure you," Merlin said with a deep sigh.
"I may be asking the impossible, but do you have a spell which could dissuade Guinevere from entering the convent?" Lancelot whispered.
"I see the future," Merlin said gravely, "and that is not going to happen. Dusk is falling, so you should not count on getting back to Camelot tonight. Besides, Mordred actually *is* lurking in the bushes outside. Vivien is not far away either. You don't want them to see the two of you together. And you would not be happy if you encountered some of the large beasts that are beginning to stir. Sir Gareth's tales of dragons are true: he saw a particularly large and fierce one not far from here. And if you fail to encounter that one, there is always the Questing Beast. And wild boars. No, however dull your evening here may be, at least you will be safe. Ozymandius will see that you and Queen Guinevere have beds in separate rooms."
"Do you have a minstrel who could entertain us at least?" asked Guinevere from her seat.
"Odysseus speaks only Greek, but he has an agreeable voice, and could sing of ancient Troy," Merlin said. "If that's not enough, I could sing of my brief happiness with Vivien. We were resting beneath an oak tree in the forest of Broceliande....."
Whether Merlin had intended it or not, this had the effect of making Lancelot and Guinevere yawn. Odysseus led them to their rooms. Was Lancelot imagining it, or did a fine ensemble of instrumentalists begin playing fanfares in the hall just as he was beginning to nod off? He thought he heard the name "Purcell" mentioned, but he was soon asleep. Maybe he merely dreamed it.
The next thing he knew, Lancelot was being bathed in sunlight. A rather loud rooster was warming up outside his window. Lancelot tiptoed to Guinevere's room, where she was already awake. He was still hoping to change Guinevere's mind, but after half an hour of arguing he found that she was still unpersuadable. And could he blame her? This love they felt for each other was sinful. Merlin urged them to eat something before they left the inn. "You will need strength," he cautioned. There were leftovers from the previous night's meal, plus wine and ale and mushrooms that someone had foraged from the woods. And if that was not enough, Lancelot could see a chunk of cheese and a few eggs on the platter.
Odysseus had polished Lancelot's armor, which was next to the door. What fine employees Ozymandius had!
Lancelot and Guinevere departed in different directions, even though both were on their way to Camelot. If they arrived there together, people would talk.
Odysseus pondered about the way soldiers were equipped in the places he had visited. He was familiar with helmets and shields and chain mail, but this Lancelot wore some very heavy armor. He pitied the poor horse for carrying such a lot of weight. He thought about the Trojan horse for a moment. Those were the days, when courage and agility and strength seemed to matter -- if the gods allowed them to. He asked Merlin how people conducted war in this strange new world. Merlin obliged with descriptions of long hours spent practicing for jousts. Imagine going to so much trouble and work to win a tournament, which wasn't even an actual war!
Meanwhile, the oracle was freeing Merlin from the tree. "I owe you for this," Merlin said.
"If I think of a way for you to repay me, I'll come back and tell you" the oracle said. "And stay away from Vivien and her ilk!"
Merlin vanished. The oracle knew that he would get into trouble again because of love....
*Tennyson, "Idylls of the King"
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 6: Sepperl and Consuelo
“You should be celebrating the triumph of your latest great Mass, the servant told the old composer as the coach approached the halfway point between Eisenstadt and Vienna. “The Prince has never appreciated your music more than he did this time.”
“Be that as it may, I have never felt so tired and spent and, well, old,” the composer retorted. “All my strength is gone! Old and weak am I.” He was short in stature, with a bulbous nose and a face disfigured by smallpox. Wrinkles were starting to show, and fatigue marred his complexion.
“Ah. The lyrics to one of your songs," the servant said.
“It exactly sums up how I feel. That dratted oratorio about the four seasons last year drained me of my vitality.”
“1803 will be better, surely.”
“I just want to get back to my beloved home in Gumpendorf and never leave it again. I miss my parrot and my keyboards and the delightful shade of the trees in the courtyard.”
“Would you consider pausing for a few days at a mineral spring before returning to Vienna? They might relax you and restore some of your energy. ”
The composer did not resist this suggestion. He was thinking of happier days when he was young. He thought of Consuelo, whom he had not seen in more than fifty years, except for the occasional chance to hear her sing. In his teens he had traveled with her across Europe. They had floated down the Danube together. Consuelo would play the flute, while he (whom she called Sepperl, short for Joseph) would play violin. Another time they had been captured, but escaped. They sought refuge in an abbey, where the prior appreciated fine music. At one point, it had been assumed that Consuelo and Sepperl were lovers. This rumor prevented her from being presented to Empress Maria Theresa, who remembered the time when Sepperl, as a choir boy at Saint Stephen's, had climbed the scaffolding at Schonbrunn Palace. One moment of mischief can come back later to haunt you and your friends!
If only he could really have been loved by Consuelo! Or any woman, for that matter. Sepperl had rarely had enough to eat in those days. When he was twenty, he barely looked fifteen. When you're not much to look at and too skinny, what hope was there for you? But time had passed. Consuelo had moved on with her life and her career, and Sepperl had moved on with his. He was cooped up at Eisenstadt for years, but this isolation had awakened a sense of originality in him. Soon people were coming to *him*, including Maria Theresa, who seemed to have forgotten his youthful naughtiness. Even the English had insisted on asking him to come over and make music for them!
The composer was roused from his thoughts by the sensation that the coach was slowing down. The driver, unfamiliar with the route, was searching for the nearest spring. But now, with the sun ready to set, the driver pulled up at what he thought was a spa. True, several springs were visible, but no other coaches could be seen. Was it closed? The servant went up to the door of a stone building which bore the sign “Pilgergasthof” and knocked.
The man who emerged from the building looked remarkably healthy – a good advertisement for the spa, if that's what it was. He introduced himself as Ozymandius. He seemed to welcome the composer's arrival, for he accompanied the servant to the coach and shook the old man's hand. Ozymandius' German was terrible, but he gave the composer a brochure that advertised the healing properties of the place.
Once inside, the composer was very nearly too exhausted to eat, but a plump woman brought some good bread and wine which seemed to restore his energy somewhat. There was also a butler named Odysseus and a housekeeper named Penelope.
“We have another special guest tonight, Maestro,” said Ozymandius. “Her name is Consuelo, and she is the daughter of the Countess of Rudolstadt. She has asked me to let you hear her sing, if it pleases you."
"It would please me a great deal," the composer said, perking up. "In my youthful travels, I met a talented young opera singer named Consuelo. She had just rejected the Count of Rudolstadt's advances, but I later heard that she went back and married him. I am assuming that the Consuelo who is here tonight is her daughter.*
Ozymandius sat down at a piano and began playing the composer's song about a mermaid. A pretty young girl standing against the wall began singing along. Her voice was ravishing.
After that, the composer sat at the piano and played some pieces. When he began “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser,” Consuelo sang with great feeling. “She knows this music,” the composer said with a smile. Indeed, no matter what he played, the singer knew the vocal part by heart.
“She should be singing in the finest concert halls and opera houses,” the composer told Ozymandius.
“Her mother became disillusioned with show business as a career for women, and has had a lot of influence on her daughter and namesake,” Ozymandius said, again in bad German. “She will be going back to Rudolstadt tonight, where she will entertain guests and very likely sing for them, but not in a professional capacity.”
"Were I not so exhuasted, I would visit Rudolstadt myself," the composer said sadly. He was tired, for his eyelids were drooping. The coachman, the servant, and the inn's staff gently helped him across to a bedroom, where a fine feather bed awaited him. Soon he was dreaming about soaking in a warm spring. His dreams segued to a romantic scene with Consuelo, but then they veered toward a quarrel with the woman whom the composer had actually married. When you were old, you had a lot of memories, but some of them weren't so comforting.
The coachman was intrigued by the very existence of the Inn, which seemed not to be well-known at all. He said as much.
"That's because we are so new," Ozymandius explained. “The springs began bubbling out of the earth about 18 months ago. We began building this inn, expecting customers to start arriving.”
The servant and coachman soon joined their master in slumberland.
“That was a nice trick, oracle,” Ozymandius said. “Consuelo visited us three weeks ago, and you filmed her beautifully. But what was amazing was how you adjustd her tempo tonight so that it really seemed as if she was responding to the composer's playing.”
“You continue to underestimate me,” the oracle said matter of factly.
“I guess I do,” said Ozymandius with a shrug.
“I worry about the coachman, who seems disoriented,” the oracle cautioned. “He needs to get back to his familiar route in the morning.”
“I'd like to take a few days off and travel to Vienna with the composer,” Ozymandius said pensively. “I've seen his house – in the 21st century it's a museum and tourist attractive. I'm dying to see what it was like in his lifetime.”
“That's a nice dream, but you would risk changing history. During the night, I can relocate the Inn to a more familiar route. The old man has told you how weary he is. He is not in a joking mood."
Breakfast was served promptly at 8:00 the following morning. The composer hadn't slept perfectly, but he was better rested than he had been the previous night. He dug into his breakfast of bread and ham and cheese. The coffee was excellent, and seemed to perk him up.
He seemed eager to be on his way as soon as possible after the meal was done. It was unlikely that he would be composing much music after this, but seeing Consuelo's daughter had gotten him out of the funk he had been in. The staff stood on the lawn waving as the coach disappeared from view.
Odysseus and Penelope went back inside, where they discussed the music they had just heard. "The girl sang with a delightful voice which would have pleased the gods," Odysseus observed.
"Imagine creating such beautiful music by pressing keys," Penelope observed. "Orpheus himself could not have done better."
The oracle heard them talking, and joined the conversation. "I am sorry we did not ask the composer to play something from his opera about Orpheus."
Odysseus wasn't sure what an opera was, but he said "Overall, this music charms the ear. It is needlessly complicated, though. Just like so many other things in this strange world of yours."
*"Consuelo" was a novel by George Sand. Its sequel was "The Countess von Rudolstadt."
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 7: Mystery guest
"It's almost 4:00. We're not ready for tonight's guest. We don't even know who's coming." These words were spoken by Ozymandius to the oracle, which moved the inn through time and space. The oracle made almost all the major decisions.
Except today. Ozymandius waited. Finally the oracle said something he hadn't said in a long time, if ever: "I don't know where we are, I don't know what century we're in, I don't have a clue as to who is coming."
Ozymandius went to one of the doors and opened it. Maybe if he saw what the outdoors looked like, he could make some broad guesses. What he saw was some sand, accented by scrub vegetation. In the distance mountains could be seen. But in another direction there was the glint of water. There were a few trees here and there, but what kind were they?
Then the view was obscured by fog.
He closed the door, then opened it again. He sensed the approach of someone, but couldn't explain why.
A shadowy figure, wrapped in clothing except for his head, came through the door. Not hesitantly or meekly, but as if he lived in the inn. The remains of the innkeeper's lunch were still on the table. The oracle was in plain view. No guest should ever see these things!
The visitor was unfazed. He walked over to Odysseus and Penelope, who were patiently waiting for someone to explain what was going on. They seemed delighted with his presence. Then the stranger walked up to the oracle and gave a sympathetic shrug.
Finally he faced the innkeeper. "I like what you're doing, but I don't see why you need to do it in so many different places and times. Couldn't you take in the homeless and overstressed in your own era? The Caledonia Grove Trailer Park has some people who need all the love and support they can get."
Ozymandius froze up. Since when did a guest know so much about him and his mission? He thought of the trailer he inhabited on a little bluff that overlooked the rest of the Park. He thought of the years that had gone into designing the oracle, and the big pile of rocks that had become the Inn. Then, the oracle had somehow transcended his origins as a sophisticated computer and had somehow become imbued with an almost godlike essence.
The stranger had piercing eyes, but his face was kindly. "Oh, I know that you see things through the glass of the Internet, and you'd rather see them face to face." He sat down in
the easy chair that was usually reserved for the day's guest. "You're afraid of the future -- war, famine, disease, climate change. The past is comforting, but does comfort-seeking help you get forward in your lives? No, I'm not Dr. Phil, or whoever the current self-help guru is. Anyway, I think you could use a day of rest."
Ozymandius slumped in his chair. The stranger was right, of course. And what sort of person could he be, that he was so much more on top of things than the staff of their precious inn?
"If I have a quibble, it has to do with your decision to entertain people who don't need all that much help. If you're wondering why I came here today, it's because I am looking forward to tasting Mrs. Sprat's loaves and roasted fishes." He winked.
"At least we've resisted the urge to change the past," Ozymandius said softly.
"You couldn't change it even if you wanted to," the stranger said with a smile. "Maybe eventually you could return to your own time and place and try to change the future."
"Would I succeed?" Ozymandius asked softly.
"A little bit. Gandhi would say you need to try, because you can't know what will end up working, and what won't. Come with me to the door and try to see what I see."
They stepped outside. "Look at those hills," the stranger said. "You can't know what hills feel, if they feel anything at all, but wouldn't it be nice if people could refrain from spilling each other's blood on them?"
They looked at the distant water. "There are organisms in those waters. They want a lot of things that you want. Food, companionship, safety from predators, unless they *are* predators. Clean water, so their gills don't have to strain. And maybe the good luck not to have a big space rock aimed at them."
He cleared his throat and gave a dry cough. "I could use something to lubricate my throat," he said. "Could your delightful staff arrange for some refreshments?"
Back in the Inn, a nice table had been set up with white linens and good silverware. In the center was a platter of cherry pastries. A decanter of coffee sat beside it.
"This moment is all that we can be sure of," the stranger said, savoring his pastry. "All the rest is talk."
He closed his eyes for ten minutes, then got up, shook everyone's hand and departed as mysteriously as he had come.
The Inn disappeared and Ozymandius found himself back in his trailer in Caledonia Grove. The elderly lady next door had just fallen on her front walk, fracturing her hip. Ozymandius made frantic calls to 911.
He got back inside. The oracle was in better spirits. "My main program had crashed, but I have it sorted out now," he said. "We'll be back in business tomorrow. Minus Odysseus and Penelope. They have seen enough."
Odysseus and Penelope were sleeping in their own bed again. "I'm starting to like this strange thing they call coffee," Penelope confessed.
"But I think I've seen enough of the strange world that Ozymandius inhabits," Odysseus said.
"I have something to show you," Penelope said. She held up the finished shroud for her father-in-law's funeral. "And these are the fabrics I'm working on now. " She held up some baby clothes for Telemachus' children....
The Pilgrims' Inn, chapter 8: Jack Sprat
He was neither tall nor large. This was just a fact, and he was comfortable in his own skin. He lived in a large city called London. Like most cities it had some problems. Jack Sprat was grateful that he wasn't expected to solve them. He was a Jack of all trades -- fetching water from the hill with his sister, finding new items for the bakery he ran with his wife, trimming the fat from the Christmas goose. But there were limits. Contrary to the reports that had gotten around, he did not jump over candlesticks, nor did he intend to start.
He stood at the counter in his bakery shop, helping customers who wanted everything from biscuits to wedding cakes. His muffins were famous throughout Drury Lane and beyond. Today was busy. He missed his wife, who had taken a job with some strange man named Ozymandius. Peter, his oldest son, was helping him at the counter today. Peter had developed a delicious recipe for pumpion pie. Simon, who was almost as old as Peter, also helped, though he was rather simple. Still, Simon and Peter were capable of running the bakery without Jack even being there.
He made the mistake of saying his thoughts out loud: "The bakery would be fine if I wasn't even here."
"Well, ducks, why don't you come with me, then" came a familiar voice. It was his wife, standing in the open doorway. "The Inn will soon be losing its butler and housekeeper. I can fill in as the housekeeper, and I *know* you'd be a fine butler."
He embraced her. "You don't know how I've missed you," he said.
Mrs. Sprat was as short as Jack, but her girth was much more substantial. Jack had never wanted to be bigger or taller, since he was just right in his wife's eyes. She complemented him in ways too various to count. "I'm not as spry as I used to be," he warned.
"Nor am I," she said. "Doesn't matter. The Inn has such amazing resources. There's an oracle who can advise me on absolutely everything. I wake up in the morning, and everything is prepped and ready for me to work with. There's something called a dumbwaiter that always has what I need when I need it. You'll never have to go down a dark, narrow staircase to get wine for the guests. Just tell the dumbwaiter what you need, and it will provide it with very little delay."
A tall, well-built man came into the shop. "This is Ozymandius, who runs the Inn," she said.
"We need you, Jack," he said. "Oh, and I could use some of those tarts that the Queen of hearts baked yesterday."
Peter Sprat went into the kitchen and came back with a dozen of them. Ozymandius paid for the tarts and then led Mr. and Mrs. Sprat into the kitchen. "Simon, Peter, you are in charge of the bakery now," Jack told his sons. "I'm going with your mother and Ozymandius. If you run into somehting you can't handle, I will know, and will come back to help."
Ozymandius ushered Mr. and Mrs. Sprat out the back door, which ordinarily gave into an alley. Today, though, it faced a stone building which had a sign above the front door: The Pilgrims' Inn.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 9: Poor Richard's bad dream
[Poor Richard tried to get some sleep, but it would not come. He tried to calm himself with some of his favorite aphorisms, but they weren't helping him now. "A word to the wise is enough," for instance. Who could be wiser than Poor Richard, but what words could possible be enough to quiet his dread?
"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." And it was running out for him. Richard could feel this in his bones and his gouty toes. Finally he managed to fall asleep, which should have been the answer to his prayers, but in his dream he was Benjamin Franklin. Worse, as Franklin he was about to leave Paris, where he had negotiated aid and important treaties for his country. Talk about the wisdom of his aphorisms! He had had precious time wasted by that dreadful man from Braintree who was, at some times, and in some ways, absolutely out of his mind. Whereupon an even worse worry sprang up: what if the Congress's new envoy was even worse than the man from Braintree? As dreams went, this one could not be wished away. He found himself dreaming about the arrival of his successor:]
It was August 3rd, 1784. The merchant ship Ceres had just dropped anchor in Le Havre, France.
A tall, ginger-haired man of about forty stood on the deck, taking in the sights and sounds of this strange new place. His term as delegate to the Congress of the Confederation had ended in May, and now, less than three months later, here he was in France as Minister to France, Poor Richard's successor.
"Mister Jefferson?" came a voice from the dock. "I have arranged transportation for you to Paris.
A look of puzzlement crossed Jefferson's face. He had hoped that his contacts in the French government would send someone to greet him at the dock, but this man was not dressed the way he expected. The man was healthy and well-built but, well, not in fashionable attire. "My name is Ozymandius," the man continued as Jefferson shepherded a young man and woman down the gangplank. "I have reserved a coach for our trip, and I've taken the liberty of reserving rooms for you at an inn halfway to Paris. Welcome to France, Martha and James," the man said to Jefferson's companions.
Jefferson had been practicing his French for the occasion, and now he realized that this man, whose English was excellent, might deprive him of the chance to use it.
"Je connais que vos expectations etaient differents," the man said with a gracious bow. "I've been hoping to practice my English, if you would oblige me. Your coach awaits. I know some very fine roads which will get us to Paris with few delays."
Martha Jefferson, a girl of about twelve, seemed bemused but not out of sorts at their host's presumptions. She nudged her father forward. James Hemings followed, not unhappy to be led into this strange country. There was about him an air of servitude, a hint of African ancestry that, in the country he had recently left, would have marked him as an enslaved man.
The coach's interior was well furnished, and the horses who pulled it made very good time on roads that were better than the ones in the Colonies. Martha and James watched the scenery passing by, while Jefferson dozed.
"Here we are at the Pilgrims' Inn," Ozymandius said, waking Jefferson from his sleep. The inn was built of stone in the style of a chalet. "I run the inn with the help of my staff. The butler and housekeeper are Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat."
[Poor Richard was startled out of his sleep by some sort of clangor in the kitchen, where his wife was undoubtedly fixing some sort of late night snack. Happily, Mrs. Poor Richard slept in a separate bed. She harbored the notion that Poor Richard was delusional, imagining himself to be important statesmen. He'd better not tell her about the dream he had had. Well, maybe he should have tried to involve himself in public affairs. After all, "There are no gains without pains." But sometimes there are pains that do not lead to gains. "Never leave that till to-morrow, which you can do to-day." The problem was that he had run out of tomorrows, and the next one would be beyond his control because that Virginian would be in charge. "He that by the plow would thrive, Himself must either hold or drive." Exactly! Poor Richard fell alseep again.]
Jefferson stopped and stared in amazement at the foyer. It bore a striking resemblance to the entrance at Monticello, though on a smaller scale. Another man (Jack Sprat, apparently) appeared in the doorway and ushered the guests into a small dining room. He took some platters of food from a dumbwaiter inside a fireplace and put them on the table, where Jefferson and his companions helped themselves. Jefferson noted with satisfaction that there were several types of vegetable -- lettuce, garden peas, and cabbage among them. There was also some Codycross, a type of game bird that he particularly liked. A fine wine accompanied the meal, and there was blancmange for dessert, accompanied by fresh blackberries.
James's eyebrows rose slightly at the sight of this food. He had been trained in French cuisine in Annapolis, and had been promised further lessons once he reached Paris. But how did the French know about the foods that Jefferson especially liked?
An after-dinner stroll through the gardens surrounding the inn hinted at the existence of a fine gardener. Tall pink Echinacea plants reached for sunlight beside the walkway. Those marigolds seemed to be striped. Jefferson made a mental note -- maybe he could get seeds? There were also an orchard and a vineyard. Berries ripened on vines near the footpath that led to a charming fountain with cherubs. Golden fish swam in the water. Was that tree on the edge of the garden a tulip poplar? Who knew that they grew so far from Virginia?
Even though it was August, the late afternoon air seemed cool. There had been a volcano of some sort in the last year, and the climate seemed to have cooled somewhat. Jefferson felt like retiring early, but stayed up a while to record the day's events. He found a writing desk in a den whose walls were lined with books. As he wrote, he heard a sound in the hall. A plump middle-aged woman walked past carrying a tray of biscuits. Mrs. Sprat, probably. She smiled pleasantly at Jefferson and said, "I've heard about you, Mr. Jefferson. Right proud I am of you."
Jefferson bowed. "Thank you, Mrs. Sprat."
[Poor Richard was awake again. That Virginian would spend himself into the poorhouse, frittering away his time and money -- applying the same logic to his efforts to get the resources that his young, fragile country needed. "If you would be wealthy, think of saving, as well as of getting. " Jefferson spent as if there was no tomorrow! Poor Richard reached for his coat, thinking to make himself sleepy by taking a few steps around the courtyard outside. Coat in hand, he thought of another favorite aphorism: "I had at first determined to buy stuff for a new coat, I went away, resolved to wear my old one a little longer." Then it occurred to him that perhaps it was just his nature to worry about things that could not be helped. Maybe the dratted dream would end happily, and he could wake up in the morning with a brighter aspect. He closed his eyes and fell into the ongoing dream:]
In the morning, Mrs. Sprat made sure breakfast was ready promptly at 8:00. When Jefferson saw what was on the table, he was amazed again: tea, coffee, hot wheat and corn bread, cold ham and butter. Was this what people in this part of France usually breakfasted on, or did the innkeepers have an uncanny knowledge of what Jefferson liked to eat? Martha and James helped themselves to the food without comment.
Jefferson wondered when Ozymandius would have the coach ready, but still another surprise lay ahead. "We will have to get ready for more visitors today," the innkeeper explained, "and I cannot leave the inn to take you to Paris. We have hired another coach for you to ride in. We hope you will have a safe and pleasant trip."
Jefferson hoped to take a morning stroll in the gardens, but the door he had gone through the night before was blocked by a large planter that contained an orange tree. He hoped to at least view the gardens through the window, but the curtains were drawn tight. Indeed, the place seemed changed as he left the inn with his two companions.
Outside there was a coach waiting. Jefferson and his companions got in. As it pulled away, Jefferson turned for one last glimpse of the Inn, but it seemed to have disappeared. And his memories of the place seemed to be fading. How strange!
[And luckily Poor Richard's dream was fading too. The sun was streaming through the window now, and it occurred to him that he should stay on and break his new associate in. Now that he was awake again, he realized that the younger man had the utmost respect for him. Maybe he could yet have some influence. Yes, he was like the old coat that had some wear left in it. This was the best thought he had had since the previous evening. He was even able to smile a bit now. No sense thinking about the discomforts of a trip across the Atlantic just yet. Just then his wife came into the room and said, "For the hundredth time, you are *not* Benjamin Franklin. He smiled weakly. Looking out the window, he could see that he was not in Paris after all.]
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 10: Romeo and Juliet
People in 16th-Century attire had been wandering through the Inn all morning. None of them had asked Ozymandius for anything except his name and an explanation as to why he was there. To the second question he had no ready answer, so he kept out of their way -- until a girl of about sixteen came up to him and said, "Prithee stand aside, kind sir, so I can go to my room." She began to ascend the stairs.
Ozymandius followed her at a discreet distance. When he got to Room 13, he saw that the girl was standing by the window and listening to the voice of a youth outside who was saying, "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief."
Next to the window, someone had built a door. The girl stepped through the door and stood on a balcony. Ozymandius could smell fresh lumber, and paint that was barely dry. The girl was looking down as if addressing someone on the ground. "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" she said.
Ozymandius looked past Juliet and saw that about forty feet away a small group of people was standing and watching. In the center was a man who looked vaguely familiar. He had a bulbous forehead, a receding hairline, a long face, a moustache, and the beginnings of a goatee.
Behind the group of people there was a section of simple benches that curved around, and rising over them was a facade that consisted of two balconies, one on top of the other. It looked like an Elizabethan theater. Or maybe this was just a coincidence.
Ozymandius went back downstairs. He could swear the oracle was chuckling. "You might have given me a heads-up about this," he scolded the oracle.
"Not so loud!" the oracle reprimanded. "They might hear you."
Ozymandius retired to his room for a nap. But no peace could be found there either, for two middle-aged women were talking.
"Yesterday I asked Juliet, 'How stands your disposition to be married?'" said one of the women.
The other woman, who was dressed as some sort of Elizabethan nurse, observed, "She would not consider it an honor to marry Paris."
The first woman said, "She should think of marriage now, though. Not only for the future of the Capulets, but also for her own standing. Younger than she here in Verona, ladies of esteem, are made already mothers. By my count, I was her mother much upon these years that she is now a maid. The valiant Paris seeks her for his love. Can she love the gentleman? This night she shall behold him at our feast. All I ask is that she read o'er the volume of young Paris' face, and find delight writ there with beauty's pen. "
The Nurse looked dubious.
Ozymandius felt sheepish about hearing a discussion that was so private. On the other hand, it seemed that it was the two women who were intruding, for these were his sleeping quarters. But who could really know what to expect in this Inn that broke so many rules?
He went into the dining room, where Mrs. Sprat was setting the table for dinner, the midday meal. Lady Capulet, smelling the food, came into the room, where she was joined by her husband and a young man who, it was soon revealed, was Tybalt, Juliet's cousin. Sampson and Gregory, the Capulets' servants, helped Mrs. Sprat with the food, which consisted of fish, bread, and cheese. The first course consisted of soup, but it couldn't start until Juliet came to the table. Peter, her servant, was sent to fetch her. Dessert consisted of apple tarts with hazelnuts, topped with custard. Everything was washed down with ale. Ozymandius asked Mrs. Sprat to bring him some to taste. It seemed to have very little alcoholic content.
Ozymandius drifted over to the oracle. "I never realized that the Capulets were real," he said in a low voice.
"They are neither more nor less real than William Shakespeare," the oracle said. "The Bard of Avon might as well be Moses or King Arthur for all the solid information we have about him. But do not worry about such things. I bring you to various places and times, and your duty is to be a good host. Which, indeed, you are."
Ozymandius walked downstairs to the kitchen, where leftovers from the meal were on the counter, waiting to be put away. He tasted the foods, noting that a significant degree of cooking was involved in the preparation of all of them. Well, the water was unsafe to drink, so the germs had to be killed somehow. It all tasted good, if not familiar to his taste buds.
He wandered back to his room, which was empty by now. He was about to take a nap when Jack Sprat knocked on his door.
"Are you feeling well, sir?" Jack asked.
"Go up to Room 13, if it is vacant, and look out the window. Tell me if you see William Shakespeare in the distance," Ozymandius said.
"Never mind. Wake me for tea."
"I'll bring it to you, sir. The Capulets wouldn't know what tea is, as it hasn't reached Europe yet."
Ozymandius should not have been tired, as it was early afternoon, but he soon found himself in dreamland, where three witches were making him drink eye of newt tea. William Shakespeare and Cole Porter were playing a computer game, and Henry the Eighth was singing "Greensleeves" to Lady Gaga.
When he woke, the sun was going down. He tiptoed to the dining room door, and saw that the Elizabethans were gone. Well, maybe his supper could be the remnants of their midday meal. The Sprats were about to tuck into their own supper. They brought in another chair so he could join them.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 11: Orestes
It isn't every day that you can look out the door of the Pilgrims' Inn and see the Acropolis. Not that Ozymandius happened to open the door at random. He had been enjoying a late breakfast, but ran to the door in alarm when he heard blood-curdling screams coming from the outside.
A young Greek man was on his doorstep, crying uncontrollably. Behind him, advancing slowly, were three crones who seemed to push the edge of the envelope for unattractiveness. They had snakes for hair, dogs' heads, coal black bodies, bats' wings, and blood-shot eyes. In their hands they carried brass-studded scourges. The Acropolis *was* in the background, but this seemed a minor consideraton. There was no way Ozymandius wanted the crones to gain admittance to the Inn. He pulled the young man inside, slammed the door, and bolted it shut.
"Ah, I see that Orestes has arrived," said the oracle. "Good, good, bring him over here."
The oracle talked to the young man at length in Greek, after which he asked the Sprats to bring the man downstairs to the kitchen for some calming libations and good food.
No sooner was Orestes safely out of the way than a loud pounding came at the door. The oracle yelled something in Greek, after which the pounding stopped.
"I've bought us some time," the oracle told Ozymandius. "I've also sent for Athena. Let me give you some background. Orestes is a victim of bad parenting. His mother Clytemnestra killed his father Agamemnon. Orestes was told by Apollo to avenge this murder, which he did. Now, you'd think Apollo would stand by Orestes after the Furies -- also known as Eumenides -- started coming after the lad, but the gods are fickle. Being chased by those ugly creatures is enough to drive anyone insane, as Orestes is now. Electra is downstairs now calming him -- she's his sister. I've also asked Mrs. Sprat to add some anti-anxiety meds to his nectar. That's just the first step."
Ozymandius suddenly felt a presence in the room. The oracle did, too. "Good, Athena's here now." The oracle was silent for a moment, then intermittently spoke Greek, as if in conversation with someone.
Then, as if someone had turned a switch, an attractive young woman in a toga materialized in the room. She had a helmet, but removed it and smiled at Ozymandius. Best of all, she addressed Ozymandius in English. Her voice was plummy and rich and good-humored.
"Ozymandius, let me introduce myself. I am Athena. Our friend Orestes is going through a bad patch right now. About all I can do for him is to put him on trial and let twelve Athenians decide his guilt or innocence. I am grateful to you for your services to Odysseus and Penelope. I am giving them Athenian citizenship so that Odysseus can serve on the jury. We were going to have the trial on a rock outcropping near the Acropolis, but for the sake of making everyone as comfortable as possible, I ask that you make your main function room available for it."
Gradually the room began filling with men in togas. Athena questioned each one in Greek. Odysseus and Penelope smiled and waved at Ozymandius. When Athena was satisfied with her jurors, the trial began.
Apollo came forward as Orestes' defense lawyer. Athena served as the judge. Ozymandius had no idea what anyone was saying at first, as everyone was speaking Greek. The oracle gave him occasional summaries. Much of this went over Ozymandius' head. After all, the outlook of the ancient Greeks was very different from anything he was used to. About all he could make out was that extenuating circumstances constituted Orestes' main argument.
Half of the jurors bought it, for the trial ended in a tied vote. The clamor outside the door resumed when the Eumenides found out about the verdict -- Orestes was, in essence, judged to be innocent. Athena opened the door, invited the Eumenides in, and said something soothing to them. This seemed to work, for they grew happy and departed.
The jurors and Greek gods vanished. "What was that last bit about?" Ozymandius asked the oracle.
"Well, a bit of flattery can work wonders," was the reply. "Athena said that, henceforth, the Eumenides would be known as "The gracious ones."
Electra went up to her brother and hugged him.
"I pity them," Ozyandius said. "Orestes and Electra are orphans, and they're out of hot water by the slimmest of margins."
"That is true. But this is a turning point in western civilization," the oracle said. "The gods and the other immortals can't always just do whatever they like now. A proper trial is the way to go."
"Wait, this was the beginning of trial by jury?" Ozymandius exclaimed.
Mrs. Sprat brought bread, meat, figs, and some plates of salad for Ozymandius, Orestes, Electra, Odysseus, and Penelope. After a pleasant meal, Odysseus and Penelope went back to their own era, leaving Ozymandius alone again with the oracle and his servants.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 12: A visit from Father Christmas, Moore or less
'Twas a bright Christmas morning, and at Pilgrims' Inn,
Our friend Ozymandius heard a great din.
The hooves on the rooftop were loud (Oh my word!),
And then a great plop down the chimney was heard.
Jack Sprat and his wife from their beds quickly crept,
To see what had happened while all the world slept.
A man in a red suit was slumped in a chair.
"My work's finally done," the Sprats heard him declare.
"Before I return to my workshop, you see,
What I really need here is some TLC."
The Sprats set the table with care, not too hasty,
And gave their good visitor foods that were tasty:
Eggs that were scrambled, with sausage and ham,
Freshly squeezed orange juice, hot toast with jam,
Coffee and tea and a lovely mince pie.
They left him alone so these treats he could try.
When he was finished, he said with a sigh,
"My reindeer need grasses and water, my friends,
We've travelled so far, but our work never ends.
My dear Ozymandius, best of the best,
I'm sure you've a room where this poor elf can rest.
A bed stuffed with feathers, a room with a view
Of snow on a pine forest." Fast the hours flew,
And when he awoke after long hours of rest,
The gates of his workshop he saw. "I am blessed
To be in this traveling inn," the man stated.
"It surely deserves to be highly rated."
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 13: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not dead yet
"Infinite numbers of monkeys are busy writing 'Hamlet,'" declared the oracle one fine afternoon.
"Hamlet will be welcome here as long as he pays his bills," Ozymandius replied without looking up from the ham, hash browns, and mince pie that he was about to shovel into his mouth. He looked up and added, "I'm assuming that he will stay alive long enough to do so?"
"Most likely. He has not yet left for England, and he has two young companions with him, so you will have three customers."
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are coming?"
The Oracle gave an affirmative answer.
"I'd better tell Mrs. Sprat to prepare something special, then, as this will be the last meal they will have together." A knock came at the door. "Ah, this is undoubtedly our guests."
The door swung open to reveal three men in Elizabethan-era garb. Not surprisingly, the one in rich attire turned out to be Hamlet. He did not turn out to be an inspired dinner guest, however, as he seemed distrustful about everything. The other two were in theatrical dress, and were merrier. Of the two, Guildenstern seemed to have the more powerful personality. Hearing Guildenstern carry on about things, Hamlet muttered under his breath, "What a piece of work is man." Turning to Ozymandius, he whispered that his companions would not "deal justly" with him.
What saved the meal from being a total washout was Guildenstern's penchant for telling amusing stories.
"Our ship will be sailing in two hours, so we won't be needing rooms for the night," Hamlet told Ozymandius after the meal was finished. He seemed to contradict himself almost immediately by falling asleep in his chair.
The oracle summoned Ozymandius and said, sotto voce, "I asked Mrs. Sprat to put a sleeping potion in Hamlet's ale. There is a letter in his coat. You need to surreptitiously remove it before he awakens."
The letter turned out to contain instructions to the King of England to have Hamlet executed.
Ozymandius was cross at becoming part of this. "I thought we were not supposed to interfere in the plots of the stories we are involved in," he protested.
The Oracle shushed him. "The monkeys have concocted large numbers of plot lines, but the endings always seem to be largely the same. You see, Hamlet is not Mr. Personality. The King of England will tire of him quickly and send him back to Denmark, where he will soon be the agent of a rather gruesome scene of death and destruction. And take a look at his companions. Had they not been characters in such a famous play as 'Hamlet,' who would even have heard of them? They can stay in England and be nonentities, or they can return to Denmark and be nonentities. As you yourself have said, as long as they pay their bills they're fine."
Ozymandius cast a sad gaze upon Hamnlet's two companions whose fates were determined almost by a game of craps. They were good-looking, and would surely find wives and settle down sooner or later, if given the chance. Right now they were eating and drinking and making merry, little realizing how they were blown by the winds of chance. Claudius had summoned them to Elsinore castle so they could distract and perhaps spy on Hamlet. His plan was to then send Hamlet to the King of England with the infamous letter which Ozymandius had now taken from him. If Hamlet were to read the letter, he would change it so that his companions would die instead.
"Claudius is looking through the window of Elsinore Castle now, watching for the ship," the oracle said. "He's pretty certain that he will never see any of the three men again, and yet he has to watch to make sure they leave. Hamlet isn't the only distrustful one in that castle. Your destruction of the letter means that the King of England will send Hamlet back to Denmark sooner or later. His companions might stay in England. Or they might not. If they go back to Denmark, they can join the troup of entertainers if they wish. Hamlet has to stay in Elsinore and play the hand he's been dealt. Same ending as Shakespeare's, more or less. And yes, Ozymandius, someone who resembles Shakespeare is also watching. Go back and finish your lunch now..."
Ozymandius wasn't as hungry as he thought he was. He stood at the door, watching the boat arrive in the harbor. He watched the three men walk up the gangplank. We are playing craps with the universe, he thought. Does that make us gods? Still, he could not feel bad about thwarting Claudius's murderous plans. Not that it would matter all that much.....
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 14: Befana
Ozymandius never knew where or when the Inn would be located on any given morning. Sometimes it was hours before he had it figured out, but today he knew as soon as he opened the front door, for there in front of him was the Fountain of the Four Rivers. "Ah, we are in the Piazza Navona," he said softy. And it was pretty chilly today, even for Rome. The Piazza was filled with white stands where people were selling merchandise. The closest one had Christmas tree ornaments, so this was undoubtedly the Christmas season. Figurines of an old crone were available pretty much everywhere, and buyers seemed to go for them. In the distance he could hear car horns.
Several people came to the door and asked, in English, if he sold Espresso. Tourists!
"Of course," Ozymandius said, leading them inside. "We have only just opened, but we'll have some for you very soon. What would you like to eat with your espresso?"
"A bagel with lox and cream cheese," said one of the tourists.
"Do you have pizzellis?" said another. "With a little jam?"
Behind him, Ozymandius could hear the oracle paging the Sprats. Mrs. Sprat ran to the dumbwaiter and removed some cups of espresso and a tray of food. The tourists sat down happily and enjoyed their food and coffee. More tourists arrived, and within two hours the Inn serviced several dozen customers. The fact that they paid in dollars and tipped generously didn't hurt.
When there was a lull, Ozymandius sent Jack Sprat out to find out exactly what day it was. The oracle told him to ask someone "Che giorno è oggi?" He came back five minutes later with the answer "Cinque gennaio."
Ah, the Eve of Epiphany. So Befana was likely to arrive that evening! "Oracle, how do we prepare for our encounter with Befana?" Ozaymandius asked once all the customers had left.
"She won't stay long," the oracle said.
"Because you don't have any children. The most she will do is sweep the floor."
"Can we pretend to have children?"
"She'll see through you, as many supernatural entities do. She may retaliate by putting coal or a stick or some garlic in your shoes."
"Even while I am standing in them?"
"Well, no. She may not even come at all, unless your floor is unusually dirty."
Mrs.Sprat looked angry. "I never let the floor get dirty!" she protested.
"This once you should, though. We want to meet Befana. Oracle, can you wake us when she arrives?"
"Of course. The sun will set just shy of five p.m., so you need to be in bed soon after that."
"Who, exactly is this Befana person?" Mrs. Sprat wanted to know.
"She's more than 2,000 years old," the oracle explained. "The magi visited her on their way to Bethlehem. She refused to accompany them, as she had so much housework to do, but later thought better of it. She never found the Christ Child, though. She gives gifts to all the children in Italy, in case one of them turns out to be Christ. And, yes, if a household has no children, she will sweep the floor."
Ozymandius turned in after an early supper. It was 7:00 in the evening when the oracle woke him. "She is flying over the Inn now," the oracle said.
"Fine, I will greet her at the door."
"You misunderstand. Befana will come down the chimney."
There was a noise from the hearth, and Ozymandius saw an old woman standing there with a broom in her hand. Over her back she had slung a bag. She wore a black shawl and was covered in soot. "Hai bambini?" she asked.
Ozymandius looked puzzled,. and a look of comprehension came over the woman's face. "Ah, I sense that you speak English," she said, peering at the Inn as if seeking out evidence of juvenile residents. "And, no, there are no children here."
She began sweeping.
"We may have some children here tomorrow morning," Ozaymandius said.
"Liar!" the woman hissed. She pulled some garlic from her sack and handed it to Ozymandius. He bowed deeply. "That will make a nice garlic soup," he said appreciatively.
The frown on her face softened. "This must be the Pilgrims' Inn," she said. "Forgive me, I was wrong. There will soon be children here." She pulled a croquet ball from her sack and gave it to Ozymandius. "The Queen of Hearts will penalize Alice if she arrives unprepared."
Then she turned to Jack Sprat and his wife, who had just come into the room. "You have seven children, three of which are working very hard to keep your bakery going. Why are you not with them?"
They looked sheepish.
Befana looked at Ozymandius. "Let them have Epiphany Day off." She pulled seven gifts from her bag and made the Sprats promise to deliver them to their children. Then without another word, she rose up the chimney and was gone.
"We hand out the gifts on Christmas Day, not Epiphany," Mrs. Sprat said to Ozymandius.
"Do that, then," Ozymandius told her. "Oracle, send the Sprats back to their home for a Christmas
"We'd go with pleasure, but that would leave you here alone," Mrs. Sprat told Ozymandius. "Come join us and be our honorary uncle."
And thus it was that Ozymandius found himself enjoying a real traditional English Christmas dinner
with the Sprats. "God bless us each and every one," he said when the roast goose was brought in and put on the table. But, no, that was what one said in the Cratchit home. Well, what the heck, it was appreciated here, so he let it go at that as he filled his mouth with delicious food. It went without saying that dessert would be a classic plum pudding, a dish that Mrs.Sprat had no trouble providing.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 15: Alice
Nothing made any sense at all, thought Alice as she sat at the table with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. The Hare offered her wine (when there wasn't any wine to offer), then the Hatter went on about a raven and a writing desk. The Hatter insisted that butter (the *best* butter) would improve the workings of his watch (it didn't). And there was nothing about the Dormouse that could be termed coherent.
"It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!" Alice exclaimed as she walked away. She was thinking so hard about these matters that she almost didn't see the stone building in time to avoid walking right into the side of it. Well, maybe someone in this building would possess at least a little bit of sanity. Opening the door, she thought she was in the long hall she had been in before. But where was the little glass table? There was a table, to be sure, but it was almost as large as the one Alice had just walked away from.
A plump woman with a friendly smile walked into the room with a pot of tea and a tray of tea cakes. "I am Mrs. Sprat," she said. "You are in the Pilgrims' Inn, and we will try to make as much sense as we can."
"You wouldn't be married to Jack Sprat, by any chance, would you?" Alice asked.
"That's the one," the woman said. "You didn't get any tea where you were before, but I think you will like our tea. Help yourself."
After Alice had tasted some delicious Earl Grey tea and sampled some equally delicious tea cakes, the rest of the staff came forward to introduce themselves: Jack Sprat himself, Ozymandius the innkeeper, and, at the back of the room, the mysterious oracle.
"Here is a Christmas present I was asked to give you," Ozyandius told her, putting a croquet ball in her hand.
"Christmas is months away, and it hasn't got much to do with croquet," Alice exclaimed, worried that these people might be as daft as the ones she had left -- well, maybe that was unfair, as they did know how to put together a proper tea party.
"The oracle can predict the future, and he says that not having a croquet ball will put you on the wrong side of the Queen of Hearts, whom you will meet after you leave this Inn," Ozymandius said solemnly. "You'll go through our back door, and walk in the beautiful garden that I know you want to visit. But the Queen will be there, and she will expect you to play croquet, using hedgehogs as croquet balls. I think a real ball would suit you better."
"Is this the same Queen of Hearts who made some tarts?" Alice asked hopefully.
The others laughed. "We wish she was," Jack said merrily. "She's just a playing card who got too full of herself, to the point where she decided to behead the rest of the cards in the deck. Don't be afraid of her, scary though she might be."
"I wish I were back home with Dinah," Alice said sadly, thinking of her cat.
"You will be before long," Ozymandius said. "Think of all the strange things that you've seen today. You've been a lot of different sizes, you've been insulted, you've even had to swim for your life. But here you are, none the worse for wear. The Queen can't hurt you. We just wanted to give you some actual tea and normal tea cakes so the whole day wouldn't be too much to endure. You may continue on to the Queen's croquet game when you are ready."
Alice went around the room, examining the furniture, the pictures on the walls, the chimney, the hearth, and finally the funny black box that Ozymandius called the oracle. The oracle puzzled Alice more than any of the other things she had seen. There were mysterious runes across its surface, along with lights that flashed on and off with no rhyme or reason.
Suddenly the box developed a voice. "Hello, Alice," it said. "Some day, when you are an old woman, you will meet others of my kind, though they will not have a millionth as much intelligence as I have. They won't be able to move through time and space, but I'm able to do that. They will be called computers."
"I've heard of machines that can compute, but all they do is add," Alice said. "I can try to imagine them capable of thought, but that would be a stretch. And moving through time and space? I consider that impossible."
"Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," the oracle said merrily. "But it takes practice. Every day. You'll grow up, get married, have children, and watch some of them go off to war. What they will see during that war will be far stranger than what you see now. By the end of your life, you will, if you wish, be able to see moving images of people ( complete with sound), as well as devices with which you can carry on conversations with people far away. There will be trains that can carry you thousands of miles, horseless carriages, and devices that can record sound and play it back anytime you wish them to. You will have descendants who will live in a world stranger even than the one you're in today."
This was starting to be more than Alice could bear, so Ozymandius led her to the back door and opened it for her. She found herself in the beautiful garden that had so bewitched her earlier that day. A large rose tree stood near the entrance. The roses were white, but several playing cards were putting red paint on them. When Alice asked why they were painting them, the cards expained that the rose bush was a mistake, and that the Queen of Hearts would surely have them beheaded if she found out.
Then, sure enough, the Queen approached, and Alice felt the croquet ball in her hand start to squirm. It had become a hedgehog! Ozymandius's predictions were starting to come true. She looked back at the Inn, but it didn't seem to be there any more. Impossible things were already happening.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 16: Papageno
Ozymandius was about to take a big bite out of a bagel covered with cream cheese, when he heard a familiar refrain out in front of the Inn. A man with an attractive baritone voice was singing "I am a man of widespread fame, and Papageno is my name." He had an entire orchestra supporting him, though they were well-camouflaged among the bushes.
"Oracle, we have to talk," Ozymandius said wearily. "I can't even finish my breakfast without finding myself in the middle of an opera."
"Not the middle, Ozzy!" the oracle corrected. "Granted, it *is* an opera, but it's barely begun. And it's a Mozart opera. I thought you liked Mozart."
Ozymandius opened the door. The source of the voice had a man's body and a bird's head. "Oh, great, the least advantageous parts of man and fowl!" Ozymandius groaned. "Think like a bird and fly like a human." To be fair, though, the man was attractive despite the absurd arrangement of his constituent parts. He was clad in Robin Hood retro, with a touch of ancient Egyptian thrown in. A birdcage was strapped to his shoulder. Behind the man was a forest of wildly varied vegetation, representative of no place on the planet.
The birdman heard Ozymandius and turned to look at him. "I seem to have gotten lost on my way to whatever land my opera takes place in," he confessed.
"You won't find it, as it is too improbable to exist," said Ozymandius. "You might as well come inside. This is the Pilgrims' Inn, where we welcome pretty much anybody. You are certainly anybody."
"You're unusually snarky today," the oracle chided him.
"I hope your fellow cast members aren't just as lost as you are," Ozymandius said. "I can't let the Queen of the Night come in here. Her high notes will break every piece of china we have."
Papageno came inside without hesitation, but he defended the Queen. "She buys birds from me, and gives me food in return."
"We're pretty good at providing food too," Ozymandius said, snapping his fingers. Mr. and Mrs. Sprat came with bread and butter and scrambled eggs and coffee. There were even a few slices of bacon to be found. Papageno eyed the food hungrily. "You're the first person who has shown me any real kindness," he said, digging in. "The others scold me for lying and chattering too much. Mmm, this is good."
The food gained Ozymandius a few minutes of silence, except for the occasional burp. Then Papageno
moved on to his main existential dilemma. "There's only one other being like me in the forest, and she's old and ugly."
There was a knock at the back door. Jack Sprat opened it to admit another bird-human amalgam, and she certainly was as old and ugly as Papageno described. "Here I am, my angel," she told Papageno, flinging her arms around him. "If you promise to be faithful to me, I will love you tenderly. I am Papagena!"
"What are the odds of encountering two such entities, oracle?" Ozymandius groaned.
"With Emanuel Schickaneder writing the libretto, the probability is about 100%."
Papageno and Papagena seemed equally dissatisfied with the latest plot twist.
"I want your hand in marriage, Papageno, or you will be imprisoned here for ever," Papagena said, "with only bread and water."
"Don't put limitations on my cooking!" Mrs. Sprat snapped.
A dragon had sneaked through the back door, and was disdainfully regarding the couple. "They are just about the only inedible beings in the whole forest," it confided to Ozymandius.
"I suppose you have a song about that?"
They're a nice pair,
But what do I care?
I cannot eat them,
It doesn't seem fair.
They will have children,
Ten dozen or so,
And send the S.A.T. scores to a new record low."
Ozymandius's eyebrows shot up. "You aren't singing Mozart any more," he exclaimed. "Not that anything can surprise me at this point."
"These creatures are unworthy of Mozart!"
Papageno took out his magic bells and segued back into Mozart. He and Papagena sang. They danced. When Papageno promised to marry Papagena, she removed her cloak, revealing that she was young and beautiful. Far in the distance there was solemn music from the opera's main characters. Something about a flute whose music protected them as they passed through the trials of fire and water. Then there was a power grab by the forces of darkness, and finally a chorus sang merrily as the sun came up to scatter the baddies.
"I think you can find your way back to the main action," Ozymandius told Papageno kindly.
"I'd like to stay here," Papageno confessed.
"Forgive me for being undiplomatic, but the only way you can stay in this Inn is by coming to work for me," Ozymandius said firmly. "What skills do you have?"
Papageno held up his birdcage.
"Sorry, we don't need many birds."
"I sing rather agreeably."
"Yes, you do. But the Inn has rooms that need to be cleaned, beds that need changes of linens, and a whole raft of chores that involve preparing food and bringing it to guests who are hungry. Plus, we already have people who do those things quite well. Now, please leave, or I will charge you for the food you've eaten."
Papageno crumbled. "All right, I will go back to the forest, now that I'm no longer alone." The two lovebirds exited through the front door. When they reached the forest, they began eating fruit and nuts from the trees, stopping to gnaw on the occasional leaf or mushroom.
"And how about you, dragon?" Ozymandius shot a withering glance at the creature.
"I can be decorative." The dragon became so still that he seemed like a statue. Ozymandius tapped on him, and realized that he actually was one.
Ozaymandius sat down. He finished his bagel and poured himself some more coffee. He sent Jack Sprat out to the front steps with instructions not to let Aida or Carmen in, no matter what. It was bad enough that the Inn now had a resident dragon, without also adding elephants and charging bulls.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 17: Gulliver
When Ozymandius opened the door of the Inn one morning, he was surprised to find that the ocean was visible in the distance. Nor was that the only surprise. On the shore there was a man lying immobile. Oh, dear! Ozymandius went down to see what he could do.
The man's eyes were open. "I'm sorry, sir, but it's going to be hard to find a doctor to treat you," Ozymandius said lamely, aware that the man might not understand English.
"I am a doctor myself, but as you can see I am not able to do much," the man said, struggling against something that seemed to be holding him down. "I was on a ship called the Antelope, but it sank. Have you seen any other survivors"
"No," Ozymandius said. "Let's get you untied." The threads were small but numerous, and held to the ground by pegs. Almost as if... Then he noticed the tiny people -- about six inches tall -- who were running away from him toward a dollhouse-sized castle a hundred feet away. "Hekinah degul!" they were shouting.
"Your name wouldn't happen to be Lemuel Gulliver, would it?" Ozymandius asked.
"It would!" the man exclaimed. "I'm not much to look at, and yet I seem to have become famous. How did you hear of me?"
"I'll explain later." Ozymandius saw Mrs. Sprat in the doorway of the Inn, and urged her to bring some scissors. Ten minutes later, Mr. Gulliver was sitting in the Inn The dining table was set with a proper English breakfast.
"This coffee is good," Gulliver said, "better than what one could find at the popular coffee houses."
"You will need to go back out there and make your peace with the little people, who are called Lilliputians," Ozymandius said. "They are fighting the people of Blefuscu, who live on a nearby island. This quarrel has to do with the enemy's barbaric habit of cutting into their eggs at the large end." Mrs. Sprat offered Gulliver a couple of eggs. "If you can bring about peace between the two nations, you will be fondly remembered. You will find a lot to like in Lilliput -- very fine Burgundy, lovely food, an emperor with an upper lip that would do credit to the Habsburgs, prosperous farms, elegant buildings and palaces. In short, a pretty good aproximation of England, though much smaller in scale. If you can win their favor, they will give you 600 servants. You'll need a magnifying glass to see them, but don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
"How do you know so much about these people?" Gulliver wondered.
"We get along well with them. Now, if you have taken the edge off your appetite, go out there and win their hearts and minds. Then continue to the other islands you are destined to visit. And if you happen to meet any really intelligent horses, don't expect that the horses in your own country will be of similarly high intellect."
After Gulliver had left the Inn, Ozymandius asked the oracle to move it to a spot where they could observe Gulliver's progress without being seen. "We would not want any Lilliputians to find the Inn and come inside. This is for their own good, as our mice might overpower them."
The days and nights here were as short as the Lilliputians themselves. Seven days passed in the space of one ordinary day. The Lilliputians kept finding things to marvel at as they took an inventory of Gulliver's belongings, such as his pocket watch and snuff pouch. "Oracle, do you know what Gulliver calls his watch?" Ozymandius asked.
"An oracle, of course. Did you think I wouldn't know?"
"Of course not."
Next, Gulliver was allowed to visit the metropolis of Mildendo. He learned that the two political parties differed as to the desirability of high shoes versus low ones. And the emperor's daughter was in love with a Blefuscudian prince.
"Our friend Gulliver is making progress vis a vis the Lilliputians," Ozymandius observed to the oracle at the end of the 'week.' "When he's ready to leave, perhaps we could do him one final favor by transporting him quickly and safely to hs own country, so he can prepare for his future voyages. He will, of course, disregard my advice about the intelligence of English horses."
"As I've told you, it's futile to try to give our guests advice," the oracle said.
"Sometimes, but not always. I think that Alice, whom we helped the other day, will someday reflect on what we told her. The advice our mothers give us can be especially helpful. I wish I had listened to my own mother."
"Why, what did she tell you?"
"I don't know, I didn't always listen."
Shortly thereafter, it became evident that Gulliver had done all he could to help the Lilliputians and their neighbors. He was invited back into the Inn for one final night. The following morning, when he left the Inn, he found himself back on his own street in England. He stood at the doorway of his house and took one final look back at the Inn, but of course it was gone.
"Am I going mad, or was it all a dream?" he said to himself.
Back at the Inn, Irony was getting ready to show its face, for it wasn't, after all, the Lilliputian people who had found their way into the premises. No, it was the Lilliputian horses, and they were way more intelligent than the mice, and every bit as good at reproducing. Ozymandius discovered this a few days later when he asked for oatmeal and was told by Mrs. Sprat that someone had made off with most of the oats......
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 18: Oracle of Oz
Ozymandius liked poppies a lot, but there was such a thing as poppy overload. And today was an example of this. Looking through the open door, all he could see was a sea of red poppies. "Oracle," he said as he hurried back inside, "how can I make poppies go away?"
"*You* can't," the oracle said, "but there's a good witch who might be able to send a snowstorm to kill them."
Yikes! This sounded like the plot of a certain children's book that Ozymandius's mother had read to him when he was growing up. Of course, when he thought of the main character he pictured a young actress who battled substance abuse over the course of her relatively short life.
"Yes, Dorothy and her friends are coming to the Inn," the oracle continued. "If you look outside again, you'll notice that the poppy field stops about twenty feet from the Inn, and a road made of yellow bricks comes right up to the front door of the Inn. Now, please try to think about what that means for those of us *inside* the Inn. Apart from everything being green."
"My name may be Ozymandius, but a wizard I am not," Ozymandius snapped.
"You don't need to be," the oracle said. "Just put up a screen in front of me, and I will do the rest. Our visitors need to be roused from their sleep among the poppies. I've asked some locals to send a cold front, complete with snow. You may want to get out your parka and shovel and mittens." A strong gust of wind made the Inn shudder. "Ah, right on schedule. Cue the green lights."
It took very little effort to get the front door open again, as another gust of arctic air pushed it open so fast that Ozymandius was blown halfway across the floor. As he lay on his back, he could hear footsteps approaching. Getting to his feet, he went back to the open doorway. A young girl -- no Judy Garland, but then that would have been too much to expect -- entered, followed by a ratty-looking scarecrow, a rusted tin entity, and a smaller lion than he had expected.
"Emerald City?" exclaimed the scarecrow. "I had pictured it as being a bit larger."
"The witch was exaggerating!" came a booming voice from the oracle. "But, of course, she was correct about Oz the great and powerful."
Ozymandius rolled his eyes as he closed and latched the door. The interior of the Inn was now bathed in green light. Even Mrs. Sprat looked green as she set four places at the table. She brought bowls of porridge along with some apples, nuts, and a type of cruller that was known as a twister.
Jack Sprat was enjoying the sight of the visitors. He moved his chair to a spot where he'd have a good view of the action.
"Oz, I want a brain," the scarecrow said.
"You and about seven billion others," the oracle retorted. "But they have something you don't have. It starts with a 'G'".
"Goldilocks? G-string? Gargoyle?" The scarecrow was floundering.
"Come forward and look at the screen," oracle commanded.
Intimidated, the scarecrow crept to the screen and saw the word "Google" emblazoned across it in large letters. "Now, type in your question using the keyboard," the oracle said.
The scarecrow did as he was told, and a split second later there was a list of answers. According to the screen, there were 899,000,000 results in all.
"People who don't have functioning brains rely on computers or other devices," the oracle said. "The Wizard of Google is available 24/7, is free of charge, and asks only that you don't expect all his answers to be 100% true. Your host is going to give you something called a laptop computer." The oracle told Ozymandius where to find one in the storeroom. "Now, take your laptop with you so you can ask questions of the Wizard, and be sure to keep the batteries charged. Oh, and there is something called WiFi that needs to be available nearby whenever you want to connect with Mr. Google."
It was now the tin man's turn. "I know what you want, tin man," the oracle said. "A heart. Where I come from, people made of metal are called androids or cyborgs, and their hearts are known as operating systems. Ozymandius, install the tin man's operating system for him. Like the scarecrow, you will need to keep your batteries charged." Ozymandius went into the storeroom for an operating system. The oracle helped him with the installation.
"I'd like some courage, if it's not too much trouble," the lion said meekly.
"You are feeling bad about yourself, lion," the oracle said in a kind voice. "Where I come from, people like you can visit people who specialize in psychiatry. Your friend Dorothy may have heard of Sigmund Freud, who knew a lot about that. Or, you can take medication known as antidepressants. Oz doesn't seem to have any psychiatrists, but Ozymandius can give you some antidepressants."
Finally Dorothy came forward. "You live in one of the most boring places on the planet, yet you want to return there," the oracle told her. "There is really very little hope for you, but Emerald City will be a better place if you don't stay here any longer than you have to. If you will look behind me, you will see a sign that says 'This way to the Egress.' In fact, your three companions can also go that way. You're all going to be in a later century than the one you started in, but laptops and operating systems and antidepressants are more abundant there than in the early 20th Century. Now, go. And keep in mind that there are four of you, and you will do better if you help each other."
After Dorothy and her companions had left the building, the oracle sneezed. "I think I've caught a virus," he said. "I need to be rebooted, followed by a period of rest."
Ozymandius and Jack Sprat and Mrs. Sprat all looked at one another. The oracle rarely asked for a chance to rest, but rest he did. All his lights went out, and the hum of his inner workings faded to zero.
"It's going to be kind of quiet here," Jack said wistfully.
"I blame the poppies," Mrs. Sprat said darkly. "Though I might harvest some of the seeds and put them in my next batch of rolls."
"You might spill some, so I'd better get the broom handy," Jack said. "I might even mop the floor. I'll need a bucket of water."
This being Oz, it was wise to have buckets of water handy in case any witches came calling, Ozymandius thought as he looked upon his works and tried not to despair. Then again, it wasn't every day that he witnessed the sort of con job that the oracle had just pulled off. He wondered if Dorothy and her compatriots would enjoy a world of Internet surfing and technological development. Well, they would be instantly recognizable and beloved. They'd all get lucrative book offers and chances to go on television and Youtube and Facebook. Maybe their fifteen minutes of fame would push aside some of the other nonsense that went on. One could only hope so!
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 19: Baba Yaga
Ozymandius stood in the doorway of the inn, pondering the fact that he had never seen even one hut resting on chicken legs, but this morning he saw three of them, separated by about twenty feet each in front of the Inn..
A young man could be seen going into one of the huts. After a few minutes he left it and went into another of the huts. When he emerged, he looked puzzled. It was then that he saw Ozymandius, and came over.
"Mozhesh' pomoch' mne?" he asked. The man wore a long-sleeved white shirt, which was draped over a pair of red pants. A slender red sash was draped around his waist, and on his head was a black hat with a brim.
Ozymandius ushered the young man inside, where the oracle heard him out and then explained the situation to Ozymandius.
"This young man is named Ivan," the oracle said. "He is the son of a merchant. This morning he visited one of the huts you see. Inside he found Baba Yaga, who scolded him for smelling like a Russian and asked if he was there voluntarily or under duress. He asked for directions to the thrice tenth kingdom."
"What is that?" Ozymandius exclaimed.
"You don't want to know. Suffice it to say that it's somewhere in Russia, and it's ruled despotically by Baba Yaga. Anyway, the Baba Yaga that Ivan visited first said that she didn't know, but her sister might. Then Ivan visited the second Baba Yaga and got the same answer, plus a warning that the third Baba Yaga might eat him unless he procures three horns from her and blows them correctly. If he does this, the Firebird will come down from the skies, and he can hop on its back to escape Baba Yaga"
"Should Ivan trust anything he hears from a woman whose house is carried about on chicken legs?" Ozymandius asked.
"Well, the thrice tenth kingdom might be worth seeing. Starcatcher Mountains are said to be a beautiful sight. And there are lovely dark forests on the plains between them. But there are also ogres."
"I'm not meant to really understand this, am I?" Ozymandius said.
"Ivan has had a bad morning," the oracle said. "I think it's about time for some refreshments." He gave Mrs. Sprat some instructions, and she soon reappeared with a samovar and a tray of fish pies with pickled vegetables. She poured tea for Ivan and Ozymandius.
When Ivan had eaten his fill, he glanced toward the door.
"I think he wants us to help him deal with the third Baba Yaga, the oracle told Ozymandius.
"I thought he was told how to do it by the second one," Ozymandius said.
"Go along with him for moral support," the oracle said.
Ozymandius shrugged and ventured outside with Ivan. Inside the third Baba Yaga's hut, he saw an elderly woman who scowled at the two men. Ivan spoke to her in Russian. She took down three horns from hooks on the walls. He blew the first one softly, the second one louder, and the third one loudest of all. Outside, there was a racket as vast flocks of birds arrived. Baba Yaga lunged for Ivan, who ran outside and hopped on the back of a huge red bird with a long tail. They were soon soaring into the air.
Angry, Baba Yaga lunged at Ozymandius, who ran faster than he ever thought he could. Inside the Inn, he locked and bolted the door while the oracle laughed. "She would not have harmed you, for you do not smell like a Russian," the oracle said merrily.
"Whatever I do smell like can't be pleasant," Ozymandius complained. "I'd like a shower."
"Watch out for the Lilliputian horses," the oracle warned. "They've made a pact with the mice, which ride their backs using teabags for saddles. You don't want to trip on one of them."
Suddenly Ozymandius put two and two together. "We haven't had any oatmeal in two weeks," he exclaimed. "The mice and horses are raiding our pantry, aren't they?"
"We can visit France next week," the oracle suggested. "Horse meat is said to be pretty popular there."
"Just so long as the people there don't ride around in huts that rest on chicken legs."
"Yes, save the chicken legs for making soup," Mrs. Sprat said sagely.
"I'm sure the French are quite good at doing that," Ozymandius agreed.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 20: Jean Valjean
Where are we today, Ozymandius wondered as he opened the front door of the Inn. Well, there was a river close by. On the other bank there was a gothic cathedral with two familiar towers. It looked like....Notre Dame? There was a foot path along the river. Just coming into view were the figures of a tall man and a little girl. The man wore a dark, robelike coat of coarse wool. He gathered the edges as if to obscure his face. The girl had a navy blue dress and a matching pelerine. They were moving slowly, as if spent from a long journey. When the man spied the Inn, he whispered something to the girl and began walking toward it, being careful not to be seen. They took a circuitous route and approached the back of the Inn in search of something. Trash cans, perhaps?
Ozymandius waited a few minutes, then ambled over to them.
"Je n'ais pas d'argent," the man said to Ozymandius.
"Nous sommes miserables," the girl said with a shrug.
"Venez avec moi," Ozymandius said, taking the arms of the two visitors and leading them into the Inn. Mrs. Sprat came in with pain au chocolat and coffee and some omelets.
"My French is not all that good," Ozymandius apologized as his guests ate.
"I speak a little English," the man said. "I am Monsieur Madeleine, and this jeune fille is Cosette. Her mother died, and I have rescued her from bad treatment at an Inn." He shrugged. Well, there were good inns and bad inns.
"Monsieur Javert est pres," said the oracle.
The man and girl went pale.
"Come, I will show you where you can hide," Ozymandius said, leading them down the stairs and through the storerooms into a labyrinth. "You can hide under the Paris Opera House or Notre Dame Cathedral," he said. "One has a phantom, and the other has a hunchback. Take your pick. If you like music, both places have something to offer."
Someone was pounding on the door of the Inn. Jack Sprat opened it to find a man in a black trenchcoat with a shawl collar. On his head was a low-brimmed hat. He raised his cudgel as if to strike Jack.
"Ou est Valjean?" the man demanded.
Just then Ozymandius came back upstairs and relieved Jack. "I hear that he is dead," Ozymandius said.
"Imbecile!" the other man exclaimed, pushing past him. "Je suis Inspecteur Javert!" He scrutinized every corner of the main floor, then went upstairs. Ten minutes later he came down and went into the cellar.
"No coffee for him," Ozymandius told Mrs. Sprat. "It will only serve to keep him awake tonight. If he stays much longer, he will keep *us* awake as well."
Thirty minutes later, Javert came upstairs again and left the Inn without a word. He was not happy.
Ozymandius went down into the labyrinth in search of his stowaways. There was a bend in the tunnel where the path toward l'Opera diverged from the one for Notre Dame. Here he found Valjean and Cosette playing cards with Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera. "You are not Monsieur Madeleine," Ozymandius scolded Valjean. "You are Valjean." Valjean shrugged, but didn't deny it.
Ozymandius turned around and went back to the Inn. The fugitives were in good hands. Hopefully they had good hands as well. Something had been nagging at the edges of his consciousness all morning. He finally realized what it was: he was in France, one of the few countries where it was okay to eat horse meat. The Inn had a superfluity of horses of a very small breed, namely Lilliputian. He went around to the Inn's cellar and managed to catch half a dozen of the creatures.
Getting Mrs. Sprat to use them as food was another matter. "You want to do *what!* with them?" she screeched. "I'd rather quit."
Ozymandius had to back down. Who could replace the formidable Jill Sprat? Cosette? Maybe some day, but definitely not now. Valjean had many talents -- great strength, organizational skill, even gardening chops, but cooking? Not likely. And it would take a while to get either of them up to speed as to English fluency.
"No, don't quit, Mrs. Sprat," Ozymandius said. "I will just give the little horses away." He disappeared into the tunnels and made sure that Notre Dame and l'Opera would be infested with the little critters for decades to come, if not longer. While he was down there, he found a few cats and brought them back to the Inn. This would nicely solve the mouse problem. Maybe he could enjoy oatmeal again some day.
He checked his watch. 11:45, almost time for lunch. The delicious aroma of French onion soup with melted cheese on top wafted through the air. Sometimes Mrs. Sprat did more than just take food out of the dumbwaiter. Today, for instance, she was making soup to make a French chef proud. The oracle had some top-notch suppliers that he could access through various wormholes, but Mrs. Sprat was a force to be reckoned with on her own merits.
Bifteck with pommes frites followed the soupe. This would be beef, of course, not horse. Well, when push came to shove, Ozymandius wasn't that eager to eat horse flesh. He sent Jack down into the tunnels to bring lunch to the card-players. While he was down there, he stopped to listen to the choir rehearsing in Notre Dame, and a soprano warming up in l'Opera.
As Ozymandius sat at the table digesting the marvelous lunch Mrs. Sprat had whipped up, he reflected on the time warps that were in effect. Valjean and company were living in or around the year 1832. Quasimodo was living in 1482. The celebrated Phantom of the Opera dated from no earlier than 1880. But why be too fussy? The oracle somehow knew how to bridge time and space. Mrs. Sprat managed to keep everyone fed. And Jack was there as a good-humored steadying influence. Ozymandius smiled for the first time that day -- quite a turnabout from what had transpired since he first opened the door that morning.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 21: The Frogs of Calaveras County
It was a rustic scene that greeted Ozymandius that morning. Fifty or sixty feet from the Inn there was a modest-sized creek. On the other bank there was a view across a valley. In the near distance one could see men dipping pans into the water of another stream. Two men came walking along the creek. One of them had a good-sized bullfrog in a little lattice box. He was a goodlooking guy with honey-blond hair and an earnest face. He was dressed in clerical garb of the mid-19th Century. The other man wore shabbier clothing and had dirt under his fingernails. Both men wore coats with shawl collars, but the second man wore rubber boots. His physique hinted that he had probably done some heavy lifting in his life, but right now he was looking for something in the creek. Suddenly he bent over and pulled something out of the water. It was another bullfrog.
"Well, Mr. Smiley, I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other frog," the second man said. "I bet my frog can outjump him."
"I'll risk forty dollars that my frog can outjump any other frog in the County."
It was then that the two happened to notice Ozymandius standing in the doorway of the Inn. They smiled. "An impartial observer," the second man said, chortling.
"Let's see how our frogs jump, and then we can visit yon Inn for some food and drink," said Smiley.
Dan'l, which was the name of Smiley's frog, refused to budge when prodded, however. The other fellow's frog hopped merrily away, winning the bet.
This might have been all there was to the story, but fate had other plans, for out of the Inn streaked one of the Lilliputian horses, pursued by a cat. The horse and the cat ran straight at Dan'l, causing him to stick out his tongue to eat the horse. The cat, not to be deprived of its prey, began fighting with Dan'l.
The two men stared in disbelief at what had just happened. Ozymandius walked calmly across the grass, pulled the horse out of Dan'l's jaws, and walked just as nonchalantly back to the Inn. He turned and gestured to the two men to follow him, which they did.
"Where'd you git such a small horse?" Smiley asked as he reached the Inn's doorway.
"From Lilliput, of course," Ozymandius said. Smiley looked a bit puzzled at first, then gave a look of disbelieving recognition. The other man didn't seem to care. He had his forty dollars, didn't he?
The frogs found themselves abandoned on the bank of the creek, but not for long. The cat seemed uninterested in them until they began hopping toward the water. A frog can move very fast on its strong hind legs, and the frogs were safely in the water long before the cat could intercept them.
Mrs. Sprat was setting the table for breakfast as the men entered. Scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and coffee were Ozymandius's usual breakfast fare. His two companions seemed happy with this type of fare as well.
"Have you found much gold today?" Ozymandius asked the man who had won the bet.
"Di'n't need to," was the answer. He held up the forty dollars he had just won.
"How come I didn't notice this inn earlier?" Smiley asked.
"Maybe the sun was in your eyes," Ozymandius said. "Not that it matters now. Give my regards to Simon Wheeler. And I'd like two dollars for the breakfast."
"S'pose I wanted to stay longer?" Smiley asked.
"The good lord only knows where you would end up, as this is a traveling inn," Ozymandius said as if this was a perfectly normal explanation.
"Wait, it's the guests who travel, not the inns," the second objected.
"See for yourselves," Ozymandius said, getting up and whispering to the oracle that he'd like the Inn to appear somewhere else far away. He then led the men back to the front door and opened it.
The Inn was now on 42nd Street, New York, in the late 1940s. It was evening. Vintage cars filled the streets. Men in suits and fedoras and women with padded-shoulder dresses filed past on their way to see shows on the Great White Way, which was lit up with neon signs. The two men rubbed their eyes at such a display of bright light.
Ozymandius closed the door, counted to ten, and then opened it again. The familiar creek was in front of them now. The two men raced out of the Inn and forded the creek as fast as they could.
"Hmm, maybe we could stand to go back to Broadway," Ozymandius told the oracle. "Maybe take in "South Pacific" or "Annie get your gun," then come back here and welcome some out-of-town theatergoers as guests."
"Suit yourself," the oracle said, "but this time keep the Lilliputian horses inside. All it takes is having two or three escape, and within ten years New York could be full of them. Who knows what effect that would have on the ecology?"
"Build a better horse-trap, and the world will beat a path to your door," Ozymandius said.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 22: Ozymandias and Frankenstein
"I don't like the look of this," Ozymandius exclaimed when he opened the front door of the Inn that morning.
Jack Sprat, hearing him say that, came to see what was the matter. "There isn't a lot to look at," Jack observed. "It's just a desert."
"Well, among other things, we aren't likely to encounter any travelers who want rooms for the night," Ozymandius said. "This is an inn. We need paying guests."
"Well, there's always the odd lost person. I bet our Inn would look pretty good after a few days of wandering in the desert. In fact, I think I see someone now!"
"I see him, too," Ozymandius admitted, with no apparent satisfaction. "I recognize him. He's a friend of Mister Shelley. Neither man could be described as the cheeriest of people. I don't mean that I wouldn't welcome him and his money. It's just that I know what he's going to say, and it will remind me of how little I have done with my life. "
To Jack this was just one of many inscrutable things Ozymandius said from time to time. There was nothing to do but go back to polishing the railing for the staircase. Ozymandius opened the door so the man could come in. He had been traveling for a long time, and was ragged and hungry and parched.
"I've come from an antique land," the man said, sinking wearily into a chair at the table while Mrs. Sprat brought him some food and a huge tankard of ale. He drained his cup and cleaned his plate, and indicated that he wanted more. This went on for half hour.
Finally he started speaking: "I saw something in the desert. It was a scene of almost total ruin. Two legs stood on a pedestal, and a disembodied head was half buried nearby. Nothing else remained. The pedestal bore this message: 'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'"
Ozymandius nodded grimly. "Ozymandius is my name, too," he said, "though I spell it differently."
"Oh. I'm sorry. The statue had nothing to do with you," the traveler apologized. "It didn't even look like you."
"The message concerns all of us, though," Ozymandius said gently, sitting beside the traveler. "Hundreds of years from now, you and I will have little or nothing to show for our having lived. Maybe the whole world will be a desert by then. Or not. Who knows? Anyway, give my best to Mr. Shelley. Tell him that he's one of the lucky exceptions to the rule, in that he will become famous after he dies. His wife will be even more famous."
"What, Mary Shelley famous?" the traveler scoffed. "For that wretched novel about the scientist who created a man out of bits and pieces from dead people?"
"Don't say that too loudly," Ozymandius whispered in the man's ear, but it was too late. Approaching the Inn was a tall, misshapen creature who walked with an uneven gait, kicking up clouds of sand from the dunes. The traveler started at the sight of him and hid in the back of the Inn, hoping to go unnoticed.
This will be awkward, Ozymandius thought, but what the heck? Surely there would be many people who would love to be able to say that they had visited the Inn where Frankenstein's monster had stayed. Then practical matters reared their ugly heads. What would the monster eat? Could Mrs. Sprat find a bed big enough to support the monster's frame, and linens that would be appropriate for it? Well, Mrs. Sprat would figure it out, either alone or with the oracle's help.
The monster came through the front door without a word. Mrs. Sprat brought him a pizza. And he loved it. Ozymandius had to admit that it was the perfect solution. The Inn was big enough that the traveler and the monster could stay on different floors and neither would bother the other. Except at meal time. Well, the traveler could receive complimentary room service.
And when the sun dawned the next day, the Inn would be somewhere else totally different.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Nov. 23: Chapter 23: Pirates!
Ozymandius had just finished lunch when he heard two people singing in front of the Inn. One seemed to be a youngish tenor, the other an aging contralto -- though, to be honest, even a young contralto could sound older than she really was.
"Oh, false one, you have deceived me," sang the tenor.
"Deceived you?" sang the contralto.
"Yes, deceived me. You told me you were fair as gold."
"And, master, am I not so?"
"And now I see you're plain and old."
"I'm sure I'm not a jot so!"
Ozymandius opened the door and saw that the two singers were standing on the edge of a manicured lawn, with a seashore in the background. In the distance was a building with the legend "Port of Penzance" on the front of it. The two singers were dressed in 19th Century pirate garb. They stopped their singing when they heard the sound of people running on the beach. Then they turned in Ozymandius's direction and hurried to the Inn.
"Could you bring us some tea and cake?" the man asked. "I'm tired of hardtack and rum. It's time I had
a proper tea, as I am retiring from my life as a pirate."
Mrs. Sprat went to the dumbwaiter and took out a silver tea service and a tray of finger sandwiches. She put cups on the table, added a little milk to each, then poured the tea.
"Lovely!" the young man exclaimed after he had tasted some tea and a cucumber sandwich.
His companion echoed his sentiments. "You know, I haven't always been a pirate," she confided to Ozymandius. "My friend here is Frederick, whom I served as nurserymaid. I even had the job of apprenticing him.
"Which was where things went badly wrong!" the young man said, wrinkling his brow. "My father wanted me to become a pilot, but Ruth thought he said 'pirate.'" He faced her and said in a scolding voice, "Surely you didn't think a man of his class and position would have wanted a pirate for a son," he told her.
"I was hard of hearing" she said, "though I always get my pitches right, and I can hear both of you fine right now. It's funny the tricks God plays on us."
It isn't God, Ozymandius thought, it's Gilbert and Sullivan.
They had barely finished their tea when the racket outside grew impossible to ignore. Frederick and Ruth looked genuinely alarmed. "You can go upstairs if you wish," Ozymandius told them. No sooner were they safely upstairs than a frantic pounding began on the door.
Ozymandius opened it, but was knocked over by a group of pirates, who were followed by cops. The last one to arrive identified himself as Major General Stanley. "Yes, I know you're the very model of a modern major general," Ozymandius told him, wearily getting to his feet again. "Please ask your policemen to leave the Inn, or they will ruin the premises." Indeed, lamps had been knocked over, the tea service was on the floor, and who knew what else was damaged by now?
"These cops would never do such a thing," the Major General objected. "It's the pirates who are to blame."
Meanwhile, the cops were chasing the pirates around the upstairs landing, after which they all raced down to the main floor, and thence to the cellar steps. There wasn't much in the cellar except some underground tunnels, and the kitchen and store rooms. Well, they might cause damage to the kitchen, but pirates and cops didn't seem to be the kind of people who would go anywhere near kitchens. With any luck, they would disappear into the tunnels and never be seen again.
After the sound of downstairs mayhem had died away, Frederick and Ruth tiptoed down from the upstairs room where they had been hiding.
The oracle called to Ozymandius. Ah, maybe there was a solution after all.
There was! "There's a ship about to leave port," the oracle said. "It's full of sisters and cousins and aunts, and it will be bound for H.M.S. Pinafore. Tell Frederick and Ruth to get on board. They won't be noticed in such a large crowd. If Frederick is worried about not being admitted to an all-female chorus, maybe Mrs. Sprat could loan him one of her dresses."
"I'd need to take it in quite a bit, though, ducks," said Mrs. Sprat, hurrying to her sewing kit.
She was as good a seamstress as she was a cook, and soon the dress was ready for Frederick. Mrs. Sprat also found a wig. "It's lucky you're not sporting a moustache or beard," she said. After Frederick and Ruth left, another group appeared at the door. This time Ozymandius beheld a group of lovely young women. Ah, brides for the pirates! By the time the cops and pirates had mounted the cellar stairs again, things had gotten sorted out by everyone, and Ozymandius found himself with twenty pairs of newlyweds who wanted honeymoon suites for the night.
"Now I can afford to replace the broken lamps," Ozymandius said.
"We'll need to round up some extra linens, too," Mrs. Sprat added. "In fact, we might not have enough rooms. Twenty is kind of stretching things."
"Don't forget that we have a third floor," the oracle said.
This was news to almost everyone. Ozymandius had a vague memory that there was a staircase on the second floor that must lead somewhere. He had assumed there was an attic somewhere filled with dusty relics from days gone by. Well, whatever was up there was likely covered by dust now anyway. Mrs. Sprat was foraging for linens in one of the cellar store rooms, so Jack Sprat was sent up to make the attic rooms presentable.
Ozymandius racked his brain, trying to remember whether all the previous guests had actually left. Could there be a guest or two still in the Inn, rooting through the attic in a vain effort to find a way out? Jack came back down to report that the answer was yes: Florence Nightingale Foster, whose father had been a doctor in Gloucester, had come to an open house a few days ago, and became hopelessly lost when she tried to leave. How she ended up in the attic no one knew, but there she was.
There was no time to spare. Ozymandius put Miss Foster to work cleaning the attic for the extra guests, and within a few hours everything was ready. Fortunately Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan had not left instructions about the day *after* the wedding. Ozymandius would send everyone home, and the Inn could resume its wandering across time and space.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 24: Toyland
Jack Sprat was looking out of the window one afternoon when he saw an old friend.
"Tom Piper, as I live and breathe, how have you been?" he exclaimed as he opened the front door and invited his friend inside.
"I've been well enough, Jack," Tom admitted, "but I'm sad about Mary Contrary, my sister."
"She isn't sick, I hope."
"Worse, Barnaby is trying to make her marry him. She's here with me, in fact. We're running away."
Mary emerged from behind a haystack where a boy dressed all in blue was sleeping. "Barnaby is no good," she said. "He's even foreclosing on Mother Hubbard's shoe."
"We've just been to Toyland to ask the Toymaker for help." Tom pointed to a gated structure a hundred feet away.
"The Toymaker is in cahoots with Barnaby. He made an army of toy soldiers which then turned on him. Now he's dead, and Barnaby's nephew is being blamed."
"I think we can help you," said a voice behind Jack. It was Ozymandius. "Come inside and I will ask our oracle for guidance. Bring Mary with you. Jack Sprat and his wife can serve you some food while I look for a solution to your problems."
"I think I can rig up some computer chips to send the soldiers to do away with Barnaby," the oracle whispered confidentially to Ozymandius. "We can't mention computers to these characters because they wouldn't understand what computers are. Just take these chips and insert one into each of the soldiers. I'll tell you where to insert them."
The feast that the Sprats provided for the Mother Goose characters was epic: curds and whey, strawberry pie, plum pie, pumpkin pie, blackbird pie -- lots of pies, in fact, as a pieman happened to arrive on his way from the fair at Banbury Cross. Mary was too worried to have much of an appetite, so Mrs. Sprat served her some broth without any bread. The main dish was pork, which Tom happened to have a good supply of. And, to make the meal really merry, Tom Tucker was in the neighborhood, happy to sing while they ate.
Meanwhile, in Toyland, Ozymandius was dealing with utter chaos. He had to dodge a flock of lost sheep as he inserted microchips into the toy soldiers. Cats were meowing as they swam helplessly in a well. A cow was trying to jump over the Moon. Dogs were barking at beggars. Finally, Ozymandius called the oracle on his phone to tell him the chips had been installed. The oracle sent an electronic signal, and the soldiers came to life. A group of toy instruments began playing a march as the soldiers set off for Barnaby's house in Mother Goose Village.
"There will be a happy ending," Ozymandius announced as he walked into the dining room.
"I hope so," said Mrs. Sprat, "but Mary needs to eat to keep up her strength. I'd like to send her to the Sprat family bakery so she can be nursed backto health."
Tom agreed to take Mary there.
"I predict wedding bells," the oracle told Ozymandius after they had left. "The Sprat children
will become rather fond of Tom and Mary."
"How can we afford to pay for two weddings?" Mrs. Sprat exclaimed.
"I can do the sum for you," Ozymandius said, handing out bonuses to the Sprats. He had never seen so many different kinds of pie before, but Mrs. Sprat assured him that this was normal where she came from. There was a rustling noise from the Inn's grandfather clock. Oh, great, a mouse was running up and down in the workings!
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 25: Bah, humbug!
"Ah, I see we're in Victorian London now," Ozymandius said, gazing through the front door at a street scene illuminated by gas lanterns on cast iron lamp posts. A chill was in the air; soft flakes of snow drifted lazily to the ground.
Across the street, an older man was arguing with a younger one.
"Don't be cross, uncle," said the younger man. "I've always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. And what reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough to want for nothing, and still have some to spare for the less fortunate."
"If I could work my will," said the old man, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."
"You have a gift for words, Uncle Ebenezer," the younger man said with a sigh. "This is the one time of year when men and women open their hearts freely, to think of others as if they were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race bound on other journeys. Though this line of thought has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good." With this last argument failing to persuade the old man, the nephew gave a sigh of resignation and went off down the street.
"Bah!" said the older man. The world was full of madness, he thought. Just this afternoon two men had dropped in expecting to see his partner, Jacob Marley, who had been dead seven years. They too had wished him a Merry Christmas and asked for donations to help offer the poor "meat and drink, and means of warmth" in this time of cold and hunger.
Ah, but now Ebenezer had become disoriented. Worse, the fog and darkness had thickened, and the cold was becoming more intense. Where was he? He turned toward the Inn and squinted. The place was a step up from the melancholy tavern where he usually took his usually melancholy dinner, but perhaps the man standing in that doorway could give him directions.
"Welcome, Mister Scrooge," Ozymandius greeted him cordially. "Perhaps you would not mind coming inside to warm yourself a while."
"Humbug!" Scrooge snapped. "I can handle the cold." He crossed the street to get a closer look at the Inn through the fog, but inadvertently stepped on some ice that was hidden by the snow, and fell on his back.
Jack Sprat and Ozymandius picked the unconscious man up and brought him into the Inn. They paged Florence Nightingale Foster, who was a retired nurse. (Her father had been a doctor in Gloucester). She had a room in the attic, and did odd jobs in return for room and board. She came down to see if the man had broken any bones. "Let's bring him to room seven and put him under observation for the night," Miss Foster advised. "He looks wealthy enough to afford our rates."
Scrooge came to in a pleasant room with fleecy stuffing and warm blankets. This was most alarming! The proprietor was sure to charge confiscatory rates!
A pleasantly plump middle-aged woman stuck her head in the door. "Would you fancy a bit to eat, Mr. Scrooge?" she asked.
Scrooge was hesitant. He lived with extreme frugality in the building where he and his late partner had lived. Most of the rooms had been turned nto offices. Who knew what maladies might lurk in the food in this place. Still, he could smell the aroma of roast goose and plum pudding.
The Inn's proprietor came to the door. "You slipped on our front walk, so supper is on the house," the man said.
Free food? That was more like it.
It was, indeed, a fine meal, expertly cooked. After the old man had retired to his room with a pleasantly full stomach, another knock came at the front door. It was Bob Cratchit, concerned about reports that his employer had been injured. Ozymandius invited him to bring his whole family to the Inn, free of charge, for a Christmas Eve feast. This was too good to pass up. The old man might be bothered by the sound of the Cratchit family's festivities, so the dining table was moved into an anteroom where the sound would be less likely to carry.
The Cratchits had a lame boy named Tim. Miss Foster examined him, and a look of great sadness came over her face. Ozymandius asked Jack Sprat to escort them home after they had eaten.
After they left, there was yet another group of people at the door: the family and friends of Fred, the old man's nephew. Ozymandius extended them the same hospitality as that of the others who had come that evening. The nephew was as distinguished for his merry laugh as his uncle was for his "Bah humbug!"
"Fred," said the nephew's wife with an equally hearty laugh, "this is a jolly place indeed."
They enjoyed their repast and afterwards listened to some music and played a variety of games.
"Say, is it true that this Inn is haunted?" said Topper, one of Fred's friends.
"Generally, no," Ozymandius said, "but at this time of year we would welcome ghosts and spirits as long as they behaved themselves."
Fred asked after his uncle, and was told that the man was a little bruised but otherwise unharmed, and would benefit from a good night's sleep. Some time around eleven Fred and his party left the Inn to return to their own home, thanking Ozymandius profusely for his hospitality and the good care he was taking of Uncle Ebenezer.
During the night some ghosts must have visited Scrooge, for Ozymandius could hear him talking in his sleep. One of his dreams must have been frightening, for he cried out. But when Ozymandius went to look in on Scrooge, a specter blocked his way. He was a jolly Giant, glorious to see, bearing a glowing torch. "Worry not about Ebenezer," he assured Ozymandius. "His dreams are not all pleasant, but they are all necessary. He will be a changed man in the morning, and the change will be a most salubrious one."
This was good news. Ozymandius thought he knew how this would all pan out anyway.
In the morning, Scrooge woke up from his dreams and looked out the window. The fog and mist were gone. The sun-light was golden. He opened the window and smelled sweet, fresh air. He heard merry bells.
Scrooge opened the door of his room and said to Ozymandius, "What's to-day?"
"Christmas Day," Ozymandius said. "You are just in time to join us for a special breakfast."
"That sounds delicious," Scrooge said, "but first I must send a turkey to the Cratchits' house. Then I want to get to the office before Cratchit gets there, to surprise him with a raise in salary and the day off." The old man was so full of good spirits that he hardly paid attention to what he was eating. Thanking Ozymandius profusely and paying generously not just for his own room and board, but also for the feasts that Fred and Cratchit and company had enoyed the night before, Scrooge was on his way to make amends for his sorry past.
Ozymandius drifted over to the oracle, who predicted where all of this was going. Ozymandius didn't stop him, but was hardly surprised at any of it. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future had visited him over the years, wherever he happened to be. Maybe they visited everybody sooner or later. Well, maybe they didn't call themselves *Christmas* ghosts in places where Christianity was not practiced. But generosity knew no geographic boundaries. And neither, apparently, did denizens of the spirit world.
"God bless us each and every one," Mrs. Sprat said, bringing a very large plum pudding into the dining room, along with the tea service that was reserved for special occasions. "Whoever puts these things into the dumbwaiter must have stayed up all night to make this pudding," she said, panting with the exertion of carrying it.
"Well, that's what it would take," Ozymandius commiserated. "It would have to be boiled for five hours at the very least. We have such excellent suppliers that we don't really need a cook, at least not a full-time one. Mostly we need a good housekeeper, which you are. But we love it when you make one of your specialties from time to time." He winked and cut a generous sized portion of the pudding for her. "Today, at least, you are welcome to join me at the table as a guest, Mrs. Sprat. Jack, you come and join us too."
Neither of the Sprats needed to be told twice.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 26: The Peterkins
Ozymandius had welcomed individuals into his Inn. He had welcomed pairs of people, even trios. And, sometimes, groups of pirates, policemen, or even Greek Gods had gained admittance, though not with his full enthusiasm. Occasionally families would come to the Inn, and these were invariably interesting.
And now, as he looked out the open door of the Inn, he saw another family approaching. A middle-aged women seemed to be leading the others, and she held a coffee cup in her hand. She seemed hesitant, even embarrassed about whatever errand she had embarked on.
"Sir, I hesitate to trouble you," the woman addressed Ozymandius. "I am Mrs. Peterkin, and I am wondering whether you have seen an old woman wandering around with a steeple-crowned hat, a trowel, and a coat with multiple pockets. She gathers herbs, and I have need of her services. Because, you see, I have inadvertently put salt in my coffee, and I should like to find someone who could remove it."
A young man who looked as if he might be of college age stepped forward. "It is very important that my mother find a solution to this problem," he said.
"He's Agamemnon," said two boys who were wearing India-rubber boots. "He's been to college, and even he can't help her."
"I'm Elizabeth Eliza," said a teenage girl. "It's been a difficult morning. Mother asked the chemist to help. He didn't really want to, but we paid him in gold. He tried chlorate of potassium, bichlorate of magnesia, tartaric acid and hypersulphate of lime. ."
"And when those didn't work, he tried 14 different kinds of acids," said a boy who identified himself as Solomon John. "And after that, he tried belladonna and atropine, some granulated hydrogen, some potash, some antimony, and finally a bit of pure carbon."
"The coffee tasted worse and worse with each new ingredient," Mrs. Peterkin lamented.
"What makes you think herbs would meet with more more success?" Ozymandius asked.
The family members shrugged en masse.
"Well, as it happens, the herb woman is inside the Inn," Ozymandius said with a broad smile. "She's taking a day off, so I doubt that she would take Mrs. Peterkin's case. Come in and ask her, but I can't be encouraging."
The herb woman was enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee and chatting with Mrs. Sprat, who had just baked a generously sized apple pie. Both women had big pieces of the pie on their plates.
The herb woman frowned at the Peterkins, and most especially at Mrs. Peterkin. "I have dozens of different kinds of herbs," she told them wearily, "but today is my day off, and I'm sticking to that."
Mrs. Sprat came to her rescue: "It will be simpler for all concerned if you just pour your coffee down the drain and let me pour you a new one. And try not to put salt in it this time."
"That's it? That's all you'll do for us?" the boys moaned, close to tears.
"You should be spanked, young men!" Mrs. Sprat chided them. "My coffee is excellent. Everyone agrees." She poured a cup, added some sugar, and thrust it in Mrs. Peterkin's face. Mrs. Peterkin tasted it, and a look of relief spread across her face.
"You must be a friend of the wise lady from Philadelphia," Agamemnon told Mrs. Sprat, who looked puzzled.
"What is he talking about?" she asked Ozymandius.
"You should feel flattered, Mrs. Sprat," Ozymandius said. "Simple common sense is what you have in abundance, a trait that you share with the Philadelphian lady. Not that I've ever met her, at least not yet."
The Peterkins left the Inn in a very good mood. Ozymandius went to the oracle and requested that he move the Inn. "The Peterkins seem to be prone to getting into predicaments that someone else will be expected to get them out of," he explained. "We will be constantly getting interrupted and distracted as a result.
"Ah, but you must admit that you would also find some amusement in the arrangement," the oracle said. "Still, I think that I can get a message to the lady from Philadelphia. If she is willing, she can become the person they turn to."
"I suppose I have no real choice," came a voice behind Ozymandius. A middle-aged woman was just coming up the cellar stairs from one of the innumerable tunnels that ran under the Inn. "Heaven knows why they think Philadelphia is a fountain of wisdom. Truth be told, I moved to the same town as the Peterkins because I was tired of Philadelphia."
"That reminds me that I haven't had Philadelphia scrapple in a long time," Ozymandius mused.
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," the lady from Philadelphia said. "If I'm lucky, the Peterkins won't ask me to provide any of it for them. Now, if you don't mind, I should be getting along so the Peterkins don't get themselves into a real mess."
"Could you let me have your recipe for this delicious pie?" the herb woman asked Mrs. Sprat as she too got up to leave.
"Of course," Mrs. Sprat said. "In fact, you can take the rest of it with you. Maybe the lady from Philadelphia would like some as well."
That sounded like a good idea. The two women went off together with their pie, and Ozymandius closed the door.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 27: Abandon all hope, Signor Dante
"Jack, come here and see the sort of place we have found ourselves in today," Ozymandius said to his butler as he stood in the doorway of the Inn.
"Now, that's what I call a forest," Jack exclaimed. "Quite a unique forest at that. Panthers, she-wolves, crooked paths that wander all over the place."
"Exactly," Ozymandius agreed. "Probably not populated by very many potential guests."
"Except maybe ghosts in togas," Jack said, pointing to a distinguished-looking elderly man who was transparent.
"I expect that he's going to be speaking Latin," Ozymandius guessed.
"Wait, there's someone else with him," Jack added. "Someone living, though not especially happy about it, judging by the expression on his face."
Ozymandius squinted. "Oh, I know who that is. I saw a statue of him when I was in Florence. His name is Dante." The man had a beaked nose, a pointed chin, and arched eyebrows. "His works were so influential that the modern Italian language is based on them."
The man stopped twenty feet from Ozyandius and said, "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter in," came the voice of the oracle from inside the Inn. The oracle spoke some Italian, and Dante came inside to converse with him.
"Please don't tell me we'll all be going into Hell this morning," pleaded Mrs. Sprat. "I've been a good girl. I don't deserve it."
"If we did go there, we'd also continue into Purgatory and Heaven," Ozymandius said. "I guess the guy in the toga is Virgil."
The conversation between Dante and Oracle went on for quite some time. Occasionally Ozymandius and the Sprats could catch words like "Cerberus" and "Diavolo."
Finally, Dante left the oracle and sat down at the dining table. "Mrs. Sprat, go to the dumbwaiter and bring Mr. Dante Alighieri some food," the oracle said. "He has an eventful day ahead of him, and will need some sustenance beforehand."
"Hardboiled eggs?" Mrs. Sprat exclaimed when she opened the dumbwaiter. When Dante saw the eggs, he said "Con il sale," and began laughing. He looked at the rest of the food and named it in Italian: "Insalata, bistecca, formaggio e pane..."
"That's pizza!" Mrs. Sprat exclaimed regarding the last item mentioned.
Dante looked puzzled. "Formaggio e pane!" he repeated.
"Pizza has always been the Italian word for pie," the oracle said solemnly. "To Dante, our version of pizza would just look like bread with melted cheese on top. Tomatoes wouldn't have been discovered yet. He's not going to get anything to eat in Hell. If he's lucky, he won't be the main course himself. In the Hall of Gluttons, it is the gluttons who would be eaten. In various other circles of Hell, the food would be deliberately disgusting. And in the seventh circle, people who commit suicide become trees and have their leaves eaten by harpies."
"I'm losing my appetite," Mrs. Sprat grumbled.
Dante, meanwhile, was enjoying his feast. "Pane degli angeli" he exclaimed with a smile on his face.
"The bread of the angels," the oracle translated. "That's high praise."
"God's pizza," Mrs. Sprat said, laughing. Dante looked expectant.
"Now he expects you to bring him some pie," the oracle said.
"I believe we still have sme apple pie in the kitchen," Mrs. Sprat said, running downstairs to fetch it.
When Dante and his spirit guide left, they seemed resolute about meeting the hideous three-headed dog (Cerberus) and the gallery of tortured souls in the Inferno, but also the somewhat happier populace of Paradiso, where they would end up.
"Dante will never go back to Florence, as he was an exile," the oracle said as Ozymandius watched Dante and Virgil pass through the gates of Hell.
"Better him than us," Ozymandius said, summing up the general opinion in the Inn.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Nov. 28: Chapter 28: Nevermore
Ozymandius was awakened at midnight by a rapping at the front door of the Inn. Turning on the light
in his room, he noticed that bookcases had been installed in the walls. The shelves were covered with books that seemed to date from previous centuries. Indeed, some of them were so old, Ozymandius expected to see Latin words along the spines.
Well, the rapping continued. The fireplace in the Inn's front room was nearly cold. Only a few embers were still glowing. They cast ominous shadows on the walls.
A gust of bitter cold wind blew into the Inn when he opened the door. He had expected to see a poor wayfarer who was half frozen to death, but there was no one there. This is ridiculous, he thought, closing the door and turning to go back to his room. His eye was caught by a calendar on the wall next to the door. It was the calendar for 1844, and all the dates up to the 21st were circled. The shortest day of a year long past. Probably the coldest night of the season so far. Wait, wasn't that year in the middle of what geologists called the Little Ice Age? Ozymandius was shivering just thinking about it.
Then his eye was caught by a portrait next to the calendar. It showed a young woman with pale skin and short, straight black hair. She wore a ghostly white dress. The top of the dress was in a straight line a few inches below the neck, and the facial features expressed no discernible emotion. "Lenore" was inscribed along the bottom of the frame.
Maybe this would all be cleared up in the morning, Ozymandius thought, trudging back to his bed. A few minutes later he heard another rapping, this time louder and more urgent, but at his window, not at the front door.
Ozymandius greeted this with words that could not be printed here. Angry, he opened the window and thrust aside the shutters. In came a large black bird. Well, not just any large black bird, but a talking raven, though it seemed to know only one word: Nevermore. Ozymandius waved his arm at the bird, hoping it would go back outside, but instead it flew toward the doorway and perched on a bust of Athena.
"Well, if you're going to stay and disrupt my sleep, the least you could do is tell me your name," Ozymandius told the raven. "Nevermore," it repeated.
Ozymandius went to the oracle and asked for help. "You have a raven that keeps saying 'Nevermore'?" the oracle exclaimed. "You can let it give you a guilty conscience about some petty or wilfull act you comnitted in the past, or you can ask Jack Sprat to catch the bird and deliver it to the place where it belongs. A poet who is about to write a poem about ravens lives in a house on Greenwich Street in New York. I think the Inn is on that street right now."
"Does it matter which house?" Ozymandius wondered.
"Not really. The raven knows where it wants to go."
"Then why did it come here?" Ozymandius snapped.
"The finger of fate is fickle sometimes."
"I will deliver the bird myself," Ozymandius declared, summoning Jack Sprat and dressing in the warmest winter clothing he could find. Thus girded for battle with Jack Frost, he clutched the cage in which the raven sat, and opened the front door again. Ah, now he saw that the Inn was across the street from a row of houses. Gaslights were positioend here and there, but to be on the safe side Ozymandius took a flashlight with him.
He squinted at the mailboxes, but snow had piled on top of them, and he didn't want to be found lurking on a city street after dark with a strange light source of the future. So he opened the door of the cage and let the raven out.
"Go, find the right house, and bother me nevermore," he whispered to the bird, crossing his fingers in the hope that it would not fly back to the Inn..
With a flutter of its wings, the raven left the cage and flew toward one of the houses.
"It isn't just fate that's fickle," Ozymandius muttered as he passed the oracle on his way back to his room.
"Would you rather have entertained the man who wrote a poem about a raven?" the oracle wondered.
"It's not likely that he would have been able to pay his bill. Anyway I was almost ready to ask Mrs. Sprat to prepare roast raven for tomorrow's dinner."
"Don't say that too loud," the oracle warned. "You could wake up tomorrow morning in the Tower of London, where ravens are protected."
Ozymandius fell asleep to the sound of the oracle laughing. Well, that was preferable to imagining a flock of ravens coming at him in revenge.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Chapter 29: Wayside Inn
Some days it didn't pay to get out of bed. This was one of those days. Ozymandius was barely on his feet before the strangeness of his surroundings hit him. The Inn, to put it briefly, seemed to have aged about a hundred years overnight.
It had weather stains on the wall, worn stairways, crazy doors, creaking and uneven floors. You know, some of these things even seemed to rhyme. Had the Inn meandered into the clutches of some dark, gothic 19th-century poet?
Maybe today's adventures could be predicted by a glance or two through the Inn's front doors. Ah, it probably was a 19th-century landscape that Ozymandius saw when the doors opened. Actually, the Inn had only ever had one front door, and now it had two. A sign with a red horse on it stood at the end of the front walk. Barnyard fowl were wandering across the front yard. Great oaks threw tangles of light and shade on the Inn's gabled roofs (Wait, gables? How had the Inn acquired them?). Across the road could be seen some barns, with open entrances through which lines of stalls and haystacks could be seen. In the far distance, an old-fashioned steam locomotive could be seen chugging its way toward some distant destination.
Well, serenity seemed to come with the place, wherever it was, except when the odd gust of wind sent leaves rattling along the gravel road.
Ozymandius didn't see any guests approaching, so he closed the door and headed for the dining table, intent on having some breakfast. But the Inn's furnishings had also been rearranged since he last noticed them. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, and above the mantle was a portrait of some young royal. "Princess Mary" was the legend inscribed along the bottom of the frame. The fire's ruddy glow turned the overhead rafters to bronze, and reflected off the face of the grandfather clock. Lastly, there was a coat of arms displayed prominently on the wall. It featured three wolves along with chevrons and crests. Above this, someone had hung a Revolutionary War musket.
Ozymandius heard piano music and noticed someone playing on a spinet piano. A violinist joined in. Looking closer, Ozymandius realized that these were ghosts playing for the enjoyment of people who had come here to escape from the bustle of the busy cities.
A team of horses stopped in front of the Inn, and some people got out. "Hello, squire," said a stranger who seemed to know Ozymandius better than Ozymandius knew him. "I hope you'll be in good storytelling form tonight."
"Ah, and do you have a particular story you wish to hear?" Ozymandius wondered.
"Well, I never get tired of hearing about Paul Revere."
Ah, so this was what was going on. Ozymandius had studied Longfellow in school, but could remember no more than five or six lines from that poem about Revere. Okay, it was time to let the oracle show off what he knew.
"Maybe you could also tell about Merlin and Lancelot," said a bookish-looking young man (a student, perhaps).
"Per favore, I would enjoy something from the Decameron," said a bearded man.
There were also a man clad all in black, as well as one with a clerical collar and another who held a lute in his hand.
Well, at least a recital by the lutenist would please the gentlemen who were assembled there, while buying Ozymandius some time in which to arrange a graceful way of *not* reciting Longfellow.
Mrs. Sprat saved the day by serving a ploughman-style lunch for the guests, along with hearty ale and hard cider.
By the time they had finished eating, Ozymandius had coaxed the oracle into reciting the desired poem about Revere, complete with an image of a lively poet on his screen. Then, Ozymandius turned the tables by asking the guests to take turns telling tales of their own. This worked wonders.
The bookish man told of a falconer in Florence. The man in black told a tale of a rabbi. The bearded man told a tale of a king in Sicily. The musician told tales which were often about Odin or King Olaf.
There were more tales, then a further round of ale and cider, accompanied by some light snacks.
When there was a lull in the conversation, Ozymandius sat down at the piano and absent-mindedly started playing some ragtime music. This startled the guests, for whom this music was several decades
in their future. Reading the expressions on their faces, Ozymandius reddened and segued into some pieces by Stephen Foster.
Getting up from the piano, he excused himself and headed toward one of the guest rooms. Behind him, he heard someone else playing (the ghost who had been playing earlier?). There was a bit of Beethoven, followed by "Tenting tonight on the old camp ground" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Some of the guests appreciated the last two pieces, while others shook their heads in disapproval. Why couldn't the Inn be a haven where one could escape thoughts of the terrible war raging in the country?
Well, the afternoon would pass pleasantly enough, and then Mrs. Sprat would serve a light supper, and those who wanted accommodations for the night could have them. Ozymandius had not checked on the condition of the guest rooms. Maybe it was time to do that, aided by the Sprats.
The Pilgrims' Inn, Nov. 30: Chapter 30: Denouement
One morning, Ozymandius woke up to discover that the unthinkable had happened. The oracle was totally unresponsive. Jack Sprat and his wife were nowhere to be found. This was the end of the Pilgrims' Inn as a going concern. The only question was, where was the Inn located now, since it no longer had an agent capable of moving it.
Ozymandius cautiously opened the door and saw that the Inn was sitting on a vacant lot across the street from the Caledonia Grove Trailer Park. This wasn't the worst outcome possible, as Ozymandius had a mobile home in the Park, and could get home with no trouble at all. The biggest challenge would be to figure out what to do with the Inn itself. Who owned the vacant lot?
Ozymandius sat down at his computer and did an online search. This turned out to be easier said than done, as city records were often contradictory and full of errors. After two days of searching, he discovered that the lot was owned by the city itself, and had once been the site of a branch library.
Then, acting on a hunch, he searched the Internet for missing library buildings, and had an "aha" moment on his 42nd search. A small library building in a town in New Hampshire had simply disappeared without a trace just before the Pilgrims' Inn began its travels through time and space. This was not a great loss, as the place had become vacant once a newer and more modern library had been built. In any event, that missing library looked just like the Inn. And now the building was on the site where a branch library used to be located before it was torn down for being too small, too outmoded, and, well, unloved.
But since that time, the Little Library movement had arisen and been embraced in the country and maybe other countries as well. These little libraries were about the size of a doll's house, and held two or three shelves of books. They were unsupervised, and free to all. They operated on the honor system. When someone took a book to read, they put another book in its place.
A plan began forming in Ozymandius's mind. He went online and checked out the used book sales at libraries in the area. He visited charity shops that sold donated books. He strung an extension cord from his trailer into the building and repaired the oracle so that it could at least be a functioning computer for people who wanted to do searches. Ozymandius had WiFi in his trailer, which was close enough to be in range for the oracle. Lastly, he put up a sign on the front door explaining that this was one of the Little Libraries, giving his phone number and email address in case anyone wanted help choosing books.
Lastly, he phoned the local newspaper and explained what he had done. Suddenly curious residents began showing up in the building. Even the local library system began to warm up to the concept that Ozymandius was pushing. The city's budget was tight, as usual. Finding staff and books and computers for a library branch in Ozymandius's area was not going to be possible, so volunteer efforts run on shoestrings were the only way outreach was going to happen. The Central library even offered some titles that were overstocked -- best sellers were always bought in large quantities when they were new.
Ozymandius was a year-round resident, and he could see the library from his trailer. And, best of all, when he went into the building to help people find books or search online, he saw the ghosts of all the characters who had stayed in the building when it was an Inn. In the winter months, people would not want to stay in the unheated building, but that didn't prevent them from borrowing books to take to their homes or workplaces.
Jack Sprat and his wife peeked cautiously out from one of the rooms. "We aren't an inn anymore," Ozymandius had to tell them. "The building has become a library." He held up a copy of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. "You're mentioned in this book."
Ozymandius took an appraising look at the library's walls and decided that they were too bare. What sort of pictures should he put up? Some libraries liked to put up pictures of Melville Dewey, who invented the popular Dewey Decimal System. But this library was mostly fiction, which didn't require
complex ways of arranging books by subject.
Then he thought of the people who had helped start libraries in the United States, where this library was located. Benjamin Franklin came to mind. Franklin had started the country's first subscription library, and had also started the library of the University of Pennsylvania. A portrait of Franklin went up on the wall. Next to it was a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, who offered his personal library as a replacement for the Library of Congress, which the British burned during the War of 1812. The offer was accepted, though a second fire destroyed two-thirds of the collection in 1851. (Jefferson was said to have started a second personal library, which was sold after his death to satisfy creditors.)
Ah, if only Jefferson could see his likeness hanging on the wall of this building, where he had stayed as a guest so many years ago!