How could I lose track of him? There's only one path. For such a skinny man, he runs very fast. Maybe that's why he's so skinny. No, focus! I skid to a halt, dust rising behind me like smoke. Think, Melody. You can think, that's one of the things you can do well. That quick-fluttering Time Lord mind, joined with just enough humanity to state the obvious sometimes.
We were going to the lake. The most logical course of action would be continuing to the lake. Or going back to the TARDIS, but he wouldn't know if I did that. I could tell River, but she might not be there. It all depended on how long it took her to finish…whatever she was doing.
I'll head to the lake, then. He'll already be there, trousers rolled up and jacket draped over a lilac bush, and laughing that it took me so long. I calculate the most direct course of travel and head forty-three point five degrees east through the underbrush. After ten minutes, my jacket is patterned with elephant's-ear leaves and yellow thistles; white burrs cling to my boots.
"This isn't the right way."
Knife!-Right, no knife. It's back in the TARDIS somewhere. I force myself to breath calmly, relaxing muscles just enough to be ready for anything.
"Up here," the voice calls. The owner might have stepped out of one of my old picture books, Rumplestiltskin or the troll under the Billy Goats Gruff's bridge—skin like a walnut, eyes like watermelon seeds. If he swung down from the branch he's sitting on, his head would barely reach my waist.
"How do you know it's the wrong way? You don't even know where I'm going."
"Because…cho-hoo, you'll never get out through these woods."
"I think I can manage, thank you." The way I came is rather difficult, but I think if I go north-by-northwest for two miles, I should come out by the lake. A bit longer, but there's some sort of path in that direction.
"Hu-ha," he laughs. "You don't know, do you?"
"Know what? And who are you, anyway?"
"Call me, who-wee, call me Kaleck. I serve the great Enchanter."
"What enchanter?" There wasn't an enchanter on Florona last time I visited. In fact, I don't think it had any government at all.
"Cygnietain." Kaleck jumps from his branch to another one inches above my head. "And he has sent me—tee-hee—to meet you."
"First of all, could you stop laughing? It's really very annoying." I fight the urge to stick out my tongue at him.
He shakes his head. "No. Now come along, he's –hu-wuh—very anxious to meet you."
"I have other things to do. My friend is waiting for me, and the longer he waits the more haughty he gets." Well, not haughty, exactly, more like-"Smug," I amend.
"It won't take long—to-we-, not long at all. Follow me."
"You can tell this Cygnet,"
"Cygnietain," he corrects me.
"You can tell him that I'm not very interested in visiting at present. It's my day off, actually, and I think I've earned it." I pluck a leaf off my waistcoat, only to find Kaleck grabbing my wrist.
"No, no…you must come."
The main problem with following Kaleck was that he could not remember that I am almost twice his height and cannot duck under overhanging branches nor squeeze between bushes. The only reason I didn't lose track of him is that I walk one step for every three or four of his. At least it's over now. Ten minutes ago, we found a path leading between two stone walls, like an old-fashioned alley, which led to a solid oak door.
"Well, open it."
He knocks twice, calling out "Kaleck and Catoowent."
"Who is master of this world?" Someone calls from inside.
"Cygnietain shall be seen by all," he replies.
The door swings open, but I see no one who opens it. This is definitely not Florana. Florana has no castles—nor any automatic doors, for that matter. "So, where are we now?"
"Cygnietain's headquarters." Karleck turns his head back to look at me. "Come along now, cho-hee. No time from questions, catoowent."
"My name is Melody Pond. What's a catoowent?" I glance down the hallway, unable to see anything except shadows.
"You are, ko-lee. Everyone who visits him is a catoowent."
The TARDIS should have translated the word. Maybe it's just being exasperating today. I shrug and follow him down the hallway
Light! I blink rapidly, adjusting to the light streaming in from windows high above my head. Granite walls lined with tapestries mark off a room roughly the size of a football field. At one end of a scarlet carpet sits a green-robed man on a throne. "Greetings, Melody Pond."
Christmas, I think for a fraction of a second, before catching myself. "Greetings, Cygnietain."
"Call me Cyng, everyone does." He pronounces it sing, with a hint of an 'uh' after the initial consonant. "Cyng and Melody…it has a rhythm to it, doesn't it?"
"I suppose so. Why did you bring me here?"
"Because, Melody, I have a task that needs to be done. And I think you are an excellent choice."
"Find someone else. My friends are waiting for me. "
"They'll have their own roles to play."
"Well, what is it?"