It’s here! The new Peavley Manor novelette, “The Rebellious Rooster (Or, Macalley Gets Cocky)” is now available at Amazon and other ebook retailers! (Search “Rebellious Rooster” or my name to find it!)
When heiress Alice Peavley runs into her old friend Maia, the last thing she expects is the string of chaotic events that follows. There’s the loud and cranky chicken to contend with. And Reg, the playful but well-meaning pooka. Not to mention the impending moa race, and the characters it’s attracting. Can Alice, with the help of her trusty gnome valet Macalley, keep her wits and come out on top? Grab a scone, some snarkleberry jam, and a cup of tea, and find out!
And there’s an extended preview after the cut! Enjoy!
As Klondike said to Canfield in one of their detective novels, “Nothing good ever comes out of meeting old classmates.” I do not necessarily agree with this, particularly since this observation came after one of those old classmates had just poisoned the other, but there was still enough truth in the phrase for it to stick in the back of my mind. It resurfaced soon after I ran into Maia Fizkin.
She and I had attended university at Thorn Harbour some years back. We had wound up in the same class through a scheduling quirk, though she was a senior and I a freshman. Our friendship swiftly took hold, but when Maia graduated, she moved away and we lost touch with one another.
Some reunions with old friends take place at momentous events or pivotal times, but mine and Maia’s took place in a more mundane fashion. Macalley, my valet, and I had gone on our usual Sunday trip to Vyannva’s Preserves to stock up on spreads, for nothing went better with Macalley’s freshly-baked croissants and scones. I had exchanged my usual pleasantries with my friend Vyne Ashgrove, who owned the shop and made the jam sold there, and was trying to choose between apricot and blackberry for the coming week when I saw a woman walking in. She looked familiar, tall with wavy black hair and a red and black floor-length dress, and any question of who she was vanished when she saw me, smiled, and said my name in that soft, familiar voice.
We embraced warmly and then moved our conversation outside, so as not to get in the way of Vyne’s other customers. “It’s such a pleasure to see you again, Alice!” Maia said.
“And you,” I said happily. “I was concerned when that last letter I sent was returned with the ‘Not At This Address’ stamp.”
“This was soon after I graduated? I went through a bit of a tumultuous time there.”
“With that one gentleman who was trying to woo you?”
Maia snorted loudly. “If Moncreith was a ‘gentleman’, they need to find a new word for the real ones. But all those stories I’ve been reading about you in the papers!”
“Those?” I waved my hand dismissively. “You should hear the ones they don’t print!”
Maia laughed. “I was so tempted to write you! But I knew how busy you are.”
“You should have anyway.” I let the tiniest bit of reproach slide into my voice. “But you’re not in Darbyfield, are you?”
“No, I had a friend give me a lift from Larchburg. I just adore the strawberry jam they sell here.”
“It deserves all the adoration. But how did you end up in Larchburg?”
“Well…” Maia paused. “Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I’m working at a moa farm just outside of town.”
I blinked. “Moas?”
“Owned by Sal Withers. I started there last year.”
“Giant flightless birds?”
Maia smiled. “They’re really sweet once you get to know them. I mostly work in the office, but I help with the chores as well. It’s quite amusing to hear them squawk at feeding time.”
“Madame Alice?” We turned as Macalley walked up to us. “Have you selected your preserves, or has indecision struck yet again?”
“This must be Macalley!” Maia said.
“He is quite identifiable, yes,” I replied. “Macalley, this is Maia Fizkin; she’s a friend from university.”
“A pleasure,” Macalley said. “Are we flipping a coin this time, Madame?”
“Oh, just get both, Macalley. Apricot and blackberry.” He nodded and stepped back into the shop.
“A valet.” Maia sighed wistfully. “It must be wonderful.”
“He came with the manor. But a moa farm must have its charms as well.”
“It does! You should come for tea!”
I was about to accept her invitation, but I paused before I spoke. I was no fan of birds; it seemed as if every interaction I’d ever had with them ended badly for me. But I knew it would be rude to refuse, and I could see the eagerness in Maia’s eyes. “How about Tuesday?” I said carefully.
“Perfect!” Maia smiled. “Just one thing…”
“Do wear your boots. And not your best pair, either.”
I made it a point to read up on moas before I started the drive to Withers’ Farm. They came from Phorcush in the far south. They were rarely seen in Darbyfield, as the residents had grown accustomed to horses, but they were common in other cities around the Crescent Sea and beyond. They were often used as draft and pack animals, though with proper equipment and training they could be ridden by humans, dwarfs and others.
Even armed with the knowledge I had gained, though, I was still in for a shock when I reached the farm. No amount of reading could have prepared me for the sight of fully-grown moa. They were easily twelve feet tall, towering well over my head, covered in drab brown and green feathers. It was rather disconcerting to have four or five of them near me as I stepped through the front gate, their beady eyes all fixed upon the stranger.
Thankfully, Maia was there. She murmured to the moas, putting them at ease. She had dispensed with the lovely outfit she had worn to Vyne’s on Sunday, replacing it with a white jacket and trousers, worn but sturdy boots and a helmet. She was carrying another, which she handed to me. “Just in case,” she said. “Sometimes, the younger ones can get frisky.”
“A wise idea,” I said. As I removed my hat and strapped the helmet on, I was thankful that there didn’t appear to be any beak-shaped dents on my temporary headgear.
Maia took my arm and led me on her tour. The other employees of the farm were pleasant, ready with quick answers to my questions. I noticed as we walked along that one moa, who was a bit shorter and stockier than the others, was following us. “We seem to have company,” I said softly.
“Oh, that’s just Beatrice,” Maia said. “She seems to be fond of me, but she’s too shy to come close, unless I have a treat.”
“Of course—Ye Gods!” I shouted as a moa thrust its head into my face.
Maia chuckled. “Oh, that’s just Constantine,” she said. “He’s always curious. Connie!” The moa turned his head towards Maia’s, and she reached into a trouser pocket. “He’ll calm down once he’s had a treat.”
She took out a handful of apple slices. Constantine bent down, and Maia fed him one. Beatrice ran up to Maia, followed by other moa, and they all took the proffered treats. I smiled to cover my nervousness at being surrounded by so many giant birds.
“See, Alice?” Maia said as the last apple slice vanished. “They’re not so bad, are they?”
I glanced down and saw that some of the natural results of feeding birds had landed on my boots. “That is open for discussion,” I said quietly.
“That’s why I told you not to wear your best boots.” Maia smiled. “There’s a pump by the office. We can wash that off before we go inside for tea.”
Maia and I split a pot of Oceano’s Sassy And Spicy, and there were scones with Vyne’s strawberry jam. We chatted as we took our tea, filling each other in as best as we could on our former classmates at university. “I thought Seville was bound for trouble,” I said as I refilled my cup.
“You would think that anyone who took a job in Tirnog would brush up on their manners.” Maia shook her head sadly.
“Seville never knew the first thing about manners anyway.” I sipped my tea and gathered my thoughts. “So, Maia…”
“I suppose this is where you ask me about considering taking out a stake in this farm.”
“Oh,” Maia said quietly.
“I did some asking around, and I understand that demand for moa seems to be slowing.”
“Alice…” Maia stared down at her tea. “I’d decided not to ask you.”
I could see her cheeks reddening. “Why is that?” I asked gently.
“You’re a friend, Alice,” Maia said without looking up. “I didn’t want to impose upon you, to make you think that all I cared about was your fortune. That would be a horrible thing for a friend to do.”
“Oh, Maia.” I smiled slightly.
“Master Withers was expecting me to ask. He shall be most cross with me now.”
I laid a hand on Maia’s arm. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”
“Pardon?” Maia looked up, and I could see a hint of hope in her eyes.
“Had you pushed this upon me, I would have said no. But you made it clear that my friendship was more important, and I could never turn down a friend who needs my help.”
“Alice!” Maia smiled brightly.
I took a card from my handbag and gave it to Maia. “Have Master Withers contact my accountant, Ernesto Caudillo, and give him all the information he’ll request. Once I have that, I’ll review it with Ernesto and make my decision.”
“You’re quite welcome. Now, shall we return to important matters?” I smiled. “I have some rather interesting stories to tell about Priscilla Wentworth.”
It came as little surprise that Withers had the information in Ernesto’s hands the next day. I suspect that the call had been made while I was telling Maia about Priscilla’s misadventures. Ernesto, with his usual thoroughness, was able to offer me his opinion the following day. I decided to seek out a second opinion, which just happened to coincide with my Thursday tea with Vyne.
I had met her shortly after I inherited Peavley Manor, and we had become friends very quickly. Vyne was an elf, curly-haired and perpetually smiling, with a green denim apron and a nearly boundless energy. Even when we were sitting down for tea in the back room of her shop, she always seemed to be about to jump from her seat. “Ernesto thinks it could be a good investment?” Vyne said as she poured the tea, a fresh pot of Travers’ Afternoon Aurora.
“Indeed.” I spread grape jam on my scone. “The biggest concern is whether there’ll still be demand for moa in the future.”
“You would expect there to be,” Vyne said as she passed a cup to me.
“But he is concerned about mechanization,” I said as I added generous amounts of milk and sugar to my tea. “The improvements that inventors keep coming up with to—”
“Mum?” We both glanced at the doorway. Vyne’s son Leif was there, holding a broken spatula. “The snarkleberries are being a wee bit stubborn. Hello, Alice.”
“Hello, Leif,” I said as I lifted my tea cup.
“Leif!” Vyne smiled. “Are you going to let some berries tell you what to do?”
“Of course not. They can’t even talk. Now get back in that shed.”
“Yes, Mum,” Leif said with a sigh.
“And stop wasting time flirting with Ackley!”
“It’s never time wasted where he’s concerned, Mum.” Leif winked as he spun about and left.
“Snarkleberries?” I asked.
“We just got in a shipment from Tirnog,” Vyne said. “I’m trying to get the preserves properly done before the berries have a chance to spoil.”
“It sounds like a challenge.” I sipped my tea.
“Leif can handle it. No matter how much he might complain.” Vyne grinned. “You were saying?”
I nodded. “I can afford to risk some of my savings on an investment or two. The question is, why should I? At this point, I hardly need the money.”
“But have you considered what you could do with your profit from the investment?”
I thought this over for a moment. “Buy more books?”
Vyne sighed very faintly. “Alice, you know there’s more to the world than just books.”
“You must be joking.” I grinned.
“Ms. Ashgrove?” Vyne looked towards the doorway at Ackley Thornmantle, Leif’s boyfriend, whose curly hair and fine clothing had acquired, in spots, a layer of greenish muck. “Leif asked me to tell you that the snarkleberries are revolting. Good afternoon, Ms. Peavley.”
“Good afternoon,” I said with a smile.
“Tell Leif not to add so much limburger cheese, then.” Vyne waggled a finger. “The snarkleberries disagree with it.”
“But Ms. Ashgrove—” Ackley tried to say.
“Ackley, dear. I am having tea with Alice. Let Leif know that when I am done, I shall look in you two. And I expect that I will find you both working and not kissing.”
The elf blushed and nodded as he ducked out of the room. “A bit stern there?” I murmured.
“Oh, I don’t mind them kissing. Ackley’s a splendid sort. It’s just that they need to pay attention. This may be a questionable batch of snarkleberries.” Vyne sipped her tea.
“How can you tell?”
“The slime on Ackley’s clothes should have been more bluish. But where was I?”
“Telling me how I should spend my money.” I took a bite from my scone.
“Exactly! You like using it to help people, don’t you?”
“And Maia is your friend, isn’t she?”
“There’s your answer, then.” Vyne sat back and smiled.
“Ms. Peavely?” I turned to see Juniper, Vyne’s shop assistant, in the doorway. “Mr. Macalley called and asked me to tell you that Harrisburg and Ogden were having another one of their discussions.”
“Blast.” I finished my tea. “I suppose I’d best be—”
There was a rather loud bang that shook the room. Vyne jumped from her chair. “I’d better go as well,” she said as she hurried towards the doorway. “That was definitely a questionable snarkleberry shipment.”
© 2018 Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved.