The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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9. The Terrible Vicar

“Yes indeed. Obviously the first thing I thought was, I’d better tell the Badger Survey about this’un right away!” recounted the vicar of Little Sedge church, as the Badger Survey themselves stood around him with expressions of increasing disbelief and alarm.

“Theory number four it is,” said Justin, under his breath.

“And you sent to Doctor Grey directly?” asked Ashlin, “You know him?”

“Oh yes, he used to take an interest when I was at the church school, these forty years ago it must have been. Always had an interest in wild flowers and butterflies and the beasts of the forest, and we had a few walks in the Queen’s Park. Lovely man.”

This didn’t exactly match the image of the Regent Counsel shared by the rest of the present company.

“So you saw a strange badger in the woods and you thought ...”

“Yes, I thought how these forty years ago, the dear Doctor said to me---”

There is always an expectation in the young that when an elderly man begins a story set forty years previously, it is going to seem like a good forty years before the story is done. Ashlin and Jenna were not expecting to hear anything of great interest before the hour was out. They were instantly proved wrong in this case.

“‘Young Dennis’, he said, ‘if you happen to see a strange badger around your parish---I don’t know when exactly, but if you ever do---you must let me know at once, and quietly.’”

“Wait a moment.” Jenna held up a finger.

“Yes?”

“He said that forty years ago. He expected you at some indefinite time in the future to encounter a strange badger. You personally. Forty years ago. And asked you to quietly, and at once, tell him whenever you did.”

“Yes. Though maybe not just me. I suppose he might have asked others the same thing.”

“But you ask us to believe,” Jenna continued, seeming somewhat as though she suspected the poor man was having a joke at her expense, “that Doctor Grey laid in a plan forty years ago to investigate one strange badger, strange in some way as yet unspecified. A plan which now appears to be in motion.”

“I suppose I do. I am a vicar, and I ask people to believe a lot of things. But surely the plan was laid some eighty years ago, rather, when the Badger Survey was first commissioned by his predecessor? I don’t pretend to know that for sure of course, not having been born then. Doctor Grey didn't really say why.”

“That,” Jenna sniffed, “does not make any of this easier to believe.” Her face seemed to say: you must be a terrible vicar if this is how you go around comforting people and encouraging their faith.

“What do you suggest we do next, then?” Ashlin asked, “If there is a plan, nobody has let us in on it.”

“You’re here now. Whether you doubt my memories of forty years ago, I hope you don’t doubt that I know a strange badger when I see one. I suggest you investigate that badger. But come and have some tea first, and I’ll tell you a little more.”

So they filed into the little cottage beside the church, and took some tea, and met the vicar’s wife, and petted the vicar’s dog, and heard what the vicar had to say.

“It was last week I got a good look at it, but it was maybe hanging around for a while before then, gnawing on things and taking a few chickens.”

“Do badgers do that?” whispered Derk.

Ashlin shook his head absently.

“And so, off I went into the woods one day, following some tracks from um, let’s say a disturbance, among the sheep up the hill there.” The vicar glanced towards his wife and looked almost apologetic, as though having nearly brought something quite unpleasant into the tea-time conversation.

“And I saw it, the badger, a good way away, and I thought to myself, ‘My, that is strange’ and came back right away.”

They all looked at one another.

“Strange?” asked Jenna. “But you saw it from a distance. How could you see there was something strange about it? Strange in what way?”

“Big. Most uncommonly big.”

“And so you came back straight away, and wrote to Doctor Grey, but you didn’t get a closer look at it?”

“I was quite close enough thank you.”

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