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Tea and Tempests

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Tea in the Tempest by Omar Rayyan


If he could only keep drinking the tea, they would make it through this tempest. Keep the delicate teacup level, balance the saucer. Sip carefully, gracefully (cautiously, because the cup was full and the tea very hot, no matter how many sips, no matter how cold the wind blew: that was how Reynard knew it was essential to their winning through.) Stay tucked up in the prow of the now tiny boat that had been a generous boat-shaped space in a sea of blue-green grass under a golden beech. Keep tail and paws out from underfoot. Above all, stay calm.

Someone was obviously unhappy that a fox and his friends should presume to take refreshment on the lawn, and had made it so they were instead scrambling to keep from capsizing in a very small (though surprisingly sea-worthy) vessel on a very wind-tossed expanse of water. Of course it was magic, and someone else was apparently helping them (vis the soundness of the boat, and the ever-full cup), so there was a way out of this dilemma, if only he could think of it. (And it was on Reynard, as the Captain of the expedition, to find the way through.)

Rabbit was tending the sail, ears plastered flat to his head, but hands quite firm and clever. Reynard hoped the Beech Tree was not actually here with them, for if she was, that was entirely uncalled for — she had nothing to do with Reynard's boldness or decisions, other than being a lovely tree, providing shade and shelter in what had looked to be a perfect spot for a tea-party. Unless she was the one helping them? The timbers of the boat did look like beechwood, and the sail was the precise color of the leaves in Autumn. In that case….

In that case, it was all the more important that Reynard solve the underlying riddle that was raising the wind and tossing the waves, with the five of them (six if you counted the Beech, which Reynard most certainly did) caught up in the tempestuous midst. Was it the lawn itself that had taken exception to their party? Or was it the sea that had once covered all the land hereabouts, in the time before time. Or was the lawn still, in some sense, that sea, the way any group of several trees could become the Great Forest at need?

That seemed a promising line of thought, but Reynard couldn't immediately follow where it led, as Crocodile, for all their salt-water savvy, was having difficulty keeping both tail in the boat and rear legs firmly braced against the smooth-polished timbers. Teacup on saucer, precisely placed (and do not let go of the saucer or the spoon!) freed one hand to pull Dilly back on balance and once more safely ensconced in the boat. Losing any of them would be a disaster none of them would survive. Reynard knew that as certainly as the tea was still hot. All or none.

Take another sip, re-cross one's legs, elegantly, smoothly, allowing no hint of flusterment or of discombobulation. Appearances were important in this adventure, as well as truths. Underlying truths. Overarching understandings. The wind was as much in contest with them in their beech tree boat as the waves. The day had not been windy before they all sat down to begin their party, and what breeze there was had been light and warm, not heavy, cold and wet. What wind was this, that was certainly not advancing any honest mind, but seemed instead almost malicious. Though they still had their hats.

Reynard's tricorne and Dilly's carnation pink cap were still on their respective heads, and there was nothing more than hope really, that kept Dilly's in place. What did that mean? For it surely meant something. Have another sip. The heat of the tea was comforting, and he wished his friends could have that comfort as well. Tiggy certainly looked like she would appreciate some warmth in her hands, wrestling with the tiller. Doing a very good job of steering them so they went along with the waves, rather than slicing into them. That would be a different kind of disaster.

No salt water in the teacup. That was apparently another Rule to this riddle. Salt water in the saucer was inevitable from the spray, though even that was minimal. Perhaps boisterous was a better word for the wind, hindering and holding back from harm by turns. The waves and the rolling and the sudden drops as the boat raced down the steep sides of the breakers with the foaming tops roaring down at them were the actual peril. What did they want? Was it something they — he — could even give them? What could the Sea of Myth need from them?

"Teapot overboard!" cried Badger, "I think I can just reach it, if someone can take the line, and hang on to me!" The teapot! Something about the teapot. It didn't dribble, no matter how hot the tea, how long it steeped, how shaky or steady the hand that poured it out. Was that the answer? Or was it something about the tea, the possibility of tea, the friendship and politeness and coming together in sometimes peaceful and sometimes rowdy argument over the tea-table. Teacakes and biscuits and morsels of sweetness to go with savory and salt. The ritual of tea.

Badger had rescued the teapot, and held it now with some amazement. The sea stopped roiling, the wind slowing, almost as if holding its breath. Reynard stood, setting the (still full, still hot) teacup and saucer on the board he had been sitting on, and ceremoniously accepted the painted porcelain teapot from Badger. He took a breath and said, "Would you, Great Sea, and you, Bright Wind, please join me and my friends in company with Beech, representing the Great Forest, in high tea?

And thus it was so, the tea in a tempest resolving into a tempest taking tea.