Petals of the Rose
Sherman the Bear
Their hostess smiled guardedly at their banter. “Allow me to introduce you to some of the other guests.”
Already seated at the table was a brown bear in a waistcoat. It held a tea cup on one paw, with a tiny teacup carefully pinched by its handle in its other claws. It smiled at them as they took in its appearance. Shade was sure this was no changeling, but it was clearly no ordinary bear either. It must be some kind of hedge beast. When it spoke, its voice was unctuous and amused. “Charmed. I’m Sherman.”
Pollock smiled widely and honestly. She seemed quite genuinely taken in by the fantastical creature, and richly entertained simply that it was present at such an occasion.
“Yes, this is Sherman, an old friend. I’m quite pleased he could attend today. Over in the garden is Sister Scorn. She’s a dear woman, but she does have something of a speech impediment and you mustn’t judge her for it. It’s simply the way she is.”
She pointed to a woman no taller than four feet. She had the appearance of deep lines and sunken white eyes that suggested life long labor. She wore a humble dress and bodice, an apron, and her hair was held back from her face by a kerchief. At the moment, she was inspecting a bush which bore brilliant flowers of sapphire.
Pollock nodded, saying, “We understand.”
“She’s a member of the Autumn Court, in case any of you are interested. And this is Jedry Underbridge.” She was facing them, and it took each a moment to look around and figure out why.
A pudgy hob with a pear-shaped body and pear-shaped head was standing between Rajah and Porsche. His nose was a fat, drooping dollop on his creamy white face. He was dressed in a tailed coat and knickers, stockings and shined leather shoes.
Reacting in surprise, Porsche almost leapt into Shade’s arms, yelling “Jesus!”
The hob looked back and forth. “Oh, that’s me,” he said in a throaty voice.
Porsche regained her composure and brushed herself off unnecessarily, straightening her clothes. When she was done, they realized that the hob was somehow no longer standing amongst them, but sitting on the opposite side of the table, inspecting a fork as though it were a strange alien artifact.
Alone among them, Pollock was unfazed. Shade supposed that she’d learned to accept such behavior from hobs by her shopping trips to the garage sale. Desedemenona pacified them by continuing to speak. “I have several other guests who should be arriving shortly. Since things have been better between the courts of late, I’ve been proud to welcome members of all four to my table. There is a young lady of the Summer Court who should be here soon, and a gentleman from the Spring Court as well. Slim was to be a representative of the Winter Court. Since he’s not here, I’m proud at least that another of us is here in his place.”
Shade offered her his hand, shaking firmly and pretending not to notice the extreme chill she gave off.
“Shade, I’ve heard little about you. Hopefully there will be more time to do that. However, at the moment I have several other preparations to make and so I will leave you.”
They reassured her that it was alright, and she swanned away gracefully. Though she no longer wore the crown, Shade could see why she would have been a great woman to have in charge of his court.
As soon as she was gone, Pollock exclaimed, “So cool!”
Rajah shrugged. “It’s a bear.” Perhaps his extended stay in the hedge had inured him to the magical beast. Shade shared Pollock’s reaction, if not so visibly.
The next thing Shade knew, Pollock had sidled over next to the dapper ursine and struck up a conversation. “So, Sherman. How long have you known our hostess?”
“Oh, many a year now.”
“Wonderful. It’s great to see that she’s got such diverse friendships. Do you make it to these sorts of social occasions often?”
“No, no. I should like to do so more often, but I simply haven’t the time.”
“Why? Where do you live?”
“In the hedge, naturally.”
“I see how that could create a problem.”
“Yes, indeed.” The bear sipped delicately from his tea. “I say, I do so enjoy the company of the Lost. Your kind have a way making things so very much more entertaining.”
“I should introduce myself. I am Pollock, a member of the Spring Court.”
“Charmed, charmed, my dear.”
She proceeded to reintroduce each other member of the motley, noting the court association of each. Shade nodded to Sherman when she mentioned him.
Sherman crumpled up his features in his best bear frown. “Yes. Courts. A funny thing, to be divided so.” He was eyeing Rajah particularly, and Shade took a step back to see what would happen next.
Pollock explained, perhaps unnecessarily. “He’s a tiger.”
“Yes!” There was that smarmy tone again. The bear had a sound that made him seem ingratiating almost to the point of suspicion, like he was being excessively nice to hide something.
Rajah waved, flexing his claws slightly as he did so. “Hi.”
“It’s so wonderful to meet you, my good man.” Sherman proferred a paw. When Rajah took it, Shade watched them shake each other’s hands vigorously, in a way that stopped being polite and became more competitive. Inevitably, the handshake broke off, but each party was smiling like they’d actually come out respecting each other more.
“So, are there more like you, Sherman?” Rajah inquired.
“Innumerable creatures live in the hedge. Some wander in and become acclimated. Others have lived inside their entire lives.”
“Which are you?”
“This or that.”
“I see. It’s nice to meet such a refined fellow as yourself. Someone who appreciates the finer things in life.”
“Like a nice tea.” The bear set his tea cup down and picked up a scone, dipping it in the tea cup and then devouring it whole.
Porsche spoke up for the first time in the conversation. “I’m going to go talk to the woman over there. I can’t bear this any longer.” Her puns never failed to set Shade sniggering quietly to himself, but Rajah and Pollock both groaned. She was actually quite the punster, inserting little jokes and wordplay into conversation on a regular basis. Half the time the others didn’t even notice, and the other half it made them want to throw things at her. Shade loved that about her.