Episode 11

Someome few days later, the Woodgnome wandered through the wooded dells that led to the Website. Cobweb had been rather distracted after his tales of conversations with Huw, and had demanded more in the way of carnal detail than he had originally intended to give, but he had thought it better to oblige her rather than to venture further into discussions about his own place in the grand scheme of things. Since then she had not been in touch, and he wanted to know if she were offended, and more importantly, when he could expect to hear the tale of the physicist and the fitness instructor. His bruises were going down, and he felt entitled to payment for them.

He stopped again at the edge of the clearing, and listened. Suddenly Carabosse was there. He looked less than his usual elegant self, being slightly untidy and rather harassed. “I wouldn’t go in, if I were you, she’s cooking.”

The Gnome perked up. Cooking sounded promising. “Is that a problem? I mean, I’ll go away again if you’re entertaining or something, but if she’s just being domesticated, I’ll. . . well, she probably told you, we didn’t quite part on good terms, and I thought we should make it up.”

“No, you don’t understand. She isn’t cooking, she’s Cooking.”

Oh. Well, that was different.

“What sort of earrings is she wearing?”

“You’ve noticed that, have you? Most people don’t. She’s got long silver snakes in her ears. They’re so long that they touch her collar, and if she turns too fast she’ll have somebody’s eye out.”

“That’s bad.”

“It’s better than yesterday. Yesterday she was wearing the long wire things. If you came too close, you could hear Test Match Special on them. And she’s wearing skirts. And high heels. Yesterday she did her entire day’s work in spike heels.”

“Very bad. Is she wearing make up?”

“Full slap, all day. Lipstick renewed hourly.”


“And as for food! Gnome, you know the way mothers go, you know that Look they give you, that says that if you don’t eat your vegetables you won’t get any pudding? I got the Look this morning.”

“Perhaps you should have eaten your vegetables?”

“She had just put in front of me a plate containing an Ulster Fry. All I had said was that one piece of potato bread would probably be enough.”

“What did you do?”

“Ate both pieces, what do you think? I may be Top, but I’m not a complete idiot.”

They exchanged glances. “And you say she’s Cooking?”

“I’ve never seen her Cook like it, and how long have we been together? This is serious. She made her own mayonnaise yesterday morning. I said something about why not just buy a jar, and I got the Look for that too.”

“What’s she Cooking?”

“Yesterday was obviously very bad. She made soup. And I don’t mean consommé, either, she thinks that’s for wimps or people who don’t like soup. No, there was courgette, potato and cheese soup, and one with curried parsnips which is in fact the only way to eat parsnips, but even so! And ham and lentil. Today she’s a bit better, but she’s Baking.”

“What set her off?”

“She got called to Court, and she got a rocket. In fact she got several rockets. She won’t tell me why, and it isn’t that she doesn’t want to. It’s something to do with this project you and she have been running. She’s giving me deniability. She thinks it’s going to lead to trouble, and she’s trying to leave me out of it. I wish she wouldn’t.”

They had turned away from the cottage and begun to walk around the edge of the clearing. “Can you tell me about it?”

The Gnome hesitated. “I don’t think I can if she won’t. I think she’s right and there’s a big scandal brewing, and if she’s trying to protect you. . . I don’t see the need for it myself, but if she does. . . It’s not for me to interfere.”

“You interfere in everything else! It’s what you do, you damn Trickster!”

“Ah. You did know. I thought you probably did. Why didn’t you tell Cobweb?”

“Well, I. . . well, I thought that it wasn’t for me to say. If you wanted her to know, you would have told her. I don’t like you any more than you like me, but as long as what you’re doing doesn’t impinge on Bad Fairy Behaviour, it isn’t my business. I wasn’t best pleased when you came back – we all found things much easier when you were sitting in that hogan in Arizona surrounded by ochre and blue beads, although we heard that the masks made you claustrophobic – but you have the right to as much privacy as anybody else. I haven’t told her, and I won’t. And I wish Cobweb had chosen a different friend, but she didn’t and there it is. We can at least be civil to each other because she’ll be upset if we quarrel, and I may be a wicked fairy but I don’t want her upset. She’s struggling enough with the job as it is.”

“Is she? I thought she was doing beautifully, and I have more experience of these things than many. And she does know about me, by the way. I told her the other night.”

“Oh, not how she’s managing. I think she’s really good at it, but I’m not sure if that’s just the normal prejudice of a partner. No, it’s the job itself. I reckon they’ll wind up Nemesis soon.”


“Well, you know how it is, you’ve been around. And around. And around. Your place was assured the moment the first single cell gained enough consciousness to say ‘what bad thing shall I do today?’ And mine appeared as soon as anyone could reason as far as ‘something bad has happened to me and it can’t possibly be my fault so there’s an external bad influence here’. But hers came much later, with ‘perhaps it was my fault after all’. And. . . have you spent much time in the twenty-first century?”

“Some. Not much.”

“Well, the concept of ‘my fault’ is more or less gone. No such thing. Everything is somebody else’s fault, so Nemesis can’t continue. There isn’t enough belief in it. Already it’s half the size it was when she took over. It’ll come round again, these things always do, but it’s going to take time.”

“I ought to have seen that, really, oughtn’t I? She hasn’t had any problem finding free time for our. . . project. What’ll she do? They won’t put her back to Domestics, will they?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it. Apart from anything else, she’s a lousy housekeeper. She should never have been in Domestics in the first place. No, I’m trying to seed the idea of combining Nemesis and the Godmothers again, the way they used to be, and getting her up in that.”

“I didn’t know they used to be a single unit.”

“Oh yes, when the Ould Bat and the Ould Boot ran it.”

“The. . .”

“Sorry. Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. I think Cobweb would make a splendid Godmother. Her gifts were a little crude, but they had twice the originality of anybody else’s.”

The Gnome began to feel his head hurt. The experience would be good for him: that was how everybody else felt when he was in the vicinity. “But she says that you get shirty when she godmothers.”

“Well, of course I do. For one thing, you Bottoms don’t seem to realise how hard it is for Tops to come up with new reasons for you to be punished. It’s real work, you know. And Cobweb doesn’t like to be punished without me having some sort of reason for it, however silly. She doesn’t want me to do it just because I feel like it, she likes to feel that she’s deserved it. And for another thing, I wanted her to do it.”

“Ah. Clever.”

“But now she’s involved in this project, and the Court gave her a hard time, and she was very upset. Whatever it is, I think she should leave it alone, I don’t think she has the experience to deal with it, but I don’t suppose she will.”

“Are you going to tell her you think it’s beyond her?”

Carabosse laughed. The Gnome was quite taken aback – this was not the Rickmanesque sneer he knew, this was a raucous uncontrolled whoop which left the Wicked Fairy leaning on a tree and hiccupping.

“Have you ever told Cobweb that she isn’t capable of something, Gnome?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, when you do, let me know in advance and I’ll sell tickets. And we’ll see you get a decent burial afterwards.”

They walked on, round the cottage. “Of course, the trouble with her not wanting to tell me anything is that it means I don’t know whether there’s anything I could do to help. Or even if she really does need help. And it’s not as if she doesn’t have resources of her own, even if she hasn’t ever used them.”

The Gnome was not stupid either. He could hear somebody telling him something that they thought he ought to know, and disguising it as mere gossip.


“She can call the spirits from the vasty deep.”

The Gnome shrugged. “So can I, and so can any. . . oh, I see.”

“Yes. They do come. She doesn’t have your seniority, or even mine, but have you ever thought about who her boss is?”

“Epona, she said.”

“And Epona’s boss?”

The Gnome thought about this. Then his eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“Oh yes. I’m not sure that Cobweb has remembered it, but she has the equivalent of the red telephone on her desk. She’s never used it, probably because her pride won’t allow her to think that she needs help, but she has a direct call on. . . Her. Of course she does – she’s in charge of dealing with misbehaviour. Who else would she answer to?”

At that point a small window in Infinity opened and a tetchy voice said through it, “If you two have quite finished discussing me, perhaps you would like to come inside. You’ve been three times widdershins around the cottage, and you’ve turned the milk.”

Carabosse shook his head. “I’m going to work. It’s a little early, but I know what’s good for me.” He was gone. The Gnome also knew what was good for him, but he preferred things that weren’t, so he took his courage in both hands and approached the back door of the cottage. It opened into an airy kitchen which hadn’t been there the last time he had visited. At the sink was an overdressed fairy with an attitude problem; one of her earrings hissed at him. He wondered if he should comment on the colour of her hair, but the self-preservation instinct which had so signally failed to protect Luc was much more strongly developed in the Gnome, and shouted in his ear “Are you mad? Do you want to die slowly and painfully? And she’s a she – it won’t even be fun!”

“Um. . . Carabosse says you’re not in good form.”

“Oh, great. You’re going to nag at me too.”

“Um. . . O.K. It was me, I did it, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’ll try to put it right, the stain will come out if you put salt on it, it’s only a tiny rip and it will mend, there’s no blood, it’s hardly burnt at all, and I’ll get you a new one.”

She turned round to face him. A flurry of sparks leapt from her hair, and earthed on the tap. Her earrings writhed. “What in the name of the Seven Circles are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, but whatever it was is plainly my fault, and I’m just trying to get in ahead of you shouting at me. It will be less exhausting for you if you skip the shouting and we go straight on to the bit where you tell me why you’re so angry and I grovel a lot.”

She stared at him sourly for a moment, and then gave a bark of laughter. “Now that I would like to see. Do you want some cake?”

The Gnome had enough linguistic experience to recognise a question expecting the answer yes.

“What sort of cake?”

“Simnel. Or marmalade gingerbread, if you prefer. Or there’s a Victoria sponge, and one of the lemon ones with sugar topping. And I’ve made five kinds of biscuits. And scones.”

“Plainly the situation has been very terrible. Any of the above. And is there any chance of a cup of coffee?”

“We can probably stretch to that. Only. . . Gnome, I’ve been hauled before the Board. Now, remember, Carabosse is my Top, so I’ve been bollocked by an expert, but I have never, ever, been so comprehensively put in my place as I was the other day. Some very senior people know what I’ve been doing and disapprove of it. And I think we were right about this being a huge scandal somewhere. There are people with lots of clout who are prepared to make life awkward for whoever interferes. If you want to back out of this. . . They don’t know, at least I don’t think they do, just how far you’ve been involved; they knew you were somebody who would send Luc to me, but I don’t think they’ve identified you. They asked who you were, and I made dismissive noises about a common elf who owed me favours and didn’t know anything. I didn’t say who you were. You don’t owe Luc anything, you don’t owe me anything. Huw won’t drop you in it. You can walk away if you want.”

“Are you going to?”

“Me? No. I’m not having that selection of. . . of. . . tooth fairies tell me how to do my job, or what is and what isn’t my business.”

“Then I think we had better clear the decks, choose our battlefield, butter our baking trays, organise our clichés and decide what we are going to do.”

“You’re sure it’s ‘we’?”

“This is meddling and mischief, isn’t it? It’s what I do. And if somebody is interfering with Nemesis, I think you’re entitled to be miffed, so let’s decide what comes next. Actually, I do think that what comes next is clearing the undergrowth.”


“Making sure that nobody is pissed off with us for irrelevant reasons. I need to sneak back to Huw’s and fix the cellar. You need to go and make up with Carabosse.”

“Why? We haven’t quarrelled.”

“No, you’ve just frightened him. You needn’t tell him what’s happening if you don’t want, but you could send him off to work in a less bewildered frame of mind. Go on, Fold yourselves an hour and go and catch him up before he gets to work. I’ll do the cellar. We can both be back in ten minutes. First one back puts the kettle on.” 

First one back was the Gnome. He had, however unwillingly, Folded, and had emerged in the clearing, it being unbelievably bad manners to Fold into someone else’s house except in their company. He opened the back door and fell down the steps of a coal cellar. Scrambling back up, he shut the door and opened it again, to find a small garage containing several spiders and a 1970s sports car. “I wanted the kitchen, please. I know it’s here somewhen.”

The kitchen was there when he opened the door again. It looked rather smug, if kitchens can look smug. “Thank you. Now, does Cobweb have a Brownie?” No door slammed. “I’m on my own then. I wonder where she keeps her coffee pot?” There was a rattle, and a cafetière produced small legs and stepped forward. “Oooh! Sapient kitchen! Fun! Coffee? You? Excellent. Um. . . I don’t want to seem too critical, but are you big enough for coffee for two?” A teapot rattled its lid at him, and three tea caddies jostled for his attention. He lifted them down and sniffed at the contents. “Darjeeling. Lady Grey. Ginger and cinnamon chai. Which of you does she use when she’s stressed? The chai? Fine. Let’s do that, then. Hello, tray. And is there a plate for the cake? What do you people think, should I just cut some of. . . oh, you already have cut some of everything. And buttered the gingerbread. How kind.”

He heard the ‘floop’ sound of a successful Fold, followed by a crash and muffled swearing. “Cobweb? I’ve made tea. Are you coming in here?”

“I’m just going to change my clothes. Take it into the Observatory and I’ll be right with you.”

“The Observatory?”

“Where the Ballroom was last time. Tell it you want the Observatory.”

He approached the cupboard door, said “Observatory, please,” firmly and stepped inside. By the time Cobweb arrived he had unloaded the tray onto the table, and poured his coffee. “I like the tank wall. Why penguins?”

“I like penguins. I find them soothing when they swim and amusing when they walk.”

“What was the crash?”

“I dropped my hairbrush on the dressing table.”

“Ah. I didn’t think you took it with you.”

“I didn’t. Carabosse made me come back for it. I hate that – being sent to fetch whatever it is.”

“What, hate it, hate it, or ‘Owwwww whine not fair’ hate it?”

“Yes, one of those. He’s really good with a hairbrush, you know, he can do more with a hairbrush than some Tops manage with a bullwhip. Pass me a cushion, please, you can’t possibly still need them all, and I do. Thanks. And a skirt is a really bad idea when facing a Top. One is much too accessible, and a long skirt can be grabbed when you try to run.” She had changed out of her Power Management skirt back to the more familiar trousers and her shirt said ‘You call me a bitch like it’s a bad thing’. That was much better – not nearly so aggressive.

“Now, tell me what happened. These are good cakes, by the way.”

“Thank you. The kitchen took care of you?”

“It was most courteous.”

“I’m glad of that. It was giving me gyp because I wanted to cook things myself. Well, now, let’s think about who disapproved of me. Sir Huon felt that I had taken my eye off the Grand Ball. It was very disappointing that I should be wasting my time on irrelevancies. Then the Committee for UnFaery Behaviour accused me of corrupting youth.”

“What? I realise Luc’s very young, but you didn’t throw him into Ianto’s bed by brute force.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that, it was. . . of course, you weren’t there. You were at Huw’s. The way I distracted Luc from what you were doing was to find that Ianto was still feeling guilty about teasing him over Huw, so I said that Ianto ought to be spanked and that Luc could do it. That’s corrupting both of them, apparently.”

“Ah. Well, it probably is. I wonder if they enjoyed it? And then?”

“Um. . . then there was using minor and innocent elementals in my convoluted and immoral plots.” 

“What was that?”

“That was you. Sending you to Huw.”

The Gnome attempted to inhale a piece of gingerbread and had to be thumped on the back. “Minor and innocent? ME?”

“There was wasting Nemesis funds on inessentials, which apparently was Luc’s sword – they nearly caught me on that one, I opened my mouth to say that you had done it, and then shut up again. They spent ages on the paperwork, but they couldn’t find a fault in it. They can’t say anything about the horse, though, because I said that I had Epona’s blessing. Then the Flawed Squad got me. That was really nasty. They said. . . they accused me. . .”

This one was obviously the real trouble. “What did they say?”

“Well, the best they called me was a fag hag.”

Ah. What was a good response to this?

“I mean, me? I’ve never Hagged. I’ve never been a loathly lady, or a necromancer, or a foul fiend, or anything. I’ve always tried to uphold decent professional standards. And I’ve never smoked in my life.”

The Gnome thought about this. He wasn’t quite sure whether or not she was winding him up. He said “Mm,” noncommittally.

“So then they went through every single document for every single contract I’ve done personally over the last twenty years. Thank the Gods you’re on Brian’s paperwork. I mean, I know it isn’t serious for either of you, but Brian’s always very careful to submit the blue copies to keep the system straight. I got it in the neck for every flexing of the rules – and I’m supposed to be in charge! There was another of those Welsh boys, not at Huw’s, I think it was at Hywel’s. Teilo, his name was, and he was only just seventeen, and away from home for the first time. He was so scared he didn’t know what to do with himself, and he got into a mess, much the way Luc does. So when he came up on my list, he was due twelve, and I could see that Hywel was going to find out what he’d done and shout at him as well. So I fixed it – I did a tiny Fold, and put right whatever he’d done, I can’t remember what it was, nothing serious, and then I just put him over my knee. He didn’t need any more, Gnome, he knew he’d done something stupid, and he didn’t make any difficulties about paying for it, and he was so relieved at not being in wrong with Hywel that he relaxed a bit and then he didn’t get in any more trouble.”

The Gnome whistled six bars of ‘Sentimental Journey’.

“I know, but the teenagers have that effect on me. Ianto’s the only one I’ve ever. . . you know. . . because they’re too young. I like my men with more miles on the clock. But I do tend to mother the youngsters. I always feel the urge to feed them after I’ve dealt with them.”

“Mmm”, agreed the Gnome, casting his mind back to what Carabosse had said. She disciplined them and she fed them. How could he have missed this? Of course she answered to . . . Her, even if she didn’t know it.

“Anyway, the Flawed Squad spent an hour going over this. Why had I spanked him rather than using the switch? Why had I done a Fold to get him out of trouble? How had I been paid for it and who by? Why had I put down that he’d had his twelve when he hadn’t? Well, I soon put them right on that one: I called for the portamirror and I looked up the Defective Sergeant who was asking the questions, and I found that he had a dozen suspended from when he was in his teens, so I Shifted and gave them to him.”

The Gnome, who was onto his third piece of simnel cake, snorted marzipan with laughter. “What did you Shift to?”

“Well, I was half way to Huw, he being uppermost in my mind, when I thought that perhaps it wasn’t wise, so I gave him Martin Johnson instead. But I kept Huw’s hands, since you had said they were worth it. And the Sergeant got his dozen over my knee, and then he stopped asking why I hadn’t used the switch and agreed that it was probably fair that I should use my discretion. Actually, he agreed that somewhere between four and eight, when I asked if he thought he was getting off lightly. Anyway, they spent two Folded weeks – Folded? bloody pleats! - over the two days to go through everything, and then I was formally cautioned to stop playing with Luc and to get on with my work. My list for this week is just rubbish. I’ve to give Goldilocks twelve for breaking and entering, Beauty’s due something for cutting her return to the Beast too fine, and the seven dwarfs are all on line for necrophilia. You know, putting Snow White in the glass coffin instead of burying her decently. And Red Riding Hood’s woodcutter for cruelty to animals. Oh yes, and I’m to get the Wicked Queen under the Elf and Safety regulations for improper use of apples. Then they withdrew Hazel and Willow and sent them to Compliance. So I’m short two staff, and I’ve been chewed out, and what I can’t work out, Gnome, what I can’t work out is whether they really want me to give up on Luc, or whether somebody knows me well enough to understand that when I’m told not to do something I more or less automatically do it.”

“Ah,” agreed the Gnome, through the Victoria sponge.

“But I’ve found some things out. I discovered whose son Luc is this morning.”

“You have been busy, haven’t you? All this Cooking, and detective work today as well. Pass the scones and tell me everything.”

“No, you misunderstand me. I don’t mean that this morning I found out, I mean that I know what the result is this morning.”

“Do you feel like this when I talk?”

“Like what?”

“Like you know all the words, but somehow you aren’t getting any good of the sentence?”

“Always, darling, always. Last night, I went and dug about in the system, and after a great deal of hither and yon and following up obscure hints, I found a father for Luc.”



“No, not me, that’s a mistake. It can’t possibly be me, I don’t do that sort of thing.”

“No, not you, Huw.”

“WHAT? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. The system is quite definite. Huw did the deed. Hardly surprising. He’s been. . . how shall we put it? I know you said he was quite discriminating, but he also doesn’t let many opportunities pass, does he?”

“Well! I would never have believed it! I always thought there were no tips on Huw’s arrows. I mean, yes, I agree, he’s always. . . I’m trying to avoid the phrase ‘up for it’. . . but I’ve never heard of any little Huwlets about the place. So it’s Luc, is it? Just as well they didn’t go to bed then! So where does that leave us? Any further on?”

“Absolutely not. It’s much more complicated than that. The more I thought about it, the less I believed it. So I wondered if it were true before.”

“I’m going to need more coffee. . .”

“It’s nearly lunchtime. What about some Madeira? With ice?”

“Go on, then.”

“This is another place where I wonder if they don’t know me at all, or if they know me terribly well. You know how they always tell you to back up your system? Do you do it?”

“Well, probably not as often as I should. I mean, nobody does, do they?”

“I do. The person who does it is me. I’m absolutely neurotic on the subject. I had to go to Alderley Edge for a major confrontation between the svart alfar and the lios alfar, with the dwarfs involved as well and I had the system go down when I was half way through, and it lost a month’s appointments. Maugrim was out and the Morrigan and everybody. There was a huge battle, and a human got wind of it and wrote it all down, and the trouble I had later getting it all marked as fiction! Believe me, that sort of thing tends to make you a tiny bit anally retentive. I back up much more often than anybody else I know, and three different ways. I’ve got back ups like the Rosetta Stone. So I reloaded three different versions, from three different days, and I’m telling you, today Huw has been Luc’s father for nearly seventeen years, but last week he wasn’t.”

“Alcohol. Now. Please.”

“I’ll just. . . What’s that?”

It was a beetle, walking across the coffee table. It appeared to have a small metal disc on its back. “I’ll just put it outside. They come in from the pergola if I’m not careful.” She caught it in her cupped hands, and mouthed “Bug!” at the Gnome. His eyes widened and he dredged up some ordinary conversation. “Did you mention Madeira? I haven’t had any of that for years. It would go very nicely with the cake.”

Cobweb pushed the Bug out through a window that hadn’t been there, and turned towards the penguin tank. She concentrated hard for a moment and the tank vanished, to be replaced by a small stage and a six piece jazz band, playing ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. “Come closer to the band, Gnome. Do you dance?” She lowered her voice. “I defy any Bug to hear anything over this lot. The trombonist is really good. I’ll get the Madeira.”

She was back a minute later with a bottle and glasses. The band was playing ‘Mood Indigo’, but she glared at them, and the trumpeter dropped his mute, and started them off again on ‘That’s A-Plenty’. “Can you chill that, please? I hadn’t enough hands for ice as well.”

“Me? How would I do that?”

She gave him the Look that Carabosse had mentioned. “Hello, Gnome, this is Cobweb you’re speaking to. You ought to know that once you’re out you don’t get to change your mind. You’ve been about long enough, you tell me, so chill the damn wine. I’ve had enough of people giving me the runaround and I won’t have it from you. Chill the bottle. And then you can have some more. . . did you pick all the marzipan off the sides of the cake? Oh, really. . . you are the absolute end, you know that?” She lowered her voice again. “I couldn’t bring ice because there isn’t any. There was no ice tray in the fridge, but there was a message instead.”

“In the freezer box? Who sends you messages via the freezer?”

“Your Brownie. It’s made the link through the hole in the space time continuum.”


“Come on, keep up. You know that every fridge has a hole in the space time continuum?”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, it does. That’s why you open the fridge and there’s no milk, so if you shut the fridge and count to ten and open it again, there is milk. It’s been in somebody else’s fridge.”

“Is that what does it? I just thought it implied that I’d had too much to drink.”

“In your case it probably did. But your Brownie has written me a note and put it into my ice box via yours. It presumably thought that if you were here I would be looking for ice for one reason or another very soon.”

The Gnome winced. “Oh, don’t go on at me. I said I was sorry.”

She softened. “All right, I shouldn’t tease. Your Brownie says that your herm says. . .”

“Yes, now, about that. What did you do to my herm? I went away leaving two perfectly sensible and decorative herms properly clad in their marble skins, and when I came back they aren’t speaking to each other and one of them’s dressed as a Submarine Captain.”

“Don’t ask. I promised him that I wouldn’t tell you. It was nothing very bad, but I think he thinks he owes me, so he’s trying to keep on the right side of me. The other one probably thinks he’s letting the quarry down. Anyway, the herm says that the henge says. . .”


“Don’t keep interrupting! Look, while you were away, I thought that we needed all the help we could get, and people tend to ignore domestic staff. I know they do, because I was one. So I gave the Brownie a decent supper and it had the last of the zinfandel. . .”

“You gave it alcohol? That explains a great deal. I can’t find a damn thing in the kitchen; it did a huge spring clean and it’s moved everything. You might. . .”

“Will you stop interrupting! I asked it if any domestics knew anything about Luc, and then on the way out I asked the herms if any garden ornaments knew anything, and obviously they do, so shut up and let me tell you!”

“Oh, ‘scuse me! That’s just my household you’re messing with!”

“Yes, and that’s just my share of the marzipan you’re eating. If you pick any more off the top I shall smack you myself. Is that just greed, or are you actually hungry?”

“I’ve been starving ever since I went to Huw’s,” he admitted sadly. “That much concentrated activity uses up a lot of calories. Tell me what the henge said.”

“It seems that the bard you mentioned didn’t hang about in Wales, he went south. To Lyonesse.”

“Cornwall? I wonder why?”

“No, not Cornwall, the other one. The Lyonesse tea rooms.”

“I thought they were all gone! Is there one left?”

“It appears so. A Magic Tea Shop. Didn’t somebody write a musical called that? It doesn’t sound quite right. Toy Shop, would it have been? Come on, I’ll give you lunch. It’ll be a bit of a picnic, though.”

It was. There were cold sausages in the fridge and the remains of a huge Greek salad, and, as Carabosse had said, mayonnaise. “You can’t have any of that if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Or very young.”

“Do I look. . .”

“And you aren’t supposed to have any if you’re very old.”

“Are you going to rub this in for the rest of your life?”

“Mayonnaise? I don’t rub it in. Cream, now, that’s different. Come on, we’ll have lunch and then decide what’s next. Bring the butter, and there are rolls in the breadbin. Those ones are olive and herb and the other ones are cheese and onion. Shall we move on from Madeira? That sort of lunch wants Orvieto. Chill it, please.”

The Gnome did as he was told. But she needn’t think she was going to get away with being that bossy. Carabosse might not be his best mate, but if the Gnome complained to him about Cobweb’s manner, she would smart for it, he was sure of that. Carabosse would probably be glad to have somebody else think up the excuse for once.

He distracted her. “The Lyonesse Tea Rooms. Do we know anybody who goes there?”


“Your switch provider? I thought she was a dryad. Can she leave her tree?”

“No, but the Lyonesse stops every so often at Avalon, so of course all the apple trees have a connection, and what one of them knows they all know. Failing that, there’s always Ynis Witrin. I can get in there.”

“You can? How? You’re not involved with those women, are you?”

“Oh, no. I want an MG, not a Morgan. Or a different sort of quarterhorse. But for a short while in the twentieth century, I worked in double glazing.”

“You are a constant surprise to me, you know that? What did you do in double glazing?”

“I tried, unsuccessfully, to make it moral. I stopped it being a purely cash based business, and I made them record everything for the VAT man, and I made the Subbies pay tax. I made the Tops pay tax too. But all that’s beside the point. I know the buzzwords for the Isle of Glass. I couldn’t keep it up for long, but I can bullshit about profile and beading and stuff.”

“And you accuse me of technobabble?”

“Well, the only thing is, I don’t see what good it does us. I agree that the question is whose son Luc is, but so far all we’ve established with any certainty is that he isn’t yours, and that we don’t believe he’s Huw’s. So if we’re going to chase up this bard, we need to have better questions. What’s more, if he’s a real bard he’s your lookout. I can write limericks, but proper poetry’s beyond me. In fact, I’m beginning to think this whole quest’s beyond me. But I’m damned if I’ll let the Court see that.”


Idris the Dragon

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