Episode 12

Cobwebobweb had just finished painting the woodwork in the spare bedroom, and was contemplating the results with a feeling of satisfaction and a liberally paint-smeared demeanour, when a small lacuna in space-time opened in front of her with a soft pop, and Carabosse stuck his head through.

“It’s come up rather well, hasn’t it?” she asked proudly.

“Very nice. I wasn’t sure about the shade, but you’re right, it sets off the walls well. Umm, I’ve got some bad news for you.” His tone was hesitant – the pestilential Gnome had not been in evidence for a week or so, and Cobweb seemed to have thrown herself into work and redecorating the cottage the hard way. Indeed, she had been much more her old self for the last couple of days, and he very much hoped that the news he had was not going to result in another bout of Cooking.


“The Gnome has been arrested, I’m afraid.”

“Arrested? What are the charges?”

“Aggravated trespass, obstructing an officer in the course of his duty, and resisting arrest. At least, for the moment. Something I overheard suggests that it’s just an excuse to hold him while they work up a case on illegal supply of Class A information to mortals.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake. This is just too much! Where is he?” Her paint-smeared shirt and trousers ‘for around the house’ were abruptly replaced by a full length black gown, with sequins, and her hair abruptly shifted to deep coppery red and coiled itself on the top of her head in a formidably complex arrangement.

“The holding centre at Ginnungagap Police Station. Take a wrap, it’s cold there. Do you want me to come with you?”

“No. I’m about to tear someone’s liver out, and I’d rather you weren’t around to catch any of the flack.”

“Fair enough, but call me if you need me, and use my name if you think it will help.”

Knowing that Carabosse and the Gnome didn’t get on terribly well, Cobweb was rather touched by the last, which almost ruined her strop.

“Thanks. I might be back late.”

“I’ll eat at the office then.” Blowing her a kiss, the Wicked Fairy disappeared.

“Bloody fool of a Gnome, getting himself locked up. I should leave him there, that’s what I should do,” muttered the angry Fay, as she headed for the door. She held her arms out and a magnificent full-length greatcoat, in a rather military style, materialised around her. It was an ever-shifting grey, like a thousand evenings filled with cigarette smoke and melancholy, and had been woven from the fur of the Fenris Wolf, soft and light and incredibly warm, if smelling slightly of dog. She was extremely fond of it. A snap of the fingers accessorised it with her orange pashmina.

The rattle of a diesel sounded from the drive as she stepped out and closed the door.

“Give you a lift somewhere, lady?” asked the taxi cab.

“Barnabas, dear, how very nice. You’ve heard about . . .”

“Yes. Don’t worry, it’s not the first night he’s spent in clink. It will probably do him good,” said the cab unsympathetically. “Ginnungagap, is it?”

“Please.” She noted that despite the cab’s insouciance the rattle of its engine had a distinctly higher pitch than normal. “Of course, I may not be able to do anything.”

“Well, Miss Cobweb, I’ll tell you straight, and he’ll probably take a spanner to my big end if he ever finds out, he thinks very highly of you. ‘There’s not much Cobs can’t manage if she puts her mind to it’ he said, which is why I made so bold as to come over. Frankly, a lot of his friends aren’t that reliable in a crisis.”

“He said that, did he?”

“Yes. Mind you, he also said: ‘she’s a complete ball-breaking bitch when the mood takes her’ and ‘she’s a bad influence, that Cobweb’, but he was drunk at the time.”

Cobweb beamed. It is always nice to know your sterling qualities are appreciated, even by drunks. “He does like me, then.”

“You’ve noticed that, have you? He’s only ever rude to people he likes – it’s when he’s polite that you have to watch out.”

The Euston Road flashed by, closely followed by the Taj Mahal, and a short stretch of exceptionally dreary moorland over which a gigantic hound was bounding. The air turned distinctly icy, and the sky became more lowering.

The cab drew up outside a grim block of stained concrete, heavily festooned with razor wire and aerials. There was a constant bitter wind blowing, and the coal-dust smell of incipient snow, and Cobweb was glad she had dressed warmly.

“Don’t wait if you don’t want to,” she said. “I don’t know how long this is going to take.”

“Oh, I guess I’ll hang around. It’s not as if I’ve got anything else I need to be doing. And you might want to get out of here quickly.”

“I’m not planning the Great Escape,” she said. “But thank you. I appreciate it.” Which was true: it was no harm to come to this fresh, without the effort of Folding. She walked up the steps, and through the heavy door into a waiting area that possessed all the welcoming charm of a minicab office. A small window of security glass with a speaker grille was set into one wall, and she walked over.

Nobody was there. She pressed the button beside the speaker, which hissed briefly then reverted to silence. She pressed again.

A door banged somewhere, and a small troll appeared behind the glass, which was, she noted with some distaste, heavily smeared on the inside.

“Yes, all right, I’m bloody coming. What do you want?”

Cobweb’s ire, which had subsided somewhat, rose to new heights. Her hair began to writhe, and a stray lock rattled aggressively.

“I want a civil response, for a start. And then I want to see the Woodgnome.”


“Woodgnome, Paulus the. Aka . . .” she paused and thought better of it. “Look it up.”

“And who are you, anyway? The missus? We don’t do family visits.”

“I am Trouble, with a capital T in case you missed it. Old Ma’am Trouble, to use my official title. Head of Nemesis. And if I don’t get a few manners and a bit more help here, then I assure you my whole department will be giving you our undivided attention.” The Fay’s eyes had darkened to abyssal pits, in which flecks of fire spun and plunged to their extinction, and her hair was now fully erect in striking position. It hissed evilly at the troll who shrank back in alarm.

“You aren’t on the visitors list,” it said sullenly. “Sorry ma’am but I don’t make the rules.”

“Look, I have a privileged communication to make to my client . . .”

“Oh, you’re his brief. Why didn’t you say so?” It pressed something out of sight and a heavily armoured door in the side wall buzzed at her like a demented bluebottle. She gestured, and the heavy steel slammed itself open against the wall with a thud that shook the building. The troll’s eyes bulged even more than normal (which was unfortunate), and it practically curtseyed as it ushered her through.

The Fay stepped through, rather impressed herself. Those visits to Gandalf’s Gym were paying off. And if the troll were stupid enough to think that she’d claimed to be a lawyer, when in fact she had said no such thing, she wasn’t about to disabuse him. And the Gnome was Brian’s client, which meant, since she had overall responsibility for the department, that he was hers.

“And I’ve a good mind to give him a dozen, too, for all the trouble he’s putting me to,” she muttered, as they descended a flight of stairs and were buzzed through several more doors. The air had the stale dullness that came from multiple cycles through a magic extractor.

“In here, ma’am,” said the troll. She walked into a small interview room with a table and four chairs, and a tape-recorder.

“Take a seat, ma’am, and we’ll get him for you.”

She sat down, and inspected the walls (which were grubby) and then her fingernails (which were not). It seemed to be taking an inordinately long time . . .

The door swung open, and the Gnome was propelled in, by a different and much larger policeman.


“You were expecting someone else . . .?”

“Well, as a matter of fact . . .” The Gnome’s shrewd little brain registered the expression on Cobweb’s features and trailed off, a little uncertainly, “no. Errm, no, not at all.”

“Good, because if I’m going to represent you, I need to discuss the case with you.”

“Rep. . .resent me, yes, of course, obviously. Really, I was beginning to wonder what sort of police state this had become, keeping me incommunicado this way and denying me access to a representative. This would be privileged communication, I take it?”

“Yes. I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to stand outside, officer.”

The policeman snorted wearily. “Just shout when you’re done,” he said.

“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve . . .”

“It’s ‘another fine mess’, and I didn’t. What are you doing here, Cobs?”

“I came to help. Or at least to make it clear that we stand together.”

“Idiot,” said the Gnome affectionately. “You were supposed to be doing plausible deniability, and I’ve just spent 36 hours of rather creative lying, if I do say so myself, trying to do the same.”

“Oh come off it. Someone has seen through that, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. What are you doing here, by the way?”

The Woodgnome pulled at his ear. “Never mind that,” he said. “I’ve missed you so, darling . . .” and to Cobweb’s alarm he lunged at her (rather clumsily) and threw his arms around her.

She gave a small squeak of surprise.

“Sorry,” he hissed, “but I rather suspect that walls have ears. And what I’m doing here is a long and complicated story that will have to wait until I get out.”

He released her, and she straightened her pashmina. “Yes, about that.”


“I had a plan to get in. Well, more an off-the-cuff thing. Pretending to be your lawyer.”

“Go on.”

“I’m not so sure about the getting out.”

“Wise of you, my dear,” said a new voice. “I’m not entirely sure you can.”

“Sir Huon!”

“You blush!” observed the Gnome interestedly. “I would never have taken you for a blusher, though I suppose it goes with the fair skin. Good evening your majesty.”

“Please, I’ve never liked the title, and strictly speaking it passed with the old king. Sir Huon will do, Raven.”

“I don’t use that name any more. Or the older one. I’m not much for titles either, Huon. Woodgnome will do.”

“As you wish. Now what are we going to do about this situation you’ve got yourselves into?” The ruler of the People of the Hills, immaculate in a beautifully cut Italian suit, hand-made brogues, and a silk shirt and tie, perched himself on the table, the picture of understated elegance. His pale blue eyes studied them coolly from under silver brows.

Cobweb frowned.

“I’m not sure that we’ve got ourselves into anything. I’m damn sure that someone is playing silly games with me and my department, and I don’t like it.” Somewhere in the distance outside she could hear what sounded like a brawl, or perhaps a particularly unruly set of prisoners being brought in, and by the end of the sentence she was conscious that she had raised her voice quite a lot. Not shouting, no not at all. Just trying to be heard.

“That’s quite understandable.” Huon gestured the door shut against the racket. “I’d feel exactly the same in your place. But I think you have to ask yourself, realistically, what you can hope to gain by carrying on with this investigation. I mean it’s hardly the proper business of Nemesis to babysit, is it?”

“Oh I don’t know,” murmured the Gnome helpfully. “Chasing an errant father, bring home the consequences of his actions to roost – that sounds as if it falls right into the purview of Nemesis.”

For a moment pure icy dislike broke through Sir Huon’s urbane mask.

“There are some matters in your own past that might bear such investigation too,” he snapped. “But come,” he recovered enough to manage a wry smile, “you’ve always loved a good argument for its own sake, Gnome. But Cobweb and I have no reason to quarrel. I admire her work immensely, that’s why I suggested her for the post in the first place.”

The Gnome smiled in return, admiring the handiwork of a master. To suggest that he was a contentious troublemaker, and to remind Cobweb just who had given her the job and could as easily take it away, all with a few well-chosen and perfectly innocuous phrases. The guy was good, you had to hand it to him.

“Thank you, Sir Huon,” said Cobweb coolly. “But since it appears that what you really wanted for the post was an obedient glove-puppet, I’m not sure that the recommendation flatters either of us.”

Sir Huon looked pained.

“My dear, I haven’t the slightest intention of interfering with your work. I merely wish to offer a little guidance through the political realities so that you don’t waste your energies fruitlessly struggling against them.” Outside, someone seemed to have arrested some Hare Krishna devotees or something, as the sounds of tambourines and flutes (played out of tune) could be heard, as well as what sounded like a party of Essex girls out on the tiles, hooting with drunken laughter.

“Really, what is this place coming to?” murmured Huon with distaste. “Come now, Cobweb, it isn’t so hard to – hic. Oh, excuse me.” He extracted a linen handkerchief, perfectly pressed, from a pocket and held it to his mouth a moment, then dabbed with the opposite corner at his brow. “Rather warm,” he said. “Now – hic. Damned hiccups.”

The gnome, ignored, had perked up at the sound of the voices. Now an expression of mingled fear and delight broke across his face.


“Don’t. Cobs is bad enough. It’s Cob-web, thank you,” she added with exaggerated precision.

“Cobsy wobsy wobsy” carolled the Gnome, breaking into a waltz.

Sir Huon raised an eyebrow. “Extraordinary behaviour,” he said. “Excuse me, but did someone turn up the heating in here? I’m feeling quite hot and dizzy.” A slight flush was indeed visible on his patrician features.

The Gnome took Cobweb’s hand. “Dance with me,” he said.

“I don’t – Gnome, are you on something? What in the name of Hades are you doing?” asked Cobweb.

“Something wonderful is about to happen. Something wonderful and awful in the true sense of the word. You see, Sir Huon, I rather think you’ve forgotten that strictly speaking I don’t come under your jurisdiction.”

“I – oh no.”

“Yes. Yes, indeed. My Master is coming.” The flutes had been joined by drums now, deep resonating drums that beat a rhythm you could feel in your bones. Cobweb could feel giggles rising, great uncontrollable giggles that came from nowhere. She fought them down. She would decide when she laughed for no reason, thank you very much.

“What is going to happen?”

“Chaos. Passion. Terror.” Sir Huon looked at them both, then at the door. Ivy was starting to grow under it and up it. He yanked it open.

Outside, a conga line seemed to have formed, of policemen of various sizes and states of dishevelment, scantily clad women carrying rods tipped with pine-cones and twined with more ivy, and various malefactors. They were swaying down the corridor amid much laughter and many whoops and cheers.

“Hmm, someone’s having a good time, anyway,” said the Gnome. “Oh look.” The floor was heaving behind them. As it split the shoots of young vines began to grow through.

“This is outrageous,” snarled Sir Huon. It was the first time either of them had ever seen him lose his poise. With a loud crack another piece of floor pushed up under his feet. Giving a last backward glare at the two of them, he fled.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” said the Gnome. “No sense in letting the grass grow under our feet.” He collapsed in helpless laughter at his own bad joke. Cobweb shook her head at him, then was unable to resist. The urge to laugh was just too infectious.

“Did you see his face?” she gasped.

“Yes. I think he should be put onto milk curdling duty straight away.” And the pair of them burst into new peals of laughter as they made their way through the dancing throngs in the corridor towards the main exit.

At the door, however, their way was barred by two remarkably large and muscular women in panther skins who blocked the exit with their wands.

“He wants to see you,” they said to the Gnome.

A look of pain crossed the Gnome’s face.

“I can’t.”

“What, not a word for a friend, old man?” said a new voice. It was a warm intimate voice, speaking quietly, yet you could hear it over the hubbub as if it were speaking into your ear, and the throng fell instantly silent.

Slowly the Gnome turned, and as he did so he Shifted, into a short, elderly red-faced satyr, balding and white-haired and with a generous pot belly. He had the sort of eyes that looked as if they were made to twinkle, not to hold an expression of such love and hunger and pain that Cobweb, catching them for a moment, turned her gaze away. It wasn’t right to see a soul that naked.

Facing them across the police station floor was a golden-skinned youth of astonishing beauty. His dark curls tumbled around his shoulders, and vines, their grapes glistening with juice, were woven in a crown around his head. He wore a chiton over one shoulder so that the other was bare, and had a lion skin about his shoulders.

The Gnome sank to his knees and bowed his head.


“Silenos, old friend. It has been long. We have been lonely for you.”

“Master you know I cannot. Not any longer. I am too old for your train, too tired now.”

“Not too tired to make a little mischief, I hear.”

Silenos managed a rueful smile. “Not entirely intentionally, Master, as you must know. What is going on? Who is against us?”

The boy smiled as he made his way through the watching crowd to hug the old satyr affectionately. “Of course I know, old fool. But I’m not going to explain things to you. I don’t do reason and logic, that’s Athena’s business. And think how much fun (not to mention how much delicious trouble) you’re going to have working it out.”

He raised long dark eyes to Cobweb. Fabulous eyelashes, she noticed. Why was it always boys who got the best eyelashes?

“Lady, I am glad he has you as a friend. And in return, I will be yours.”

Cobweb curtseyed, glad she had worn a dress with enough material to make this practical.

“Thank you, Lord of the Vine. I suppose that wouldn’t extend to a spell for hangovers?” she added hopefully.

The boy laughed, thrillingly. “Another drink, that gets rid of them,” he said. He raised a cup in salute. “Bon voyage.” Then he turned away and the party resumed with a new fervour.

The Gnome had Shifted back to his normal appearance. “Come on, we really had better be going. These dos can turn a bit nasty later on, when everyone has had too much.” He sounded tired.

“It’s already turned nasty for whoever has to do the clearing up, not to mention for their budgets. I rather expect we’ll be called in to dispense appropriate retribution at some point, once Internal Affairys have finished with them.” She winced as a crack and unpleasant grinding sound from one office announced a photocopier giving up the uneven struggle of both supporting someone’s weight and providing the world with an image of his buttocks. “See what I mean? Resources will have a fit.”

“Not even a nice arse,” agreed the Gnome, perking up a little and sounding more like his old self. “Now if it had been that tall blond with the hazel eyes . . .”

“The one with the impressive shoulders? Sorry, you’re out of luck there. I think he’s one of Briony’s.”

“Really? Damn. Men who look like that have no business being Bottoms.” They descended the stairs to the main reception, which looked as if it had been hit by a bomb and then left to grow wild for thirty years. Hacking their way through vines and ivy they stepped out into the wider world to find that it was snowing.

“Brr,” said the Gnome. “My tiny hand will be frozen if I have to go far in this, and you can’t Fold easily round here. Too much interference from the white hole at the bottom of Ginnungagap abyss.”

“Luckily, that won’t be necessary.” said Cobweb, and sticking two fingers in her mouth she gave a loud and rather vulgar whistle, much to the admiration of the Woodgnome, who could never get that trick to work.

The taxi cab rolled up in front of them.

“Barnabas?” said the Gnome. “Thank the God.”

“Thanks? An acknowledgment that I have a name? What on earth did they do to you in there? Who are you and why are you pretending to be the Woodgnome?”

“Very funny, now open the fucking door and turn up the heating,” snapped the Gnome.

“Ah, that’s the Woodgnome we know and love.” The doors opened and a wave of warm air rolled out at them as they got hurriedly in.

“Oh, at last,” said Cobweb, settling herself down as she got in first. As the Gnome bent to get in she slapped his backside, hard.

“Ow, what was that for?” said an aggrieved Gnome.

“That’s a little on account for all the grief  you’ve caused me today. Brian can take care of the remaining eleven. Senior cane, and on the bare.”

“Oh very well,” grumbled the Gnome, not entirely convincingly. “But I think I deserve sympathy, not smacks. I’ve been in that place for two days, you know.”

“Yes, and why? You were supposed to be making discreet enquiries, not blowing it all sky high and getting arrested.”

“It’s a long story, and this is as secure a place to discuss it as I can think of. Donkey dear, go round the block a few times, will you?”


Idris the Dragon

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