Episode 16

Inn the early hours of the morning, Cobweb took her cup of tea and wandered out of the cottage. Carabosse had insisted that they go to bed, saying that he at least wanted a knight’s sleep before there was any Questing involving him, and pointing out acerbically that Cobweb, being yes we all know could Fold them to Anywhen she liked without difficulty, but not when she was tired. Unfortunately, she couldn’t sleep. She was worried, she was heavily involved in planning, and she was suffering the effects of too much Vouvray that hadn’t made her drunk. She had a thirst like something from a legend – she was too distracted to think which legend – and not enough in the way of bright ideas.

She paced up and down on the grass, until a voice from the lean-to said quietly, “Are you going to share what’s going on with me, or are you taking after the Woodgnome and being a complete pain in the arse?”

She jumped. “Barnabas! I’m so sorry, did I wake you?”

“No. I’m an equine, I don’t sleep like you do. I unfocus my eyes and let my ears lop and go hip-shot and it happens. Shouldn’t you be in bed? And when did your hair go short and purple?”

“Friday. Didn’t you notice it earlier? Yes, I was in bed but I can’t sleep. And Carabosse snores.”

“Come over here, then, and tell me what’s going on. I’ll come out.”

He trotted briskly through the garden to the orchard, and lay down in that angular manner that equines do so well. “Come on, lean on my ribs and tell me what’s happened. It isn’t really warm enough for you to be out in that whatever you’re wearing. Let’s share some body heat.”

Cobweb thought that she had, in her day, had worse offers, and curled up on the grass behind his foreleg, with her shoulders on his flank, and told him everything. It helped, as such things usually do – explaining to someone else clears the mind, and this was after all her third repetition of the night. She shut her eyes, and turned to rest her face on Barnabas and enjoyed the yeasty smell of warm donkey, and suddenly realised that the flesh beneath her cheek was swelling and transforming. This, naturally, was not a new experience for her, but given the illegality, even in those days, of involving livestock in one’s love life, she opened her eyes in some alarm. The flank beneath her was much larger now, smoother, and a glossy and silvery white.

“You’re a horse! What brought that on?”

“Don’t say it so loudly! I don’t do it very often. I don’t need to and it causes talk. But I can. It seems to me that if you’re going Questing, you’ll need a proper mount. That boy was right, although I wouldn’t myself have worded it in quite such a melodramatic way. You need a mighty steed with a great heart and boundless courage, who will be your true companion on many adventures. That’s me. Don’t cry! You’re getting me all wet! Stop it! No! You don’t need to hug me either. The Gnome said you were sentimental, and for once he’s right. And make no mistake, I’m not doing this for his sake, it’s just that life is exciting where the pair of you pass. Now, we’ll think about this in the morning. Either put your head back on my shoulder and go to sleep, or go back inside to Carabosse and go to sleep.”

“Why does everybody boss me about?”

“Because every Top needs to bottom sometimes, just as every Bottom occasionally needs to top. Go to sleep.”

A little later, Carabosse, who had woken in a cold bed, came out to find Cobweb draped across the chest of a large stallion, sleeping soundly. Being naturally not possessive, and also incredibly intelligent, he went back inside for the duvet and joined the party.

The early morning was not a success. Cobweb was not naturally a morning person, and tended to want to spread her unhappiness around. Carabosse was first to get up, and he touched her face and said brightly, “Let’s start the day, shall we?”, only to receive a snarl and to have the duvet ripped from him as she turned over in the grass and went back to sleep. He thought this a promising response, being less violent than some he had received, and went to make tea and coffee and bran mashes.

“Cobweb! Tea!”


“Come on, dear, sit up and drink it.”


“Sit UP, dear. Better. Now, take your tea. Good girl. Barnabas, there’s breakfast in the lean-to, but you’ll need to give her fifteen minutes to get it together, before she can sit up without leaning on you. COBWEB! Open your eyes.”


He sighed, closed his own hand around the mug, and helped her move it towards her face. She was half way down the tea before both eyes opened.

“Oh, Goddess” (that was interesting, he thought, she hadn’t said that before), “I’ve got such a crick in my neck. Have I been doing blow-jobs again? I wish you wouldn’t make me wear the tall collar when I do.”

Even Carabosse blushed, and Barnabas snickered.

“Horse. It’s a horse. Why am I sleeping with a horse? I shouldn’t drink with the Gnome, should I?”

Carabosse and Barnabas exchanged glances. “Is she always like this in the morning?”

“This is quite good. Who are you, dear?”

“’m Cobweb.”

“Who am I?”

“You’re Carabosse.”

“Who is he?”

“’s horse. Don’t know horse. Oh! ’s Barnabas. G’ morning, Barnabas.”

“There. That’s very promising. She knows who we all are. Another cup of tea and a shower and she’ll be fit to face the day.”

It took a little longer than that, but she had been to Minerale’s, and was more or less compos mentis by the time Carabosse had made breakfast and set it out on the patio table. (He thought it both polite and politic to include Barnabas in any plan of attack. This meant not having the council of war in the sitting room. While he was certain that Barnabas knew how to behave in a civilised household, something which could not be relied upon in the Gnome, the plain fact was that Barnabas, while a small donkey, was a very large horse. He wouldn’t fit inside unless Carabosse took the piano out. No, breakfast al fresco would be a better idea.)

“Right, love, where do we start?”

“Huw’s, I think. We need to get the party together. He’s fond of the Gnome, so I don’t expect it will be difficult.”

“I admit I’m rather at a loss to know why anybody should be fond of the Gnome, but he does seem to inspire affection.”

“That won’t save him when I lay hand on him. He simply wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing last night, or he wouldn’t be in this mess, and I’m going to make him sorry.”

“Why? What are you going to do to him?”

Twelve minutes of uninterrupted speech later, Cobweb had gone to paint her face as she always did before addressing a nerve-racking encounter, and Carabosse and Barnabas were exchanging glances again.

“Tell me, Barnabas, has the Gnome ever been topped by a woman?”

“Not when he was with me, although I couldn’t say what he did before or since. You don’t think she’ll Shift, then?”

“Doubt it. She’s much more imaginative female than male, and she’s very… um...”

“Wasn’t she just! That one she said in the middle, Carabosse, is that the one with the rubber glove?”


“And do we have rubber gloves in this time?”

“No. Several hundred years too early. And she may have to improvise with butter. He won’t like it, even though she does have small hands.”

“Would she actually do it, then? If she thought he really objected?”

“I don’t believe she ever has done it, and she would make him sweat, but if she thought he genuinely objected, she wouldn’t do it.”

“I’m out of date with the scene. What does the handkerchief in that pocket mean?”

“It means she has trouble with her sinuses and never leaves home without a handkerchief. Sorry. It isn’t relevant to what she was saying she would do.”

“It’s the one she said right at the end that he’s really going to hate. I don’t think anybody’s ever done anything quite that vicious to him before.”

“What, making him read aloud the entire works of Barbara Cartland? Yes, that’s going to hurt him, isn’t it? I said she was imaginative. And she honestly would follow through on that one.”

“Are you talking about me again? Are we ready to go?”

“We are. But darling, I really think skirts for Huw…”

“I can’t. If I’m going to ride Barnabas it’s got to be trousers. I can’t ride side-saddle, I don’t know how, and I’d fall off.”

“Excuse ME!”

The elementals turned in some surprise to look at the horse, who was obviously offended.

Nobody falls off me unless I intend them to.”

This time it was Carabosse and Cobweb who exchanged glances. Cobweb hastened to mend fences. “Of course they don’t, Barnabas, I don’t know what I was thinking of to suggest such a thing. Forgive me. But I would be very nervous.”

“You weren’t nervous when I was a motorcycle, and you weren’t nervous when I was a sports car and we did the ton up the A5. You trusted me when I had wheels. This is equinism.”

“Well, I do trust you. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt your feelings. If you think we can manage in skirts, I’ll wear skirts.”

The horse snickered again. “Now, that’s where you score over the Gnome. I believe he did apologise to someone once, without having to be bared and upended first, but there aren’t any independent witnesses. Come on, get up.”

“Bossy, how are you travelling? Do we need to start at the Bellerophon Stables to get you a horse too?”

“I wondered earlier about sending to Diomedes and borrowing a mare. And don’t call me Bossy. But I thought Huw might not approve of having to provide human flesh in the stableyard. Give me one of your earrings.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones you brought back from Wales. The silver ones. Wear something else, and I’ll conjure.”

The earring swelled and grew, and Carabosse mounted the result. It certainly looked like a horse, but Barnabas could tell that it didn’t smell like a horse, and when Cobweb called on the Power and squinted, she could see the wings and scales. She decided not to call and squint.

“Hang on a minute, I’ve just got to find out where Huw is and then we’ll go.”

Huw had made it as far as Cosb, and was explaining it to Luc. “It was a gift from my overlord, for putting down a small rebellion. The castle used to belong to a lordling who got above himself, see, and tried to make himself into a Player. I came and put a stop to it, and the castle was taken away from him and given to me. The name’s a joke.”

“A joke, my lord?”

“It’s actually Cosb Fwyaf. It means Maximum Fine. It’s only a little place, but reasonably comfortable, and while I’m here I want to what the hell is going on and who are these people? Oh, Mistress Cobweb, it’s you. Again. What can I do for you this time, and who is your companion?”

“My lord Huw, this is my… um… his name is Carabosse and he’s fairly important, O.K.? And I need to talk to you. Privately, if you don’t mind.”

Huw glanced around and moved his hand, and the small hall emptied of all but about thirty people. That was what passed for privacy among mediaevals.


“My lord Huw, there is confusion in the land of Eld, and great wickednesses being committed and I am in need of your help to restore the Balance.”

“Duw, lady, where there is wickedness, can I be far behind?”

Cobweb, from the corner of her eye, saw a squire wince and slip his hands to his rear. It appeared that Huw had been behind the wrongdoer as usual.

“The Woodgnome, your erstwhile companion” (she had always wanted to use ‘erstwhile’ in a conversation), “has been captured, and I fear for his safety. I am forming a posse” (she had a brief panic – was ‘posse’ from the wrong period? Or country? But Carabosse read her mind and nodded – it was right) “to rescue him. I came to you for support.”

There. That was neatly done and now it was just for Huw to agree and they could all get on.


“I need you to… what?”

“Lady, the creature is no doubt capable of looking after himself. If he is not, he should have remained with me and I would – I would – have protected him. He chose to go, and I will not pursue him. No.”

Oh, fuck. The Gnome leaving hurt feelings behind him again. In the back of her mind she could hear a small voice saying ‘well, what did you expect? He drops in and out on Huw like a cat in a revolving door’. She mentally added sixteen poems by Patience Strong to the library of Barbara Cartland, and tried again.

“Good my lord, this is not a case of personal need. The Balance of all things, of Time and Space, of Good and Evil, of Here and Now, is being damaged. Your companion…”

“Is my companion no more. He left with you, lady, and I let him go with my good will. Then he came back and would not even speak with me, but came and went like a mannerless man.”

“I thought he…”

“He thought it necessary to pay me.”

Well. The cellar. It was most unlike the Gnome to have misjudged a lover to that extent. Huw’s feelings were hurt and no mistake.

“But my lord Huw, the individual has…”

NO! Lady, I mean no disrespect to you or to your companion, but I will not do this thing!”

Cobweb sighed. This was going to call for extreme measures. She added five baskets of ironing to the Patience Strong. Then, as gracefully as she could manage, she walked to the centre of the floor before Huw’s dais, and knelt, with her head bowed.

“My lord Huw, I beseech you. I entreat you. I implore you.”

Behind her, Carabosse shifted, his expression hardening. He was adding his own charges to the Gnome’s sheet, and these would not be cleared using abusive literature and housework. Yes, he did like to see Cobweb on her knees and suppliant, but only to him. He didn’t care where she topped, and never had, but she was his Bottom, and he had no intention of sharing that, not with Huw, not with anybody else. This was the Gnome’s fault and he was going to pay for it. Besides, it was bad for Nemesis’ business, for clients (and he had no doubt that some of those present were or had been on Cobweb’s list) to see the Senior Spank Fairy abase herself.

“No. Not even for that. I’m sorry, Mistress Cobweb, but not even for that.”

Cobweb rose, with her expression one of fixed and rather nervous determination. Her hands spread, her head tipped back, and she said, conversationally, “In the name of the Magna Mater”.

Carabosse, suddenly realising what she meant to do, grabbed the closest two bodies, who happened to be Ianto and Luc, swept them within the compass of his… was that a cloak? wondered Luc; it moved more like wings… and rolled with them both under the protection of the nearest table. A couple of the older, and brighter, squires, who had been trained by Huw to observe and deduce, decided in a split second that if the Spank Fairy’s companion were afraid, there was probably something to be afraid of, and followed suit. The others gaped at Cobweb and Huw. Cobweb spoke again.

“Huw ap Meredith ap Map! Do as you are TOLD!

Her voice rolled around the hall like the announcements, thought Carabosse, who rather liked rock music, from a major arena event. The thunderclap followed on, the wall hangings rent from top to bottom, all those except Cobweb who were not already on the floor fell down, and two plates broke.

There was a wash of blessed silence throughout the hall, and several people, Cobweb included, wondered if their hearing would ever return. Huw, who was more deeply shocked than he allowed to show, climbed back onto his dais, and sat again hastily.

“Yes, all right, I get the idea. We’re going to look for the little weasel. Posse it is, then. A Quest, I presume. Who’s going?”

“Three, I think,” said Cobweb, rather faintly. “You, my lord, and Luc and Ianto. On horseback.”

Carabosse disentangled himself from the two boys and hurried to Cobweb’s side. “My lord, if I may advise, set preparations in hand and we will leave in three hours. My lady Cobweb and I” (this with a vicious nip on Cobweb’s arm to keep her upright) will take our ease and await your convenience.”

Huw, rather sourly, agreed to this, and called one of the squires to escort his unwelcome guests to his room and to bring them wine. Carabosse dropped the bar across the door and turned to Cobweb.

“Are you all right?”

“I think so.”

“What the hells did you do that for?”

“I hadn’t any other ideas.”

“But you’ve never done it before. You couldn’t have started smaller?”

“Have to start somewhere. I’m just a little shaken. A glass of wine, and I’ll just sit quietly here for a while, and…”



“No, Cobweb. You won’t sit, and you won’t be quiet. You won’t be able to do either. You’ll come over here and I’ll explain to you just how much you frightened me.”

“Awwwww, Carabosse…”

“Now, please, Cobweb. And I believe that Huw is quite keen on… oh, yes, look, he’s got a switch. I’ll just borrow that. And his chair. I’m so glad you chose skirts. So much easier for me, particularly since underwear isn’t due to be invented for several hundred years. Shall we begin?”

Huw came back to his own room for food before he had to go on this half-witted expedition, to find Cobweb rolled in her cloak and asleep on his bed, and Carabosse, armed with a glass of wine, sitting with his long (and shapely, observed Huw) legs stretched out before the fire. The Wicked Fairy made room for him, and passed the wine.

“My lord… Carabosse, was it? Forgive me, but who, and what, are you?”

“I’m her Top.”

Huw choked on his wine. “Hers? Teach me everything you know.”

Carabosse simply smiled.

“What precisely did she do?”

“She invoked the Great Mother. It’s a very, very powerful conjuration. And then she used the power of the Name.”

“Yes, but what did she do?”

Carabosse sighed. “Names of things matter. There is power in having the proper names of things. You must know that. Your myths and legends, and even children’s stories, are full of tales of heroes having to find the name of someone or something to gain power over it. ‘The True Name is the True Thing.’” Huw nodded. “Well, this is a left-over from our world, rather than yours. We – elementals – don’t give out our proper names. Cobweb was a job title originally. I am the senior Carabosse – I’m a Wicked Fairy - but there are others. I know her True Name and she knows mine. I do not know the Gnome’s name, nor do I want to. I don’t think that Cobweb does either, although she could probably find out. He may know hers, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be difficult for him to find out. For an elemental, allowing another to know your True Name is a gift of enormous trust, because of the power imbued in it. It’s bad manners at the very least, and warmongering at worst, to seek out an elemental’s name, rather than to wait for it to be offered.”

Huw poured some more wine, and gestured for him to continue.

“Cobweb is the senior Spank Fairy. Did you know that? Yes? She is also a votary of the Great Goddess, the Mother. So she can call on the Mother for support, and she did. That was the thunderclap. Any of us can call on any of the Gods, and we may or may not get an answer, but it’s most effective if we do it in a manner appropriate to our own particular deity or deities. I could do it too, but I wouldn’t call on Her. I would aim my call elsewhere. You don’t want to know where.”

Huw thought he probably didn’t.

“I believe the Gnome called on his recently. The word is that afterwards the clearing up was nothing ordinary: empty wine bottles, chip wrappers, half eaten kebabs, and somebody had been sick in the waste paper basket. And that was just the hangers on, not the main procession. Where the God actually passed – well! We elementals manage all right, but you humans don’t cope so well. She called on the Mother, and the Mother gave her Power in the form most appropriate to Motherhood. She gave Cobweb your name.”

“But she already knew my name. It isn’t a secret.”

“That’s true. In the human world, names no longer have the power that they had. But there are occasional lapses, occasional echoes, and one of those echoes happens in Motherhood. A mother – any mother, even a human one – can use the power of the Name against her children. Fathers can do it, but not to the same extent.”

“I don’t understand.”

“When you were a child, and you misbehaved, your mother called for Huw.”


“And when she called for Huw ap Meredith?”

“I stopped what I was doing, and looked shifty.”

“And if she called for Huw ap Meredith ap Map?”

“I was generally running before she finished the sentence.”

“Well, that’s the power of the True Name still echoing in Reality. A mother called you by your True Name and had power over you. Cobweb did it with the Power of the Mother, and you felt it.”

Huw stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it. He had felt it all right. He could still feel the pressure in his sinuses, and he needed to make his ears pop.

“So what’s between her and the Gnome? Is that what you called him? But you said it isn’t his name. And it’s certainly not the name he gave me.”

“It’s his description and he answers to it. When he feels like it. I have no idea what Cobweb sees in the little ferret, except that he makes her laugh. But she has claimed him as her friend and she will not let him go… no, that’s wrong. She would let him go if he wanted to go. She will not let him be taken from her without his consent. That’s probably a Motherhood thing too. I wish she would drop the acquaintance, but she could be national stubbornness champion if she wanted.”

 “So we’re going to look for him. I’ve got a few things I would like to say to him, mostly over my knee, if you and she don’t mind.”

“I think you may find that there’s a queue. I believe Cobweb wants to discuss Motherhood things, like Looking Where He’s Going. I fancy a brief chat myself when she’s finished, on the subject of Upsetting Cobweb and Making Her Cry. But you can have him after that, if you don’t mind waiting.”

(A short but productive session with Huw’s switch, and a slightly longer but equally productive interlude in Huw’s bed had mellowed Carabosse, who was now inclined to attach the additional charges to Oberon’s sheet rather than to the Gnome’s. On the other hand, he thought there might be something to be said for joint charges against them as a pair, particularly as he had to admit that he was unlikely to be able to extract payment from Oberon, but he was fairly certain that he was both faster and stronger than the Gnome.) 

“Well, there’s no point in me complaining about this, is there? Not with you… what did you call yourselves? Elementals? Not with elementals telling me what I have to do next.”

Carabosse smiled at him. “Cobweb said you were intelligent. I think that’s why she likes you. She can’t bear stupid people, she’s a little snobbish about it.”

“Then what’s her interest in Luc? He’s a nice good-natured boy, but he’s thick as cawl. Hasn’t half the brains of Ianto, and Ianto isn’t precisely intellectual.”

“I’m afraid that by now it’s largely duty. Once she’s accepted him as her responsibility, she’ll keep him through plain loyalty. She complains dreadfully about the job and the people, but it wouldn’t occur to her not to do it properly. For some unknown reason she thinks it’s a virtue, although I think it’s probably just pride. Anyway, I think we should wake her and get started. You might want to go and muster the Questing Party. Cobweb waking up isn’t a pretty sight. She hasn’t had anything like enough sleep lately, and she’s going to have a ferocious headache. She’d never Invoked before, although she’s Supplicated.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Supplication to a god is begging with some urgency, and they come through about three-quarters of the time. Invocation is almost never refused, but the power acts through the invoker, and you need to be strong to stand up to it. If an Invocation is refused, it usually kills the invoker.”

“That’s some risk for her to have taken for the Gnome. I hope he appreciates it.”

“I don’t for a moment imagine that he would.”

“I’ll send Arianrhod up. She’s got some really good stuff for headaches.”

“I believe she has some good salve too. Send some of that.”

“Why? The squires use it for… you didn’t! To the Spank Fairy?”

“She gave me a dreadful fright, you see.”

Promise me that you’ll find time to teach me everything you know…”

The party of five collected in the courtyard, with Barnabas nose to nose with Luc’s mare, and some equine conversation obviously going on. Huw’s captain of horse sidled up to Cobweb. She knew him of old – he had been on her list for twenty years, although she saw him infrequently.

“Mistress Cobweb? The mare’s a bit keen… I kept her away from your stallion, but the young man might have a little trouble. I put the stallion in the pasture with the Lord Huw’s mares, and I think he’s been… well, you know. I hope you don’t mind. There’ll be a fee if any of the mares takes.”

Cobweb looked at Barnabas with her eyebrows raised. Horses don’t blush, but Barnabas turned his head away, and pretended to be no more than any other horse. The captain of horse pulled Barnabas’ girth tight, and held out his hands to Cobweb, to boost her up. She hesitated, suddenly sympathetic to Luc’s reluctance on previous occasions to ride, and then caught Carabosse’s mocking gaze. Stolidly, she placed her foot on the servitor’s clasped hands and allowed him to throw her to the saddle, in which she sat unmoving, if somewhat flushed.

“Mistress Cobweb? Do you want a whip? That’s a big horse for a lady.”

Barnabas sidled under her. “Thank you, but no. It isn’t really, and I’m not. Gentlemen, are we ready? Now, does anybody have the faintest idea where we should start looking? I can get us there because I’m good at that sort of thing (no, I’m not letting it become a catchphrase), but I need some clues. Where shall we begin?”

They began by walking for a mile or so through the countryside, with those who had brains using them, while Ianto and Luc tried to be inconspicuous.

Cobweb decided it was brainstorming time. Produce an idea, however silly, and wait to see who had a better one. “Well, we could start with Titania. I don’t know what terms she’s currently on with Oberon – that is one touchy relationship – but I know she doesn’t like the Gnome. Shut up, Bossy, we know you don’t either. But I don’t think she’s going to tell us anything. So where instead?”

Huw coughed apologetically. “Do I understand that we think that the gentleman in question is father to…” he caught Cobweb’s glare and thought better of whatever he was about to say, substituting “the baby in question?”

“It seems likely. Or that if he isn’t, he knows who is.”

“And (forgive me, I’m not well up in the powers of Powers) is there a link between father and son?”

“Well established.”

“So is there any conjuration (was that the word, Sieur Carabosse?) that would allow you to trace the link? After all, lady, you seem to be able to find everybody else when you want to.”

Cobweb was impressed. Good brains, that Huw. Such a pity that he only topped. If he would only look a bit more like Shane Bond or Brett Lee and bottom a bit, not even very much, she liked taking someone who thought he was a Top and showing him that he wasn’t, and she wouldn’t mind… a twinge reminded her of what had happened the last time Carabosse had been annoyed, and regretfully she put the idea from her. Surely she could do something with this? She had told OFT that she had limited magical ability, but such as she had related to her job. And she was good at her job. She Found people quite easily once the paperwork came through… she just needed a cause of complaint and an order form. But it had to be a genuine complaint. She couldn’t fill in a form on her own behalf. But she wasn’t just good at Finding, she was, as she had several times told the Gnome, also good at paperwork, and at bucking the system in such a way that it didn’t realise it had been bucked.

“Luc, come here. Tell me about your father.”

“What do you want to know, Miss?”

“Do you feel that he left you badly provided for?”

“No, not really. I mean, mother and I hadn’t any money, but I’ve ended up here with Sir Huw, and I’ve got a really good sword and a really good horse, and Sir Huw says I’m doing better than he expected. So I don’t need my father to have done any more, do I?”

O.K. Luc wasn’t going to complain. This was a time when she felt she might have wanted him to say ‘not fair’.

“Huw? You’re really pissed off with the Gnome, aren’t you?”

“Yes. What of it?”

“Well, you could complain to me about the way he’s been behaving to you, and then, as his Spank Fairy…”

“You’re his Spank Fairy too?”

“Only technically, but I’m good at using technicalities. So if you complained, he would come up on the system for me, and I would be expected to give him a hiding, and I can’t do that without finding him.”

“Oh, no,” said Huw, grimly. “You may give him whatever you like on your own account, lady, and the lord Carabosse too, but my grievance is my own, and I will extract payment of my own in due course.”

Cobweb sighed, and mentally revoked what she had been thinking about Huw’s brains. Another one who couldn’t think past the personal. In fact, another one who thought with his balls. She knew there was a reason she was so rarely male. Her job required thinking, and in her opinion, men didn’t.

“Let’s try again, more slowly. Huw is cross with the Gnome. The Gnome needs a spanking. Huw complains to Cobweb. Then Cobweb can find the Gnome because Cobweb’s job is to give the Gnome a spanking. If Huw doesn’t complain to Cobweb, Cobweb can’t find the Gnome. Cobweb doesn’t care who spanks the Gnome. In the long run. Once she’s finished with him.”

“Lady Cobweb, that Gnome is a… He’s been… What complaint would you like?”

“Any large one. But it has to be real.”

“What about drinking my cellar?”

“Won’t do. You dealt with that yourself. Double jeopardy. He can’t be convicted twice on the same offence. Well, you can convict him if you want, but I can’t.”

“Dropping in and not stopping to say hello?”

“Social sins aren’t really enough.”

“Causing my employees to desert their posts?”

“That’s good. I like that. Is it true?”

“It was him who took Luc away for a day, wasn’t it? I punished Luc for it, but the Gnome got off free.”

“True enough, and I could… here, sign this complaint form. Luc! LUC! Come here. When the Gnome took you for your sword, did he tell you that you would be gone long enough for Lord Huw to notice? No? Lies as well. Did you expect a walloping from the said Lord Huw at the time you left the area in the company of the said Gnome? No? Sign here. Good boy. Right, gentlemen, now we’re in business. The Gnome is that way.”

“How do you know?”

“As you said yourself, Huw, it’s my job to know. I can Find offenders. I have Find and Punish paperwork outstanding for the Gnome, and he’s that way. Let’s Fold.”

The Gnome, sitting with his back against the wall of a rather chilly and damp cell, well surrounded with wards to stop him doing anything either constructive or amusing, saw Infinity open with Cobweb’s unmistakeable touch before him. He rose hopefully, only to see the opening fray and reweave itself. A moment later, Time opened and he saw the familiar mists curl around the feet of five horses – three horses, Barnabas, and a… a Thing – on which was what looked reassuringly like a search party. As he sprang forward, with more enthusiasm for physical activity than he generally displayed outside the bedroom, the fissure snapped shut again in his face.

He sat down to consider this. Plainly he was not to be allowed to escape via Time or Space, at least not using Cobweb’s normal routes. Still, he had confidence in her ability to think of something else. What he couldn’t understand was the rest of the party. Why were Luc and Ianto searching for him? Probably because Cobweb had told them to. Why Huw? Possibly he was worried? How sweet. Huw had always had a soft spot for him. Why Carabosse? That really was inexplicable. He considered some more, and began to get a faint feeling of unease. Somehow, all three of the main Players had seemed a little irked. It couldn’t have been with him, could it? Not that it was likely to matter. He could talk Cobweb out of a temper, he always managed it. And Carabosse didn’t like him enough to be bothered being angry with him. And it wasn’t as if he had done anything to annoy Huw. No, he must have been imagining it.

He felt the shift in magical pressures that told him of the presence of his jailer.

“They’ve found me, you know,” he said flatly. “Now it’s just a matter of how they’ll get me out.”

“Do you think they can? A wicked fairy who doesn’t like you, three humans and a Spank Fairy? Carabosse has Power, but little inclination. He will pretend, for his lover’s sake, to search for you, but he will not go to any real trouble. And Nemesis has no real Power. Some tricks.”

Interesting. It sounded as if the news of Cobweb’s promotion hadn’t spread this far. The Gnome decided to leave things that way.

“She will lose heart for the Quest soon enough. After all, what are you to her? Not her lover, nor her colleague. A passing acquaintance. She may regret you for a short while, but she will give you up. She is, after all, part of Order.”

By the exercise of an extreme effort of will, the Gnome held his tongue. His jailer nodded with smug satisfaction, and vanished.

The Gnome leaned against the wall once more, and thought about events. He thought how offended Cobweb would have been by that last conversation, and found it amusing. It was also, he thought, both amusing and illuminating that it had never occurred to him that Cobweb would not be looking for him, nor that she would not, in due course, find him. He felt the faint unease again. She would certainly find him, particularly if she were angry – in fact the angrier she was, the faster he could count on her finding him. It might require some very fast talking on his part to avoid a further meeting with Brian.

But he thought it interesting that so many Players seemed to take Cobweb at her own valuation. She spoke of Carabosse as a serious Player; he rather thought that she considered him to be one himself. She didn’t consider herself to be a serious Player, but the Gnome was beginning to have his doubts. And he was absolutely certain that she would not lose heart for her Quest. He would, naturally, do all he could to achieve his own escape, but he held as an article of faith that Cobweb would be fighting for him on the outside, and not just through irritation at whatever people were doing to her job, but also for his own sake. Still, this was a woman who could take pissed-off-ness to previously unrecognised limits, and when she caught up with whoever had been jerking her chain, the Gnome hoped to be there to hold her coat, and to say “I told you so” afterwards to the tattered remnants of her Enemy. And almost certainly she would celebrate with more food, and more wine and more almonds, and possibly even with another episode about the physicist and the fitness instructor. . .


Idris the Dragon

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