y mid-morning, Cobweb had persuaded the Gnome to stop swearing and to get dressed, although she had found herself obliged to help with some of the intricacies of a sensible make-up, all borrowed from the Tardis bag. (“Less is more. What is it with men and eyeliner? No, not the electric blue. I don’t know why they put it in eye-shadow compacts, it doesn’t ever suit anybody. Neutral colours for daytime. No, you can’t have scarlet lipstick either, it will make you look like a cheap tart. Apricot, or coffee.”) They Folded together to a large and airy waiting room, in which was a receptionist who looked like all doctors’ receptionists, i.e. like an Old Boot. The Gnome recognised Her at once.
“You! You did this to me!”
The Crone smirked at her. “I should have thought that even you would have been able to undo a broken geis. And if you couldn’t, your friend should be able to. Cobweb, We’ll see you inside. Leave your pet here.”
“Um. . . Madam, it isn’t Your geis. And I think the Gnome needs to see the Doctor, please.”
“Why, what’s he done?”
The Crone turned Her gaze onto the Gnome, and Looked. Then She began to laugh. “Well, that certainly wasn’t Us. That would be your Welshman, at a guess. The Doctor will see you shortly. Here, have this.”
The Gnome looked at the small container in her hand. Cobweb whispered helpfully, “There’s a Ladies through that door.”
The Gnome sent her a glance of some dislike, rose to her feet with as much dignity as she could manage and stalked towards the door. Just as she got there, something occurred to her, and she cast a panicked look down her own body, and then at the narrow-necked bottle in her hand. “Cobweb, how on earth do I do this?”
“Very carefully, pet, and wash your hands afterwards. It’ll get easier with practice.”
“Yes, dear. I know. It’s a really bad piece of design, but I didn’t do it.”
It was a heated and flushed Gnome who came back to the waiting room, just in time to be told, “the Doctor will see you now”. She cast a panicked glance at Cobweb.
“Do you want me to come too?”
“I’m not going in there on my own. I don’t understand what they want to do. I don’t even recognise all the bits of my own body. I don’t know the words for some of the things I can feel. And why do I keep needing to go through there?”
“Oh, that’s the hormones again. I’m sorry, but until the baby’s born, you don’t want to be more than ten minutes from a bathroom. For the first four months, it’s just hormonal imbalance acting through your kidneys, and then after that the baby trampolines on your bladder.”
“It’s a ghastly mistake!”
“Yes, dear. Come along.”
Perhaps the Gnome should not have been surprised to find the central Aspect as the Doctor and the junior Aspect as the nurse, Who helpfully took her sample bottle from her and did whatever arcane rituals seemed good. Both of Them seemed to be fighting down helpless peals of hysterical laughter.
“Has Cobweb talked to you about your diet?”
“Yes, Progenitor.” Sulkily.
“And about your care in labour?”
“She says she’ll do it, Progenitor.” Desperately.
“And about your drinking?”
“Yes, Progenitor.” Miserably.
“Then I think perhaps you should both see the Consultant. Through there.”
It was a large and empty waiting room, containing the things that all waiting rooms do: a plastic ficus, which looked in poor health even given its artificiality, a copy of Horse and Hound, an out of date copy of Witch with a comparative report about curses, a magazine about house prices in Surrey, a copy of Prophecy magazine with the crossword filled in incorrectly, and two dirty coffee cups. They waited. And waited. And waited. Presently the Gnome began to whine.
“Cobweeeeeeebbbbb! What are we waiting for?”
“I don’t know. For the Consultant.”
“Why? What’s wrong with me?”
“Probably nothing. But you’re not young for a first baby, you know, and we can’t afford to take chances.”
“Don’t keep talking about a first baby! There isn’t going to be a second one.”
“Cobweb? I think I need to. . . where does that door go?”
“There will be a rather dirty and extremely cold cloakroom through there. There always is. Go on.”
“I think I’d rather wait.”
“You won’t be able to. Just go, dear. And trust me on this, if the consultant wants to do an internal exam, you want to start off empty.”
Naturally, as soon as the Gnome went out, the other door opened. Cobweb rose politely to her feet.
“Mesdames. She’s just gone. . . well, You know.”
The Mother did.
“Cobweb, what in the name of Us were you doing in R’lyeh?”
“I have no other skills, Mother. I had insufficient power for domestics, and You had taken my job away. I looked for another in the employment magi-zines but there wasn’t anything I could do. So I signed on with the Magency, and that was what they gave me.”
“You’re an idiot, Cobweb.”
“What happened to your power?”
(The Gnome came back at this point.)
“I don’t know, Mother. When You took the Nemesis power from me, all my own just sort of leaked away.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“I thought You knew, Mother.”
“Well, We didn’t. It’s something to do with this damn Quest of yours. We’ll admit that the Gnome did, rather to My surprise at least, do what was required of him, although as far as We can tell, it was the horse who did all the work. Look after the horse, Cobweb.”
“Well, dear, you told the horse to call on Us, so it’s partly one of Ours now. You people seem to have no idea what you are doing to the congregations, you know. No idea at all. We’ll all be up to a One True God if you aren’t careful, and We really can’t begin to think that that would be a good idea.”
“Now, I can hear the Consultant coming.”
So could the Gnome. It was the drums again. She turned to Cobweb. “I ca-an’t! Not Him! Not like this!”
“You can. You haven’t done anything you shouldn’t. What did I tell you last night?”
“She told you,” said the beautiful voice gently, “that I have at least a hand in the start of lots of babies. And she was quite right. Pregnant, My Silenos? Congratulations. I didn’t think you had it in you. But then you never have had, had you? Not like that.”
Cobweb bristled. “Don’t tease him! Her! Don’t You dare, You bully!”
There was a moment’s silence and then all the Gods laughed together.
“There’s no doubting she’s one of Ours, is there?” asked the Crone.
“None at all. Well, protector, are you going to protect My Silenos?”
Cobweb looked sullen.
She looked up, defiantly. “Well, somebody has to. And he – she - went to R’lyeh to fetch me. And I promised.”
“So you did. How are We going to arrange this?”
The Mother smiled at her Friend. “Since Cobweb isn’t being Nemesis – and Cobweb, stop worrying, We know who upset all the business relationships, and We can put it right later when you have less to do – she will be at a loose end. And since We don’t want idle hands, because Loki will find work for them, she had better look after Your acolyte. Whose books is she going on?”
“Oh, Mine, I should think. She’s Wildish, even if not completely Wild, already, so if We just swap?”
“She may not be completely Wild,” said Cobweb grimly, “but she’s pretty bloody pissed off. Even with Gods. Can we – without the capital W – please be told what’s going on, and not be talked over the top of?”
The Gnome cringed. “Excuse her, Master, she’s had a bad month or so and not enough sleep, and she’s very stressed and not very grammatical.”
“That’s not all she’s not getting enough of. When did you last see Carabosse, Cobweb?”
“I don’t know, Master, I can’t remember. And I’m sorry if I was rude, but really I’m tired of going from Doric to Ionic to Corinthian and not knowing what’s happening.”
“Well, since My Silenos will have to be seconded temporarily to the Mother” (a panicky squeak from the Gnome), “I am short a follower. (By the way, I never thanked you for the rat. I’ve put him in charge of heresy – he’s really good.) So I think you should transfer to Me until Silenos is. . . delivered.”
“Me? I don’t think I’m Wild enough for that, Lord. I do Order. Administration. Paperwork. Organisation.”
The pantheon laughed again. “My dear Cobweb,” soothed the Maiden, “how much Organisation do you think it takes to be as disorganised as He is, full time? Think of even quite a small party. And then multiply it up.”
Cobweb thought about this. There was a slow dawning of understanding. “You mean that even You have someone in a cosmic kitchen, shouting for somebody to answer the doorbell, pouring more vodka in the punch and opening packets of nibbles?”
The God smiled at her. “And where do you think twenty-four thousand ivy chaplets come from? Think of it as being maternity cover.”
“Oh, well, I can do that.”
“That’s settled then. You are Mine, and she is Hers. Short term only.”
“What else do I have to do?”
“Eat, drink and be merry. And look after My Silenos.”
“And dye your hair.”
“Well, dear, you really do. Colour it before you go back to Carabosse, there’s a good girl. You can’t go out looking like that. Can she, Gnome?”
“Well, if that’s all settled. . .”
“Um. . . Mother? I’m not sure that it is.”
“What else is there, dear?”
“This baby. . . Is this baby the other baby?”
The Gods exchanged glances. The Crone leaned forward. “What other baby?”
“Is this baby Luc de Lurgan?”
The Maiden giggled. “No, of course not! Whatever put that into your head?”
“Well, can it be?”
There was the exchange of glances again. The Crone raised Her eyebrows.
“Explain to us why.”
Cobweb took a deep breath, marshalling her thoughts. “We’ve got Luc de Lurgan sculling about with an unknown mother and no obvious father. That’s not good for babies, Mother, is it?” (An approving nod from the Mother.) “And somebody – let’s not name names – trying to palm him off on Huw of the Main Rouge. And Huw is behaving very paternally and Luc is devoted to him.” Usually, she added mentally, and as long as he has his hose done up tight. “So, I just thought that there might be no harm in making it so, because it would be good for both Luc and Huw, and it might irritate the hells out of the somebody, because it would make him think he had been wasting his time and he might not know why. And we’ve been saying all along that Luc had an elemental father and a human mother, but that was just circumstantial evidence. It could perfectly well be the other way round. So it would be both good Motherhood, and good Mischief,” she added hopefully. The Gnome was watching with her mouth open.
The God laughed. “I like it. Silenos, you’ll have to watch your place with Me, or this woman will have it full time.”
The Goddess considered. “But it isn’t so, Cobweb. And to make it so would involve reweaving the fabric of all that was and is and will be. And We hardly need to tell you that even We are not permitted to do that.”
Cobweb looked down at her clasped hands. “It would be possible if we managed it through Time.”
There was a truly horrible silence, of the sort that always follows somebody hurling the biggest ever social brick into the pond of conversation. The temperature dropped markedly.
“We are aware” said the Triple Goddess, coldly and together, “that you have been Involving yourself with Our ex-husband. We do not whole-heartedly approve.”
Cobweb looked up, desperately. “I had nothing to do with him until long after Your divorce. Give me some credit, Mother, I don’t poach.”
The Gnome winced. She had a vague recollection of having said something of the same sort not too long ago, and she was aware that she had a certain amount of unfinished business with Cobweb (and indeed with Huw) to which she had not yet confessed.
“Tell Us what you have in mind.”
Cobweb swallowed. “Well, if Time would help, we could perhaps take the Gnome out of Time and back to the right point to allow Luc to be her son. And perhaps it might be possible to pleat it a little so that the Gnome needn’t be pregnant for quite so long and then we could all get back to our own proper jobs.” She cast a beseeching glance at the God. He smiled encouragingly at her.
“We see. We are sufficiently reasonable” (you’re Gods and Goddesses, thought the Gnome, Mr Reasonable doesn’t call at this address) “to approve the concept. However, We suspect that the poor relationship between Ourselves and Our ex-spouse would lead to Him refusing to assist in any way.”
“Not if He thought that You didn’t want Him to.”
The God laughed out loud. “Cybele, let Me keep her. She’s one of Mine at heart, You know she is.”
Cobweb took heart. “He’ll know if I tell him an absolute lie, Mother, so if You were to forbid me to do anything of the sort. . .”
“Cobweb, I would be most disturbed if you were to approach Time and ask for help in this bird-witted arrangement. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mother, perfectly. Thank you.”
“There are things you have not yet told Cobweb. Do it soon.”
“You may give Us back Our earrings now.”
“Oh. Yes. Thank You for the use of them.” She unhooked the crescents and passed them across the table to the Maiden. Their hands touched, and the Maiden gasped.
“She’s leaking! The power’s just leaching out of her! The bastard’s punctured her!”
Cobweb slid slowly off her chair, with the Gnome frantically trying to catch her.
“Don’t do that,” she admonished, dazedly, “you aren’t supposed to lift heavy things.”
The God leaned over her, lifting her. “I know this,” he said crossly. “I just didn’t know whose it was because she wasn’t enough of a Wild Thing for Me to identify the source. Her power’s scattered throughout the whole damn forest. You’re right, somebody has punctured her.”
The Maiden came round the table to replace the earrings. The Goddess looked at Herself, and nodded.
“Cobweb? You need to keep your earrings in, dear. All the time. Any sort, sleepers or wires or whatever. That’s where your power’s going. Now, these will top you up again, enough for a day or two, but you need to get your own power back. Darling, how can she do that?”
The God shrugged. “She’ll need to persuade the forest to give it back to her. Hug a tree, Cobweb. I recommend a large birch – you’ve always got on well with dryads, Pommy speaks well of you, and the birches are boss around here. Well, you knew that, of course. Ask nicely, and they may want you to do something for them, and they’ll gather it up from the forest and give it back to you.”
“Now, if We’re all quite finished. . . Oh, Gnome, or whatever your name is currently, get Cobweb to talk you through some Kegel exercises.”
“Yes, Progenitor. Thank you.”
They emerged into the lobby, both of them looking a little the worse for wear.
“Cobs? I, um. . .”
“Through there. And I’m coming too. I think I need fresh lipstick and a spray of something expensive and nice smelling. That was bloody terrifying.”
“I’m glad you thought so too. I thought it was just me. What do we do next?”
“I think we grab some time for us. I think we go and find the others, and you break the happy news to Huw, and I perhaps make up with Carabosse, and then tomorrow, you and I go and talk to Chronos. I’m not feeling strong enough for that yet, and I need a drink.”
“You need a drink! I need a drink! Can’t I have one, Cobs? Just one?”
“What did I say would happen?”
“I wouldn’t sit comfortably in a week. . . Awwwwwwwww, Cobs. . .”
“And I need a drink in the line of business. If I’m doing maternity cover, I’m going to do it right.”
“Um. . . I don’t think you’re supposed to make such heavy weather of enjoying yourself.”
It took them a little time to find where their menfolk had gone on leaving the Cumae Motel, but they eventually tracked them down in Huw’s castle at Ffrewyll, not far from Cloren. It was mid afternoon when they stepped into the courtyard, and there was an instant shriek of recognition from Ianto, who had been watching from the doorway.
“They’re back! My lord, lord Carabosse, they’re back, all three of them!”
Huw came barrelling out through the door, caught the Gnome in his powerful grip and swung her round.
“You’re still a girl then. I thought you might have changed again.”
“Ah. Well. We need to talk about that, later. Um. . . I think there might be quite a lot to talk about. Later.”
She looked round, carefully. Cobweb and Carabosse were standing facing each other, and as she watched, Carabosse’s wings tented over them, and there was a slow rumble of thunder. As his wings folded away again, both he and Cobweb were smiling. The Gnome sniffed sentimentally – happy endings; suddenly she found that she just loved happy endings.
“Lady Cobweb! Welcome back. Will it please you to come in?”
“Huw, darling, don’t call me that. And I think it would be best if Bossy and I went home. We have some things to do, and I’m sure you do too, and then tomorrow, I’m afraid I’ll have to take the Gnome away again. But don’t worry, everything’s under control.”
“And nobody’s going to quarrel with anybody?”
“Not more than usual.”
“I’m glad of that. It was a very difficult time for us all, and we missed you, but it seems to be settled now. The Lord Carabosse assures me that he at least never believed, no matter what issues of offence he thought himself to have, that you and I were. . . well, that we were betraying our bedmates.”
“That we were. . . what?”
“Oh, Goddess,” said the Gnome, softly. “For once, Huw, your timing has deserted you. I hadn’t told her that yet.”
The Look that Cobweb turned upon her made her flinch. “Cobs, it was a spell. A disordering. We were all looking for someone to fight with, and it just. . . it was simply that I. . . When Huw swore himself to you, I thought. . .” It didn’t seem to be going anywhere that the Gnome wanted to follow.
“You thought that I would try to take your lover.”
Cobweb swept away. The Gnome wondered how she did it, and whether she could learn herself – Cobweb moved as if she were wearing full skirts and three layers of starched petticoats, despite being neatly trousered. She caught Carabosse by the wrist and they were gone.
“Bolluxed that up a bit, didn’t you?” said the small donkey with the dirty sticking plaster on its leg.
Hue leaned on the crenellations and looked down over his lands, wondering wearily if his life would ever become predictable again. The tiny white hot core of happiness in his chest flared slightly and he allowed himself to examine it. A baby! He had thought that there would be no children to follow him. The Gnome seemed certain that it would be a son, and of course every landowner wanted sons to secure the succession, but he admitted to himself that he didn’t really care. A daughter would do just as well, not that he would ever admit as much. Mind you, things would be much easier if he hadn’t said that to the lady Cob. . . to Cobweb. The Gnome had thrown a huge tantrum after Cobweb left, hurling things at his head and screaming at him that she had lost her midwife and that it was all his fault. In fact, everything seemed to be his fault, up to and possibly including the loss of the Cauldron of Bran. If she hadn’t been pregnant, he would have given her a truly memorable spanking for it. . .
A whisper of distant thunder announced the arrival of Carabosse beside him. He was carrying a parcel.
“Instructions for you, Huw, from herself. She’s sent you this, and you’re to use it. I made it, and frankly, I am particularly glad that it’s going to be in your house tonight and not mine. There is some serious topping being done at the Website, and not by me; if I’m not back in three minutes, something very nasty indeed is going to happen to me. She says that you’re to abandon any idea you have about not being able to while she’s expecting, because the baby’s in front and the action will be behind. The Gnome is not under any circumstances to be allowed wine, sack, small ale or anything like it. Oh, and she’s not to drink the water either, unless it has been boiled. Cobweb will be back in the morning to collect her.”
“She is coming then. We were afraid that perhaps she would have taken offence and wouldn’t come.”
“She has taken offence, but she says that if you use that properly, she’ll let it go. Oh, and congratulations on the breeding programme.”
“Thank you. What is this thing?”
Carabosse told him.
Huw was grinning as he opened the door to the bedroom. “Love? I’ve got a message for you.”
“What?” said a sulky voice.
“The lady. . . Cobweb says that you’re going to like this even less than you liked the forking wooden bath brush. And she’ll be back for you in the morning. So we’d better get a move on, hadn’t we? Come here. Now. This minute. I seem to have been telling you for days that somebody is going to get his. . . her bottom smacked, and I’m tired of waiting.”
“You can’t do that! I’m pregnant!”
“Your health adviser says I can.”
“Awwwwww, Huw. . .”
“Wow! What’s this stuff?”
The Gnome, face down with her wrists wrapped in her own skirt and pinned into her back by a large hand, sighed mournfully. “It’s late twentieth century underwear. Cobweb said that I would find stockings better than tights at the surgery if they wanted to do an internal.”
“No, means nothing to me. Why do your hose only come half way up your thighs?”
“Possibly to leave a greater expanse of accessible flesh? Cobweb always says skirts are an unfair advantage to a Top.”
“I like it. And what are these?” There was a snap, and a high-pitched yelp from the Gnome.
“They’re called suspenders, and please don’t do that with them.”
“Ow! Look, elastic snapped on the thighs hurts!”
“And what’s the piece of string for?”
“Oh, that was a mistake. Cobweb said I should wear whatever I liked while I still could (I don’t like the sound of that), and I just wondered whether a thong was as uncomfortable as it looks, and frankly it is. Cobs says she doesn’t see the point, either you are wearing knickers or you aren’t, and these are neither one thing nor the OW! Huuuuwwwwww! What’s that?”
“Sieur Carabosse said it was a. . . puddle, would it have been?”
“Paddle? What in the name OW! is it made of?”
“Now he did tell me. . . the green side is made of a piece of skin that came off Glaurung in his last moult. That’s this.”
“And the black side is made of a piece of one of the Sieur’s cast off wings. That’s this.”
“Or would it have been the other way round?”
The Gnome who came out to meet Cobweb the next morning moved rather cautiously, and not too fast, but wore, nonetheless, an expression of smug satisfaction. Carabosse looked much the same, and both Cobweb and Huw seemed unnecessarily pleased with themselves. Luc and Ianto looked on with a degree of horrified comprehension.
“Well, Gnome, how do you like dragonhide?”
“You’re quite right, it’s worse than the FWBB. I hate you.”
“Well. . . I don’t know why I want you as my friend, I really don’t.”
“I don’t either. What did you have for breakfast?”
The Gnome sighed, ostentatiously. “Bread, honey, hard cheese. I held my nose and drank some milk. An apple. What did you have?”
“A glass of water and two Ibuprofen. I think I might have been working too late last night. I haven’t quite got the way of it yet. Listen, can we spend some time in the forest? I only just had enough power for the Fold this morning, and I can’t talk to trees.”
“Oh, now she needs me to help! We’re not the big shot Top this morning, are we?”
“Good morning, Huw, how are you today?”
“La. . . Cobweb, give you good day. Is this brat being difficult?”
“Are you, Gnome?”
“No, Huw, honestly.”
“Look, Cobweb and I need to go and talk to trees, so perhaps you could give Carabosse a drink and we’ll be back shortly, yes?”
Birch trees were not as common in this part of the forest as they were elsewhere, and it took Cobweb and the Gnome some time to find one. (The Gnome had to retire discreetly behind a large oak at one point while Cobweb whistled loudly and looked the other way. There was a certain amount of disgruntled muttering.)
“There’s one, and a good big one, too. Go on then, give it a hug.”
Cobweb complied. “I don’t half feel stupid. Now what?”
“Be nice, and I’ll talk to it.” The Gnome shut her eyes, and swayed slightly, and her hair rose into a twiggy mess. Cobweb, who really did feel stupid, straightened up, bracing herself with her palms on the trunk. There was a slurp, and a snap! and she squealed. The Gnome opened her eyes hurriedly.
“Here! What’s happened?”
Cobweb was standing at the full extent of her arms, which stretched towards the tree and disappeared at wrist level into the trunk. Her hands appeared to be sunk within the wood. “Gnome, get it to let me go. What’s it doing? I can’t get out!”
The Gnome shut her eyes and swayed again. A slow smile spread across her face, and she began to snigger. “Oh, boy, you’ve picked a doozie here. You’ve got a voyeuristic tree.”
“A peeper. It knows where your power is, and it’ll let you have it back, but it wants some questions answered. And they’re real lulus, too.”
“What sort of ‘questions’?”
“Um. . . it’s seen some people doing some things (actually, I get the distinct impression that it might have been Luc and Ianto) and it wants another look.”
“It wants what?”
“It wants to watch.”
“To watch what?”
“Well, at a guess, to watch you and Carabosse. And if it enjoys the show, it’ll gather up your power for you.”
“Talk it out of it!”
“I’ve tried, believe me I’ve tried. It isn’t having any. Well, that’s the root of the problem. There isn’t another birch within half a mile, and it’s frustrated. So unless you want to spend the next year or so as a graft, I think I should fetch Carabosse.”
“Gnome, understand that if I find out that you’ve been lying to me, the dragonhide won’t be the half of it.”
“I swear I’m not lying.”
“Go and get Carabosse. This is your Master’s idea of a joke, I have no doubt.”
“Not my Master’s. Your Master’s. For the moment. And I think you’re probably right, it is His idea of a joke. It’s precisely the sort of thing He would think funny. Or precisely the sort of thing He would plan to get you to lighten up a bit in a new job.”
“Go and get Carabosse.”
The Gnome went, stopping when she was not quite sufficiently out of earshot to laugh until she cried.
Cobweb was very bored and rather stiff and cramped by the time the Gnome returned.
“Did you have to bring everybody? Just Carabosse would have been enough, honestly.”
“Oh, they all wanted to see this.”
“Well, they needn’t think they’re going to see the rest of it. Take them away again, there’s a good Gnome. Bossy, did she tell you what this is all about?”
“Oh, yes, darling, and I’m looking forward to it. Let’s put on a show for your tree.”
“It’s not my bloody tree. And I can’t do much. I can’t get my hands free.”
“Oh, I knooooooow. . . So I can do this. See?”
“Now, you aren’t quite tall enough. If I stay behind you, I can’t. . . quite. . . manage. . .
“But this obliging tree has lots of dropped twiggy bits, see? And I think perhaps that I want a small revenge for what you did last night. . .”
“Ow! Ow! Bossy!”
“Well, dear, it’s your just desserts.”
“You said my just desserts. You always get that wrong.”
“Do I? What do I mean, then?”
“Know-all. You can have another one for that. And I can get between you and the tree, see? And then if I sit on the roots – ow! actually I can still tell what you did last night – I can do this. See?”
“Mmmmmmm. . . the Gnome said that Huw hadn’t done that. . . she doesn’t know what she’s missing.”
“She probably does by now. I don’t get the impression that Huw misses much. Why are we talking about them?”
“Why are you talking at all, instead of doing that some more? Mmmmmmmmm!”
“Well, if I stand up, I can pick you up, and then I can do this. . .”
“Watch carefully, tree, this is the important bit.”
Huw and the Gnome were enjoying the sunshine in the courtyard when the other two came back. Carabosse’s wings were covered with leaf litter and small twigs, and Cobweb was glowing with. . . well, let’s say with an excess of her very own recovered Power. And they both had a tendency to giggle.
“Huw, get Luc and Ianto to find a small birch tree, and dig it up, and take it out close to that one and replant it. It’s lonely, and it’s a damn troublemaker. Gnome, have you packed? And have you explained to Huw what we’re doing?”
“She’s explained it until my head hurts and I can’t say I’m any better off. She says this baby is going to be Luc, which I don’t understand, but presumably means I need not to let Luc get himself killed. She says that she’s going to have to leave me again, which I don’t like and don’t understand either, and that she won’t see me other than for fleeting visits for what might be years, which I really, really don’t like. Because she might have to go and live in Lurgan, of all places. And she says it will all be all right in the end, which I don’t believe because all my experience is that she leaves a trail of devastation behind her for people like me to sort out. And then she says that she might be back in a week with all of the above already having happened, and if I think about that for too long my brains liquefy and I can’t think at all.”
Cobweb and the Gnome looked at each other. “Yes,” said Cobweb thoughtfully, “that about covers it.”
“But she doesn’t know anything about babies!”
“And you do?”
“Well, no, but there are people who do, and if she stays with me Arianrhod can look after her.”
“And if she comes with me, I can look after her.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Huw, you trusted me enough to swear to me. I know about responsibilities. As your liege lady, I have duties to you as well as you to me, and one of them is protecting you and your lady and your child. It will be fine. The Goddess is looking after her, and I’d be very surprised if the God isn’t keeping an eye on things, and I’ll be there. And we know that the baby will be healthy because the baby is healthy. The Gnome can’t stay with you because Luc is with you – he can’t be with you twice, because that sort of temporal abnormality is beyond even my skills (as mistress of Time and Space). As soon as we can get Luc to a singularity of existence again, the kite string will untangle and we’ll be fine.”
“I didn’t understand much of that.”
“How about ‘Cobweb’s looking after everything. She knows what she’s doing.’?”
“That one sounds better.”
“Then say goodbye – Bossy and I will go and. . . we’ll just have a little walk – and we’ll be off.”
The Mists of Time swirled as they had always done as the two elementals made their way to the Source of All Things.
“Chronos? OFT? Are You there?”
“Cobweb, my dear – back so soon? Oh, and you’ve brought your little friend. In a new body. How lovely.”
“Time, we’re in rather a pickle, and I don’t know how we’re going to manage if you don’t help us out. The Gnome here is expecting, and the Gods are all anyhow with it, and I’ve lost my job and we really don’t know where to turn. You were the only one I could think of who might possibly make it work for us.”
“Well, my dear, come into the office and tell me about it. I was just doing a me and motion study, and frankly I’ll be glad of an interruption. So dull, you know. A cup of coffee?”
The Gnome peered mournfully into her coffee cup while Cobweb explained most of what had been going on. The coffee was unbelievably revolting, but since both Cobweb and OFT were drinking theirs with every appearance of enthusiasm, she presumed there was nothing wrong with it.
“Surely, my dear, my ex-wife would be the one to deal with this.”
“Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But She isn’t happy about remaking history, and when I suggested asking You, She said she would be ‘most disturbed if I were to approach Time and ask for help in this bird-witted arrangement’. Didn’t she, Gnome?”
The Gnome nodded, wide-eyed. Not a lie in the place.
“So what is it you think I could do? I really don’t think you want to stay here. I’ve no facilities suitable for a confinement. I’ll tell you what. What about if we were to put some suitable place in a bubble out of Me? You’ve got enough skill to come and go as you like, Cobweb, and you can bring things through this way if you want to go shopping or whatever you girls do.”
The Gnome was vaguely taken aback by the surge of rage than ran through her at that patronising ‘you girls’ but she tamped it down. It was only fair to remember that OFT was older even than she was, and that manners had changed a great deal. And also that they were looking for a favour.
“I think that would do beautifully. Gnome, where would you like to be?”
Cobweb left the Gnome looking through her wardrobe and failing to find anything suitable for pregnancy. “I don’t quite know how long I’m going to be. Don’t wait lunch for me, and I think you should have a lie down this afternoon.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I rather think I’m going to pay the rent.”
It was pleasant having the house to herself for a while. Oh, Cobweb was good company and all the rest of it, but she was so bossy about this baby, and even a Gnome needed some space to herself sometimes. She walked round the garden, examining the shimmering wall of time that bordered Reality. The sun was warm, and there were bees in the creeper, and what a Gnome really needed was a glass of wine. One wouldn’t do any harm, and Cobweb need never know, after all. And as long as she remembered to clean her teeth afterwards. . . And lose the glass. Ah, yes, that was definitely better.
“Brownie? Take this away and wash it up, will you?”
Cobweb’s return made pretty prismatic ripples run through the border. Cobweb’s bellow of rage made something perilously close to a sonic boom.
“Gnome! Get in here this minute!”
She was in the kitchen, looking at an unwashed glass.
“Oh, Brownie! You traitor!”
“Don’t you dare criticise the Brownie! It’s a good deal more responsible than you are! What in the name of all the pixies and nixies do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, I only had one. . .”
The world spun, sickeningly, and settled itself at a depressingly familiar angle. The Brownie, thought the Gnome irrelevantly, kept the kitchen floor remarkably clean. And she had never realised that Cobweb had such neat ankles. Or such a firm grip.
“Brownie? Could I trouble you to pass me that clothes brush? Thank you.”
“Awwwww, Cobweb, don’t. . . I’m sorry.”
“Not half as sorry as you’re going to be. Perhaps I – didn’t make myself – quite clear. - No – alcohol, - Gnome. – None at all. – Not until – this baby – is born. – And very little – while you’re – nursing. – Am I - making myself – understood?”
“I don’t – think – you’ve thought – this through. – Why do I – want you – not to – drink?”
“Ahhh! Because it’s bad for me!”
“Whose baby – is this?”
“Mine. Ahhhh! Not so hard!”
“Did you – manage this – baby – all by yourself?”
“Ow! No of coooooourse not! It’s Huw’s!”
“Huw’s baby. – Say it – again.”
“Huw’s aaah! baby.”
“Does Huw’s baby – need to be – born with – liver damage? – Or undersized? – Or early? – Or. . .”
“Nooooooo! I’m sorry! I didn’t think! I won’t do it again!”
The Gnome wriggled round for a hug. “Promise. I didn’t think about it. . . well about any of that. I can do it. Only lose the clothes brush, yes? And have we got any of Arianrhod’s salve?”
“Lots. I’ve got several uses for it.”
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