Episode 24

Inn later years, the Gnome found himself unable to remember very much about how she had felt while she was pregnant (he had been right – this Shifting sex between paragraphs was very confusing). It simply appeared as a selection of scenes and conversations.

 “You need to strengthen your pelvic floor. Think about the muscles you used to hold onto Huw while he was. . . to hold unto Huw. Pull them up tight. And then twitch. And twitch. And twitch. Do it as often as you remember, but at least seven times a day. People will tell you that you can do it in public and no-one will know, but actually it makes you look as if you’re having a fit.”

“Do I need to do this? I mean, I’m going back to male at the first opportunity.”

“Well, look, if I Shift I can show you. When you’re male, these are the same muscles that allow me to go like this.”

“Pull. And twitch. And twitch.”

“Turn sideways! Look in the mirror! You’re showing! That makes you at least thirteen weeks, I should think! And we’ve only been here since Wednesday. But that’s definitely a bump. Definitely.”

“Oh, Goddess, it’ll be stretch marks before the weekend. . .”

“Arianrhod’s salve. Come on. Slap it on and rub it in. And you need to rub it into other places, too.”

“Why? Where?”

“Umm. . . You know when you and Huw. . . you know how tight everything was? And you know how big Huw is? Gnome? Gnome, do pay attention. Now, think about the size of a baby’s head.”

“Oh, Goddess, it’s the goose grease again, isn’t it?”

“Well. . . yes, dear. Only we’re talking about both hands.”

“I don’t think I want salve on all my important places, though.”

“In that case, you’ll need to make a decision. Do you want me to let you tear, or do you want me to cut you?”

Cut me? With what?”

“Scissors. Well, more like poultry shears.”


“So you need to make sure that everything is. . . look, salve. Here. Regularly. And press hard. Like this.”

“Actually, that’s rather nice, Cobs. Huw used to do that or something very like it. Because, as you said, he’s quite big, and he said he didn’t want me to tear.”

“Do you know, I think I wish you hadn’t told me that.”

“Lie still, and stop fidgeting! I’ve never tried to transmit through a magic wand before. Now, listen.”

“What’s the thing that sounds like a filtration plant?”

“It’s a filtration plant. It’s the placenta. Noisy, isn’t it? And just. . . here. . . can you hear that?”

“It’s a steam train!”

“It’s your baby. The heartbeat. Huw’s baby. Aw, don’t cry! Who’s sentimental now?”

“Gnome? Are you crying again?”

“I’m sorry! It isn’t anything!”

“I know. I think you need a treat. You stay here. I can’t do this very often, because it takes a lot of power, but I’m going to bring Huw. Just for the evening.”

“Oh, Cobs! Can’t I help? I’ve got plenty of power.”

“Better not, dear. When you’re pregnant, really weird things happen to your power. You tend to get flashback or freakage. You might only get bits of Huw, and think of the clearing up. I’ll do it.”

“Cobs? Can I. . . can we. . . it won’t hurt the baby, will it, if we. . .”

“Don’t swing from the chandelier, don’t let Huw do his Spiderman impression off the top of the wardrobe, you’ll be fine. I’ll deliver him here and then I’ll go home to Bossy for a bit. I think we could both do with a break from each other, don’t you? I’ll be back about midnight, and if you need me before that, just call. I’ll hear you.”

“Cobs, what if he doesn’t fancy me? I’m all bulgy.”

“I’m sure that between us we’ll be able to get the strait-jacket on him, even if he is bigger than us. Twit.”

“Cobs? Huw said that Ianto and Luc had gone back to Cosb for a week’s archery training, so he’s on his own at Palfod. Can’t I go there just for a night or two?”

“Sorry, sweetheart, you need a doctor’s certificate if you’re going to Fold after twenty-four weeks. Do you want to go back to the Doctor?”

“Ummm. . . no. Don’t think so. But couldn’t you. . .”

“Bring him? I suppose so. Just for the afternoon. And you aren’t to exhaust yourself.”

“I never thought I’d be glad to be visited by Carabosse. But I’m so bored!”

“I know. It’s very dull. But there aren’t many elementals who can do the time shift to get in.”

“Did you see what he brought?”

“No, what was it?”

“Books! He brought books! A whole box of them.”

“Well, he knows me very well, and I think he’s grasping that you are just me in a different body. Still, I admit, that was very thoughtful of him. That should keep you quiet for the afternoon. I’ve got a set of accounts to do.”

“Thought you were a Wild Thing; Wild Things don’t do accounts.”

“I’ve worked out a way to combine Wildness and accounts. This client needs to have accounts with Big Numbers in them, and all his numbers are small. But it’s quite legal to use non-standard accounting policies, provided you put in a note saying what you’ve done and what the effect is. And nobody ever reads the notes. So I’m going to do a set of accounts in Base Eight, with a note saying that the point of it is to make all the numbers look bigger.”

“Wild, surely. Numbers. What does that. . . Numbers. There was something. . . Oh, bugger it! Cobs, why can’t I remember anything?”

“Pregnancy. Takes you like that. Leave whatever it was – if it’s important it will come back to you.”

“If you ever tell anybody that you’ve seen me do this, Cobs, something really horrible will happen to you.”

“Ironing? You? Ironing?”

“Look, I just felt I had to. I washed all the curtains earlier.”

“Nesting. It’ll be soon.”

“You said it would be soon! And there’s nothing happening and I’m past my due date.”

“Not uncommon with a. . .”

“If you say ‘first baby’ again I shall hit you. Can’t we speed it up?”

“You heard what Chronos said.”

“So all I can do is wait?”

“Well, not quite. If we get Huw here again, and you and he spend the afternoon. . . but you have to go all the way. No substitutes. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.”

“Cobweb! Quick!”

“I’m here, what is it?”

“I’m all wet! I’m bleeding!”

“Let me see. No, no blood, but certainly all wet. Huw’s done the deed then. We’re started, sweetheart. Now are you quite sure you don’t want me to fetch him to be with you?”

“He’ll faint. He’ll be no bloody use at all. Keep him out of it.”

“Whatever you say. I’m just going to puncture the Tempora, and then we’ll see. Right. Can you lie flat for me? Just for a minute?”

“What’s with the rubber glove, Cobweb? Cobweb?”

“Carabosse always said you would come to be glad that I have small hands. Am I hurting you?”

“No, but I don’t like it! What are you doing?”

“Up you come. That’s very nice. Six fingers wide at least already. You need to go to ten. You go and have a wash and find something loose and dry to put on, and I’ll clear up here. Go on. The Brownie will help me.”

“What do I do now? Push?”

“Gods, no! Not for ages. Put your shoes on and we’ll go into the garden. It’ll go quickest if you keep upright, so we’ll walk for a bit. Stop when your pains come and hold onto me. Keep calm.”

“Ladies? May I come in?”

“Barnabas! Let me open the gate. What brings you here?”

“I heard the Gnome yell. Well, every elemental within five miles heard it. Carabosse says to shout for him if you need anything. I just came in case” (to Cobweb, in an undertone) “you found you needed an ambulance.”

“There, Gnome, that’ll be easier. Put one arm round me and the other over Barnabas. Now walk. Good girl. Pain? Breathe through it. Like we practised. Lovely.”

“I think it’s time to go back inside.”

“What can I hear?”

“Albinoni, I think. The Adagio. That’s Carabosse, at a guess. He’s really good with sound effects. I can get him to turn it off if it annoys you, but I think he probably hoped it would help keep you calm. Hey, don’t cry! I’ll get him to turn it off.”

“No, don’t. It was just. . . I didn’t expect him to be so kind.”

“I’m not sure it’s wholly for your benefit. He likes Luc – says he hasn’t laughed so much in years.”

“Lie down again.”


“Just for a minute. Just let me see. . . Excellent. Fully dilated. Ready to push. We’re going on very nicely here, Gnome.”

“Who’s this ‘we’, you bitch?”

“Sit up straight. Chin down. Shut your eyes. Push. Push with the contraction. Ease off as it does. Good girl. Breathe. Here it comes again.”

“I’ve changed my mind! I don’t want to do this!”


“I want. . . I want to be a man!”


“I’ll kill bloody Huw! This is all his fault!”

“No (push), I would have said it was Merlin’s fault. Another push. Go on, harder, that’s better.”

“Let me wipe your face. You’re doing very well. You know, your Brownie is frantically boiling water in the kitchen. I hadn’t the heart to tell it that we don’t need it. And Barnabas and the two herms are pacing a track round and round the lawn. Here comes another one. Ready? Puuuuuush!”

“Stop pushing. Don’t push. Pant.”


“Steady. Don’t push. This is the head now. Steady. O.K. Now one big push! Again!”


“That’s it! Here! Your baby, Gnome. Huw’s baby. Hold him.”

“Let me wash the baby, and by then I bet the placenta will be out, and then we’ll get you clean and see about finding you some visitors.”

“Is he all right?”

“He’s perfect. Well done.”

“Oh! Cramp.”

“Placenta. Don’t look, it’s a bit gory.”

“Eeeeeeeeewwwww, yuck. Will you bring Huw?”

“When we’ve cleared up a bit. He knows battlefields, but I don’t think he’d like this one. And you ought to feed the baby.”

“Do I really have to? I’m almost sure I’d rather bottle feed.”

“Well, don’t forget that we think this baby is going to need a certain amount of Protection. Where do you think it comes from? He’s going to be more or less magic free, with a human father, even if Huw does have the Sight, and the longer you feed him yourself, the better Protected he’ll be. And you needn’t think I don’t know what you’re after. You’re thinking that if you bottle feed, you can have a drink, and if you do it yourself you can’t. Go on, tuck him up against you. He knows what he’s doing. Yes, like that. Good girl.”

“Now, are we ready for visitors? Shall I go for Huw?”

“No need, lady, I’m here.”

“How the bloody hell did you manage that?”

“Carabosse and Barnabas arrived to fetch me at the same time. They’ve been listening. Well, mine lyking? How are you? Has Cobweb been looking after you?”

“Bossy? You too?”

“I wanted to see what the Gnome could do when she put her mind to it. Impressive.”

The door opened and a trolley propelled itself inside. There were glasses and an ice bucket on top.

“Open the champagne, Bossy. Gnome, you may have half a glass, and then I think you should have a sleep.”

There was a heavy shadow under the trolley. Cobweb lifted the baby and knelt down. “Brownie? Here he is.” The tendoned hand emerged from between the wheels, and turned back the corner of the shawl, to stroke the baby’s face.

“I want to tell somebody! My son!”

“Oh, good grief, he’s having an attack of fatherhood. Bossy, take him outside – here, have the blanket. Huw, there’s a donkey and two stone herms outside who’ll want to see the baby.”

“Um. . . Minerale’s in the pond, too.”

“There you are, Huw, a capacity crowd. Go and show off your son. The Gnome is going to have a nap now. And I wish to heaven that I was too. I’m flattened. I’m glad that went off well, I’ve never done it before.”

“You’ve WHAT?”

“Well, one has to start somewhere.”

“You told me you knew what you were doing!”

“I did know what I was doing. Theoretically. But I’ve never actually delivered a baby before. I did the Mother’s course. Now, if we’ve finished, for the moment, doing all the Motherhood stuff, I’ve got a God to follow, and I believe that if I put my mind to it I can bring about some more champagne, and organise a party. He’ll want a party, I’m sure. Vine leaves. Pine cones. And more to drink.”


Idris the Dragon

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