t’s good so far, isn’t it?” asked Cobweb happily, finishing the pistachios. “What do you think? Shall we let it run in real time, or speed it up through the evening and make a night of it? I could go for a take-away and some more Rioja, and we could get rat-arsed.”
“Are you allowed? Doesn’t Carabosse object?”
“No, I’m not and yes he does.”
“Oh, well, let’s do it then. I’m seeing Brian tomorrow, you said, so I might as well get my money’s worth.”
“If you’re lucky, you might get to see Carabosse tonight too. He isn’t due back until late, but he likes to surprise. He’s a really good Carabosse. I don’t know a better.”
“Wouldn’t you mind?”
“Why should I? We all like to show off our lovers at their best, and his best is quite something. I’ve still got the marks from last time. What sort of take-away do you fancy?”
“Don’t care. Whatever you like. And more Rioja sounds good.”
“Keep an eye on the plot, then. I won’t be long.”
She stepped blithely through to Reality, and came back armed with parcels.
“I got Murrieta rather than Caceres, and they’ve got Riscal as well if this Luc runs to a series. And I just picked up a selection of nibbly things from the deli. Oh, and I brought a Mars bar and some cream. If we melt them together, there’s some ice cream left. Brings back memories, a Mars bar does. I used to have a boyfriend who looked just like...”
“Yes,” said the Woodgnome hastily, “we all did.”
“What’s happened, anything?”
“Not yet. He’s just riding up the hill. He’s singing.”
“It’s what he does. He hasn’t decided if he’s going to be a knight or a minstrel.”
“What does he sing?” asked the Fairy, suspiciously.
“Taliesin derivatives. Swords ‘n’ Roses. He isn’t very good. Bits of the Chanson de Roland, but his accent’s terrible. And somewhere there’s been a hole in the space-time continuum and he’s learned some stuff that hasn’t been written yet. He was singing ‘Danny Boy’ earlier.”
“He’ll not do it round me, at least not more than once. ‘Danny Boy’ carries an automatic four stroke penalty.”
“Mine. I don’t mind sentiment, but I can’t stand sentimentality. By the way, what do you bet that he let his credit note get wet when he was in the river? Do you think he knows that if I can’t read it I don’t have to honour it?”
“Thank you,” she acknowledged. “I’ll just find some plates.” She moved to the back of the Portacottage and began opening cupboards. Presently she stopped and tipped her head on one side to listen.
“Am I? Sorry. Didn’t realise.”
“You did realise. You’re trying to get that child to sing ‘Danny Boy’. I don’t mind, of course, but the penalty will apply to you as well as him. And it’s non-negotiable: it’s me, not Brian.”
“More like ‘Ow’. Still, please yourself.”
“Oh, look,” said the Woodgnome, hastily searching for a distraction. “There’s somebody coming down the track. Quite fast. Very fast. Too fast! He isn’t going to make the corner! Told you so. And another one coming behind him.”
The Fairy came over, carrying the plates, and peered over his shoulder. “Who do you think they are?”
The soothware scrolled up, helpfully: Sir Alun and his squire Joscelin. The elementals exchanged glances. “Typical mirror stuff. Real accountant’s answer, that. Absolutely accurate and no help at all. Mirror, who are Alun and Joscelin?”
Sir Alun was Sir Huw’s squire until last night when Sir Huw knighted him. Joscelin was intended to be the next squire, but he says he’d rather go with Alun.
“Ah,” said the Gnome, knowledgably. “One with experience and one who’s been watching and being thankful that it wasn’t him, and suddenly discovers that it is him. Which one has fallen off his horse into the gorse bush?”
“It doesn’t seem to be troubling him much,” said the Fay, doubtfully.
“Frankly, after a couple of months with Palmprint Huw, a gorse bush is a welcome diversion,” said the voice of experience beside her. “It’s just Story working itself out. Luc can’t be Huw’s squire if Huw already has one, so Story is removing the current and the spare. Obviously Story thinks he’s going to be a knight, not a minstrel. Having heard him sing, I agree. Oh, look, Luc’s going to talk to them.”
He was indeed. “Noble Sir Knight! Gentle Squire! I am Luc of Craigavon!”
“Hang on,” said the Gnome, puzzled. “Wasn’t he Luc of somewhere else in the first chapter?”
“Lurgan,” confirmed the Fairy. “But it’s a New Town, you know, where they stick two old towns together and call it something else and put the rates up, and cut the services. Lurgan is an excellent place to be from, just not that brilliant to be going back to. If he can get a mortgage, Craigavon would be better. Let it go.”
“I am questing to find a knight who will accept me as his squire and who will allow me to accompany him on adventures. Pray you, gentles all, shall I find such at yonder castle?”
The knight, removing gorse prickles from his legs, glanced up. His squire sniggered. They exchanged glances. Then they both walked round Luc, and examined his rear view.
“Definitely,” assured Squire Joscelin. “Sir Huw will be delighted to see you. Adventures? Lots. Very exciting. White heat of adventure. We should know. Don’t you think, Sir Alun?”
“Absolutely. White heat. Life with Sir Huw is by no means dull.”
“I would not care to squire for a man who is not upright in his behaviour. Is this Sir Huw of a disciplined nature?”
The elementals laughed so much that the horses, who could hear them, stamped and circled. Sir Alun was leaning on his squire’s shoulder, trying not to giggle. “I think it would be fair to say that the entire household is well disciplined. Yes, I think so. Go and see. You needn’t mention that you saw us. We aren’t nearly disciplined enough for Sir Huw’s household. We’re going to look for dragons or monsters or something. Well, I’m going to be a quantity surveyor, and Joss wants to be an actuary. Jobs that involve a lot of sitting. We’re for them. You go and be a squire. Enjoy!”
The youth proceeded up the track, glancing back to see Sir Alun and his squire, who had abandoned their hasty flight and who were leaning on a tree. It appeared that one of them had been bitten or stung on the mouth by some venomous creature, and the other was sucking the poison from the wound. It appeared.
“Open the other bottle,” said Cobweb.
There was a trickle of sound from the mirror.
“From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.”
“Excuse me for just a moment.” She reached for a receipt pad and glanced around. The Woodgnome, looking in another direction, eased a long switch across the floor in her direction with one foot. “Ah, here it is. I shan’t be long.” She stepped out of the cottage and Folded Infinity around her. Inside, the Woodgnome folded a paper napkin, and dipped one end in his wineglass.
Within Infinity, the Fairy considered. He was a wicked and malicious woodgnome, which was the best sort. She could afford to entertain him. It wouldn’t hurt. Well, it would, but only Luc, and that was after all his role in this narrative. The Cobweb who emerged from Infinity was different from the domestic Cobweb: bigger, more muscular, and with the swaggering gait that implies an excess of testosterone rather than the oestrogen sway. Male, in fact. He strode down the hill to meet the warbling youth.
The warbling youth was continuing to warble. “I’ve got a credit note! I don’t have to do this!”
“Let’s see the credit note, then.”
It was a damp piece of parchment with an inky red splodge on it. It might have been anything. “No. I can’t accept this. Tie the horse to a tree, please, and we’ll get on.”
The miserable youth complied, and behind his back, Cobweb touched a fingertip to the red stain, and licked it. Rioja. That Woodgnome was nothing if not ingenious. He leaned on a convenient tree, flexing the switch in a villainous manner, and waited for his victim’s return. “Here. Closer. Untie that knot, please. Drop them. Now, touch your toes. You haven’t got a licence to sing ‘Danny Boy’, nor ‘The Skye Boat Song’, nor ‘She Moved Through the Fair’. So don’t, O.K.? Count aloud, please.”
“Ow! One! Ouch! Two! Ah-hah! Three! Oooh! Four!”
“Now get a move on up to the castle, will you? It’s getting dark, and we want you in among the torches before the light goes. This isn’t the X-Files, you know. We want proper lighting.”
He Folded Infinity again and stepped into his kitchen. “Where’s my wine? If you’ve drunk mine as well as your own, I’ll stay in this shape, and you’ll be sorry...”
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