his looks good,” said Cobweb. “Are you staying for supper?”
The Woodgnome was surprised. “Well, given that I provided it, I was certainly intending to.”
“I was speaking to the donkey.”
The donkey swung a startled head to look at her. “May I?”
“Of course. I’m afraid we don’t have a stable any more; Carabosse made it into an office, but if you don’t mind the lean-to, I put straw in it for Luc’s horse, and there’s hay in the net. I believe there are some pony nuts left, too, and I might be able to find some bran.”
The donkey pushed his way into the lean-to while Cobweb filled a water bucket. Mutterings of “pleasure to deal with a real lady” and “always tell who’s been properly brought up” came from inside.
“Sorry,” apologised Cobweb, returning to the Woodgnome. “It’s a Celtic problem. I always feel obliged to feed people. I suspect it’s a geis, but I’m damned if I know who did it. As soon as they arrive at the door, I’m making cups of tea and scones. I’m vaguely surprised that I let Luc go without a packet of sandwiches and an apple. And of course, given the job, I’m supposed to give at least lip service to Epona – presumably because stables contain riding crops and straps and things - so I try to be polite to equine people.”
“That donkey,” said the Woodgnome coldly, “doesn’t count as ‘people’”.
“I heard that! I’m just as much ‘people’ as you are. And unless you want to talk about where you’ve been, don’t be so rude. You may have extracted all sorts of promises from that boy, but you did no deal with me.”
“What’s he talking about?” asked Cobweb, idly, as they walked back towards the door.
“I have no idea. Put the kettle on, then, I’m dying for some coffee. And I got some more baklava.”
“I think there’s a half bottle of Beaumes de Venise in the cabinet. That would go nicely with baklava,” offered Cobweb, distracted, which was what he had intended. “I’ll heat some milk, if you don’t mind. I don’t drink much coffee, it gives me stomach cramps, but I haven’t had any today, so I’ll chance a weak cup. I can’t remember if you take sugar, but there’s some on the top shelf if you do. I’m afraid we’ve missed quite a dod of the action. I couldn’t get a re-run.”
The Woodgnome shifted uncomfortably. “What am I sitting on? Some sort of box? Oh, it’s a board game! I wouldn’t have you down as a board-gamer.”
“I’m not. What is. . .oh. Pass it over here. I’ll put it away.”
“What is it? I don’t know that one.”
“Um. . . No, you wouldn’t. It’s Carabosse’s. Pass it over.”
“I really, really wouldn’t have Carabosse down as a board-gamer. What’s the game?”
“Look, just leave it, will you?”
He glanced up. Cobweb had turned a most peculiar colour. If he didn’t know her to be incapable of such an emotion, he would have said she was embarrassed. This had to be investigated. He flipped open the box.
“Oh, Cluedo. Never played myself, but I’m told the humanoids like it. You’ve mislaid the board.”
Cobweb sighed. He never knew when to leave well alone. “There isn’t a board and it isn’t Cluedo. Look at the cards.”
The Gnome shuffled the ‘Who’ cards. “Von Rothbart. Chaos. Cottus the Furious. Donar. These are all pictures of Carabosse! Oh. I see. These are all Carabosse, aren’t they? The ‘Where’ cards are standard, I see. The ‘What’ have – a riding crop. A belt. A wooden spoon. No board?”
“No. We play in the cottage.”
The Woodgnome glanced round in a speaking manner. It was a two room cottage, and not a large one. “The Ballroom?”
“You forget that I am mistress of Time and Space.” She stepped to the fireplace and threw open the cupboard. The Gnome knew it was a cupboard, because he had removed wine glasses from it not half an hour or ten days previously. Now, the door opened into one hundred and fifty feet of ballroom, at the far end of which a small chamber orchestra was tuning up. She shut the door, hesitated, opened it again and displayed a conservatory, complete with potted palms and aspidistras. The third time, there was a pleasant library with an open fire and comfortable seating.
“Impressive. What are the rules?”
“Whatever Carabosse says, of course. Usually, I draw three cards, and throw two dice, and, well, you can probably work out the rest. We don’t play very often. It’s Carabosse’s thing, not mine. It makes a nice change now and then, though.”
This was a definition of ‘nice’ that the Woodgnome wasn’t sure he accepted. Carabosse’s slow drawl made him nervous, the flexible mouth always seemed to be too close to sardonic laughter, and the knowing amusement in the senior elemental’s eyes filled the Gnome with an overpowering desire to be somewhere else. Still, he made Cobweb happy. Unhappy. Whatever suited them.
“Well, he’s your Top, I suppose.”
“He is indeed, and he’s bloody good. Mind you, he lets me top now and then, when he’s tired. It stops him getting that silly idea that so many Tops have, that they’re in charge.”
“Know it well. They all tend to think that. It doesn’t answer to disabuse them of the concept. Only confuses things.”
“True. But if you can switch, it has its points. I mean, if you find you can’t quite bring yourself to suggest what you want done, you simply do it when it’s your turn, and hope to have it done back to you later.”
“You do live a complicated life. Actually, I have no problem with the idea of you as Top, but Carabosse as Bottom makes my eyes water.”
“Well, he doesn’t do it often. Did you ever read that play the bald man made of the Midsummergate affair? He missed an awful lot. He actually had Bottom as a character, not a characteristic. Very odd. By the way, you’ve got pine needles in your hair, did you know?”
“Really? Wonder where I got those? Pass the baklava, please. Go on, then, let’s see what happened.”
The mirror flickered, and the Great Hall came into view once more. Sir Huw was again seated in the large black chair that he favoured for judgement, and Luc was standing in front of him looking apprehensive.
“You remember that my squires do not tell me lies.”
It wasn’t a question, and from the twitch in his bottom, Luc apparently remembered it very well.
“So where have you been for the last day?”
Luc thought about this carefully. No lie, but no useful information, either. He perked up. He could answer that one quite truthfully.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Huw ran a hand over his face. He had been right the first time, the boy was two arrows short of a quiver. Try again.
“Why did you go?”
Long thought, and a smell of burning.
“To get a sword.”
“Yessir. This one.”
In the cottage, the Fairy gave her associate a long hard stare. “Did you do that?”
The Woodgnome turned a look of absolute limpid innocence on her. No woman would ever have believed anything told her by a man with such an expression. “No. Although I might have done if I had thought of it.”
“Who,” enquired Sir Huw, “gave you the sword?”
“I can’t pronounce his name. A big man. A smith, I think. Deep voice.”
Sir Huw sighed again. It would be a smith, of course, and they were all big men. It wasn’t really enough of a description. “How deep a voice?”
“Because I can get all the tenors I need – actually, after I’ve had the training of them for a month, they all tend to warble fairly high - but we’re short of a really steady bass. . . why am I telling you this? How did you know to go to the smith?”
“You said, sir, that my sword was rubbish, so I wanted a new one.”
Sir Huw sighed for a third time.
“Boyo, I have been around a long time. I am capable of recognising that you have not actually answered the question. On the other hand, I have dealt with a very large number of teenage boys in my time, one way or another” (Luc swallowed nervously and his bottom twitched again: so far all his dealings had been ‘one way’, which he didn’t like, but he wasn’t convinced that he was ready for ‘another’), “and I am aware of the dangers of asking any question to which I don’t already know the answer. So you have a new sword. Is it actually yours?”
“Oh, yes, sir, the smith said so.”
“No angry hero trying to get it back? No dragons, monsters, gods being pissed off with you?”
“No, sir. It’s mine. He said so.”
“Did you pay for it?”
“Boy, it is unbelievably unchancy to take things like swords as absolute gifts. You tend to take on dooms and destinies and things, rarely good. So did you pay for the sword, in coin or service?”
“Oh. Well, I think you could say I paid for it with service.”
“What sort of service? Remember, your service is pledged to me, and you have no business offering it elsewhere.”
Luc’s blush was so profound that the colour contrast on the mirror flickered. “Um. . . I don’t know what it’s called. Ianto taught me.”
“Ianto. . . you did that? And he gave you this? Duw, you must be good. Come and see me later.”
“Well, I had to do it twice.”
For once Palmprint Huw was speechless. The Woodgnome appeared to be fighting down hysterics, and Cobweb was giving him a look of the utmost suspicion.
Marcher Huw managed, by the exercise of an extreme effort of will, to grasp the tattered remnants of common sense. One of the more useful skills of the fighting man is knowing when to retreat in good order. “I don’t think I want to know any more about where you went. That sword will need to be christened. . .”
“No!” squeaked Luc, forgetting everything he had been told about punctuation. “The smith did that! It really doesn’t need to be done again!”
“Well, in that case, we’ll talk about absence without leave. Give me the sword.”
Luc’s sword, knowing itself to be such, produced a threatening growl in Huw’s hand. “Shut up, you, nobody asked for your opinion.” He flicked one hard finger against the blade, and the sword made a sound like someone treading on a kitten, and shut up. It wasn’t stupid, either. Huw separated sword and scabbard, and glanced up at Luc, whose lower lip was beginning to tremble. “It’s a nice scabbard,” he said thoughtfully. “Springy. Let’s try that, shall we? Hose down. Touch your toes.”
Cobweb winced sympathetically. The Woodgnome snorted with laughter and finished the baklava. “Huw’s a demon for making the punishment fit the crime. He’ll feel that for a while: it’s a leather scabbard.”
“Oh?” asked Cobweb innocently. “How do you know?”
“I’ve seen that type before,” assured the Gnome, who was much too old to be caught that easily.
“Oh? I haven’t. It’s not local, I wouldn’t have thought.”
“No. Not local. Siberia, Vyatka, Perm, Karelia, that sort of place.”
“I hope he has an import licence for it. Look, the poor pup’s got an embossed bum. He’s going to have a Sampo stamped on his arse for a week, I should think. It’s a change from stripes, I suppose. He doesn’t half howl, does he?”
“A springy scabbard with embossed figures? I should think he would howl. Believe me, Huw’s strong. And accurate.”
“Well, you should know. . .”
“I do know. Aw, look, Ianto’s going to look after him. Sweeeeeeeet!”
“And you call me sentimental. . .”
Sure enough, Ianto had led the snivelling Luc back to their room, and was hugging him and stroking his hair.
“Come on, nothing’s worth having if it hasn’t cost a bit. Where did you really get it?”
“Across my backside, stupid, you were there, you saw him do it!”
“No, that’s not what I meant. Where did you get the sword?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been there before. And I’m not telling you about it. I promised.”
“I promised that too.”
Ianto thought about this, and, like Sir Huw, decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing. The Woodgnome dropped his head into his hands. This wasn’t going to work. The boy was too stupid even to tell a good lie. Cobweb watched him, with the beginning of understanding.
“Are you feeling better? Look, your points aren’t done up right. Come and have another hug. Your hair smells nice – pine cones or something.”
The Woodgnome looked straight in front of him, and Cobweb began to lose control of her mouth. “I think,” she said carefully, “we should have some more coffee.” The air was filled with the sound of a woman Not Saying Anything On The Subject, than which no sound is louder.
“What did you mean about the import licence?”
“What? Oh, just that if Luc’s importing armaments, and I really don’t see that you could call the sword anything else, he needs to have the paperwork right. Otherwise His Majesty’s Costumes and Excess tends to get a bit exercised on the subject, and eventually it all gets referred back to me.”
“How did you get into that sort of thing? It isn’t part of your job, is it?”
“No, it’s left over from when I did domestics. Accountancy is basically just housekeeping with numbers. Auditing is being a nosy neighbour on a larger scale. I kept it up because I quite like it, and because people tend to be so grateful for anyone who takes the paperwork away. It’s small scale Topping, I suppose. Well, except taxation. I don’t do taxation. You have to be a full time Top for taxation.”
“And this import licence. . .”
“Well, we needn’t worry about it, need we? It’s the original importer who has to do it, so it’ll be whoever first raised the subject of the sword with the smith. So if Luc said to the smith, ‘I’m going to be a knight and I want a sword’, he needs the documentation.”
“Ah. And if someone else said, ‘This young lad wants to be a knight and he’ll need a sword. . .’”
“Then it would be the someone else who needs the documentation. It isn’t difficult, there’s no more than about forty-five pages of it. All to be done in advance.”
“Mmm. So someone who hadn’t filled in the forms. . .”
“Would be well advised to get off his high horse – donkey – and find a friend who is really, really good at manipulating time (and we’ve mentioned before how grateful Time is), and who understands such things, and to bribe her with more Cava to see to it that the forms were in fact filled in a week ago last Thursday and filed in triplicate with the proper authorities.”
“Indeed. And such a friend would not feel the need to rub in any minor matters of sentiment, would she?”
“Not if it were a very dry Cava, no. Some of us write poetry, and some of us fill in forms. The only real job in the universe is plumbing and all the rest is just reorganisation.”
“Well, you don’t wake up in the middle of the night and say ‘I need a stockbroker and I need him right this instant’, do you?”
“Oh, I see. Will the forms be filled in a week ago last Thursday?”
“I’ll do them tomorrow.”
“Won’t that be too late?”
“I’ll do them yesterday tomorrow, and backdate them.”
“Ye-es. This is why I prefer to go by donkey. Time travel makes my brain hurt. Look, if we’re going to interfere across the board – we are going to interfere across the board, aren’t we? I thought so – we might as well do the thing properly. What about the boy’s horse? That was a good horse in its day, but its day was probably before Luc was born.”
“Do you want to give him another one?”
“No, I want you to do it.”
“Me? I only do consequences as you well know, so until there’s a real problem, I don’t interfere. Think of me as the third umpire. There has to be a referral to me from the centre; I can’t offer an opinion until I’m asked.”
“That’s cricket again, yes? I don’t do cricket. Why not run the line instead? Then you can catch the referee’s attention and interfere to your heart’s content.”
“Because I don’t do rugby, that’s why. I like them taller and leaner, and with more brains and teeth, and discernable necks. If this were my narrative, we would be talking Ashley Giles, not Martin Johnson, even to give you the amount of brawn you apparently required. No, for this sort of thing I have to be called in.”
“But our hero is about to go erranting on the equine equivalent of a Reliant Robin.”
“Oh, come on! I may be responsible for Ireland, inasmuch as anybody can be, and frankly I think that alone is a cruel and degrading punishment, but I’m a city fairy. I don’t know anything about horses. Why don’t you go? Go to Wales and ask Huw to provide one of those solid little ponies for Luc. Why not?”
“Um. . . because for one thing I have no status in the matter, and for another, Huw thinks I’m still owed something on account of what I did to his wine cellar.”
“What did you do?”
“I drank it. He didn’t realise until after I’d gone, but then the curses he sent after me were sufficiently anguished to get all the way here.”
“Well, why don’t you go back and settle up? I’d have thought it would be just your sort of thing.”
“Oh, I will, but I think I’d rather go when there aren’t quite so many people around. I don’t share Huw’s enthusiasm for public executions. Oh, go on, Cobweb. Rescue the boy. I got him the sword, after all.”
The Fairy went bug-eyed with the effort of not mentioning sentiment, having, after all, agreed not to. “I can’t! I have no status in this either. It’s not my place. He needs a Fairy Godmother and he isn’t entitled to one.”
“How should I know? He didn’t get one in the draw. And I’m not one anyway. I’m a Spank Fairy. I got fired from Godmothering, remember? You know that.”
“I know that. But those boys don’t. If you said you were Luc’s Fairy Godmother, who would contradict you?”
“Carabosse, for a start. He gets very put out with people interfering in the wrong business. If he found out, and frankly it isn’t an if, it’s a when, I could expect lots and lots of trouble, laid on hard.”
“So you’ll do it. I knew you would.”
“Where on earth would I go for a horse?”
“Well, you mentioned Epona, so Ulster, Connaught, the wilder bits of Wales or anywhere the Romans went.”
“It was a rhetorical question. In fact, it would probably be best to go to. . . ah. Now. Yes. That would work. No, the problem is that I don’t actually know how to choose a good horse. Who do I know who might. . . well, of course, you really want insider horse trading, don’t you? I’ll need to take Luc. And the donkey.”
“The donkey? Well, you can try. . .”
“I say, donkey? I wonder if you would do me a favour?”
“I knew it was too good to last. Where do you want to go, lady, and is there the faintest possibility of me being paid for it?”
“Oh, nothing like that. I’ll Fold for all of us. I want a professional opinion from you. You’ll get a consultant’s fee, of course. Full bran mash, warm, or a de-coke and oil change, your choice. Or I can change a head gasket if you’ve got your own mole wrench. We need to go to Castell Tin Goch, first.”
“Bloody hell, what is this? Are you another of them? Huw does like to put it about, doesn’t he?”
“No, we need the boy.”
“The one who complains that it isn’t fair?”
“By the way,” interrupted the Woodgnome, “I put him on one Phlegm Festival, one slap.”
“Phlegm. . .”
“Right. Seems reasonable. We’ll be most of the day, I should think, so we’ll be back in about ten minutes. If you find the right episode, you’ll probably be able to watch.”
“May I make a suggestion, first? The boy will probably not want to go with you. I had to tell a slight inexactitude about keeping him out of trouble, and as you mentioned before, he is quite smart enough to avoid being had the same way twice.”
“He’ll go if Huw tells him to. I intend to get late leave for him.”
“In that case, I suggest changing your clothes. The paintball print trousers are one thing, but if you go into Castell Tin Goch wearing a T shirt saying ‘You’re a naughty boy – go to my room’, Huw will think you’re a kindred spirit and you’ll never get away.”
“Oh. Yes. This might be something that requires a dress. Fairy Godmothers are supposed to have dresses, aren’t they? Not that pink thing, I’m too old to wear pink. Green. Green is good. How’s that?”
“I like the style, and the length is about right for this period, but I’m not convinced that red Doc Martens are the best footwear.”
“Better. And I really like the birch rod magic wand.”
“Hey, lady, when are we going?”
“About four days ago should be enough. He’ll have had a chance to get used to the sword, and the effects of the scabbard might have worn off a bit. If we’re going to look at horses, it would help if he could sit on one. Would you like to come close enough for me to Fold us both? Mind my skirt. . . thanks. O.K., we’re gone.”
At Castell Tin Goch the donkey wandered off again to investigate the same substandard patch of grass, and Cobweb made a small Fold to take her into the Great Hall during breakfast. Luc saw her first, and gave a yip of terror, hurling himself from his seat to get his back to the wall. Ianto, with more style but equal promptness, followed his example, as did several others.
“Who,” asked Huw, with some interest, “is this?” Meurig, who knew, leaned forward, keeping his bottom turned away from the Fairy, and whispered in his ear, and Huw rose to his feet, timing it carefully to make it plain that this was not the blind panic of the boys, but rather a deliberate courtesy. He bowed.
“Madam, you are welcome to my hall.” The phrase “in which I am Top” went unspoken.
Cobweb swept him an elegant curtsey, nearly, but not quite, deep enough to imply that he was her equal. The phrase “while I permit it” also went unspoken.
“May it please you, my lord of Ceryddol, I stand as Fairy Godmother to the young man Luc.” There was a faint and despairing cry of “Noooooo! It’s not fair!”, and the Fay’s palm flexed. “I have come to ask your leave to take him with me today on a brief errand to the Kingdom of Donn.”
Huw’s eyebrows rose. “Brief? You intend to let me have him back, then?”
“Oh, certainly. He’s no use to me, after. . . I mean, he is your squire, of course, but it falls to me to see him properly mounted. . . I mean horsed. . . Hell, this sentence is just filling itself with double entendres, isn’t it? Look, he’s due a horse, and I can get him one from the Lady, but it’ll need to try him on. He needs an exeat for the day, please.”
Three minutes later they were crossing the grass towards the donkey, with Luc rubbing his bottom again. The Fairy didn’t smack as hard as the Gnome, but she put more wrist into it.
“Where are we going? And why didn’t you say before that you were my Fairy Godmother?”
“You heard where we were going, and I’m not your Fairy Godmother. That was a lie. I’m your Spank Fairy.”
“When I lie,” said Luc, self-righteously, “I get smacked for it.”
“What makes you think that I don’t? And understand that the rules about ‘not fair’ still apply.”
“What rules? I didn’t have any rules about that. Nobody mentioned that when I didn’t go to get the sword.”
Cobweb stopped and leaned briefly on the donkey. It had been a long day. “Look, I already know who didn’t take you to get the sword. I don’t know where you didn’t go, but I know who didn’t go with you. And I know that when he didn’t go with you, he said that you weren’t to say ‘not fair’. Say hello to the donkey and I’ll Fold.”
They Folded to a large meadow. “Bugger. I’ve misjudged this. We should have been over there. I’m not Folding again, I don’t think. I would prefer for us not to draw attention to ourselves here. Be very, very polite while you’re here, Luc. Everybody you might meet is either dead or a god. We’ll walk.”
“No, I’m just tired, and I didn’t get the angle quite right.”
“No, sorry, I meant Miss Cobweb, can I ask a question?”
“You not only can, you may.”
“If you’re my Spank Fairy, who was the man who smacked me for singing?”
“Me. He was me.”
“No, it was definitely a man.”
Cobweb Shifted. “See? It was me.”
The Woodgnome leaned forward towards the mirror. Already he could tell from Luc’s expression when he was about to make the remark that would get him smacked.
“Well, sir, I don’t think you should wear that dress. You haven’t got enough. . . you aren’t big enough up. . . Ow! Ow! OOOwwwww! Ow-uh!”
Cobweb, who had Shifted back, let him go. Nobody had ever suggested before that she didn’t have enough cleavage, and she wasn’t having it from some brat of a teenager. She was sure the Woodgnome was laughing at her. The donkey certainly was.
“You have now! It was just the man who didn’t! I’m sorry! It isn’t. . . How do you feel about exclamation marks?”
“I’m against them.”
“Are you going to sing?”
It had been a very, very long day. “I wasn’t planning on it. I don’t do Karaoke. I’m good enough for the chorus, but I’ll never be a soloist and I don’t read music very well.”
“The Woo.. The Wiz. . . The one who didn’t go to get the sword, he could sing all about it.”
“Well, I know all the words to ‘The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me’, and I can dance the rumba and the quickstep, is that any good? Look, we’re here.”
They had arrived at a long stable which backed onto more meadow, in which a herd of horses was scattered. “We’re going to get you a horse.”
“Wow! Can I choose?”
“No. The donkey’s going to choose. He knows more about it than either of us. You may tell him any preferences you have, but he chooses.”
“I really want a mighty steed with a great heart and boundless courage, who will be my true companion on many adventures!”
Cobweb walked a little way into the meadow with the donkey. “I don’t think he’s going to grow any more upwards, so he doesn’t need anything bigger than about fifteen hands, and I’ve seen him stripped and his arms and legs are like Twiglets, so don’t get him a stallion. Find him a fairly placid” - she heard the word ‘gelding’ before it arrived, and thought better of it – “mare, who already knows what she’s about. Oh, and you’ve heard his conversation. That’s about the extent of it, so find him something intelligent. There needs to be some brains somewhere in the partnership.”
It took about half an hour before the donkey returned, accompanied by a pretty dappled mare with a knowing expression. She nosed Luc all over, and blew green slime and half–chewed grass down his neck. Then she touched her nose to the donkey’s.
“She says she wants to try him out.”
“Come on, Luc. Up you go.”
“But there’s no saddle! Or bridle!”
“What have we said about punctuation? Just get up, so that she can see if you’ll suit. Well, climb up the fence and get on. I’m not pushing you; if you get mud on this dress I’ll never get it off again. There. Now, miss, how do you like him?”
The mare tried him for twenty minutes. He fell off twice.
“Will he do? Yes? Right. He’s got some work to do, so if you want to say your goodbyes and so on, we’ll be ready to go about sunset.”
“What did Huw tell you about gifts?”
“Oh, I know about that, only. . . would you mind being a man again? I don’t know how to do it for a woman.”
“Not me, you fool! No! Don’t look at the donkey like that! Not him either! What sort of story do you think this is? Gods, you’ve got us all using exclamation marks now. Two more chapters and we’ll be in multiple punctuation territory, and I don’t know about the Woodgnome, but I really, really disapprove of that. No. Where was I? The Lady of Horses isn’t likely to give up the mare uncompensated, and her consort is the King of the Dead. These are not people you want to have pissed off with you, Luc. You haven’t any money, so you’ll have to offer service. Where there are horses, there are stables, and where there are stables you can always find a day’s work. Look, through here, there’s a broom and a pitchfork and lots of straw, and over there you’ll find a muck heap, and. . .”
“I can guess. I’ll just start, shall I? But I still think it’s not fair. . . Ow! Ow! He only hit me once for it!”
“The donkey and I are going outside. We’ll wait for you. Don’t skimp on the corners.”
Luc laboured mightily, wondering why he hadn’t thought to bring a packed lunch, and muttering under his breath about not fair when he was sure nobody could hear him. Outside, the donkey and the Fairy appeared to be having an animated conversation about Shifting. He could hear bits of it each time he reached the doorway.
“Oh, yes, much more fun. Have you really never tried it? I could teach you. You’d have to do the thing with the clothes again.”
“I’d love to learn, but I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble. . .”
Two more loose boxes and Luc could hear a peculiar roar.
“That’s why I said leather trousers. Relax more and lean further. Your knee should be nearly on the ground when we corner. Let’s try a little faster.”
Two more trips to the muck heap.
“Well, do you want to try a touring bike? I could be a Goldwing if you liked. . .
A small and bad tempered pony bit him as he tried to work straw round its feet.
“You’re probably not big enough to kick-start a Norton when you’re female, but you could do it as a man and then Shift back. It’s got guaranteed pulling power. I always score when I’m a motorbike. . .”
“Luc? That’s probably enough. Go and wash. There’s a pump in the yard. I say, Norton, I’ve just thought. Luc had a horse. We should have brought it here and let it retire, only I didn’t think of it.”
“If it’s been accustomed to you people, it would find things a bit dull here. I could take it on, I suppose. I need someone to do short trips. You know, pizza delivery and so on. Mind you, I’ve never had an employee.”
“If you would do that, I would do the PAYE for you, and all the forms. And you know, you’ve been so much help, my lean-to is always open to you. . . Luc? Are you ready? Your horse is here. Shall we go?”
At Castell Tin Goch, they exchanged the grey mare for Luc’s aged pony, which trotted cheerfully out to the grass and touched noses with the Norton. Luc turned back to Cobweb.
“I know I’m not good at this,” he said humbly, “but I’m doing my best. I’m very grateful, and all that, but I need to know. Have I been out with you or not? And do I say where I’ve been or not? And are you my Fairy Godmother, or not?”
“Yes, you have, and yes, you can, and yes, probably best to say that I am.”
“Right. Just my luck. My Fairy Godmother doesn’t have a wand, she has a switch. It’s not OW! But Sir Huw isn’t going to beat me for anything?”
“I don’t think you’ve given him cause today. The one who’s going to get smacked for this outing is probably me.”
“Can I do it?”
“Certainly not. I have someone to do it for me.”
“Awww. . . It’s really not. . .um. . . The Woo. . . The Wiz. . . He wouldn’t let me spank him either.”
“Of course he wouldn’t. You would need to be twenty years older and about three stone heavier and much less spotty. I’m surprised you even asked.”
“Well, I want to spank somebody, and all that happens is that everybody spanks me. When do I get a go?”
“If you are very good, and pay attention to Sir Huw, and don’t mess up Story too much, the Gnome and I might just let you spank Ianto when you’ve put on a bit of weight and can make it worth his while.”
“But I like Ianto! He’s my friend! I want to spank somebody who isn’t nice to me, like Gruffydd.”
“You’ll find out presently, probably from Huw, that it’s much more fun with a friend. If I were you, I would go and do your party trick for him tonight, to make up for being away all day. You have been doing that, haven’t you? I know he was interested after the sword conversation.”
“Please don’t make me! I don’t want to go to the gallows!”
“Ianto said that the last person who did it got executed!”
“I don’t think so. . . There was Alun and Joscelin, and we know what happened to them, and I think Rahere occasionally. . . Ah. No. Ask Ianto to explain to you the difference between hanged and well hung. Not the same thing at all. Run along. I want to go home. Say thank you to the Norton. . . Oh, he’s a BSA now. O.K. guys, shall we go?”
Back at the cottage she found the Woodgnome hovering in the doorway.
“Love the green leathers! Very stylish.”
“Thank you. You weren’t going to make any jokes about how much I enjoyed having all that throbbing power between my legs, were you?”
“Absolutely not. Um. . . Carabosse called while you were out. He’s found out that you’ve been Fairy Godmothering, and he’s making a special trip home to talk to you about it, so if you don’t mind I’m just going to. . . well, just going, actually. You’re doing paperwork tomorrow, so what about the next day?”
“Yes, fine, but it can’t be here. The carabossieri will be having their monthly staff meeting, and if I stay I’ll end up doing quiche for forty. Can we use your mirror? I’ll make a casserole if you like, and a gooey chocolate cake, or I’ll just bring another takeaway if you fancy something different. Let me know. The boy must be nearly up to having Huw actually teach him something, don’t you think?”
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