Copyright Carolyn Horn 1994
All Rights Reserved
The sun was wandering toward its noon position, its rays bathing town, village, and circus alike in warm drowsiness. At the circus an albino proboscis monkey sat worshipping the elephants, oblivious of his initial homesickness, and peace reigned - temporarily.
Haigho Dwerrystane stroked the old circus mare's neck, brushing her mane while he murmured to her, a soothing paean to which she listened with an occasional flick of an ear. She was the broken-down leader of the Prancing Pansies, but to Haigho she was the same young filly that he'd first trained. He worked his way around, until he stood directly behind her; he brushed her tail to a crackling shine, without thinking for a moment that he might be playing with a potential hoof in the shin. He knew she was far too much of an old lady to kick back at him.
What he hadn't realised was that she wasn't too old to interest a lusty stallion. When Papillon lifted his nostrils to that heady scent of Ripe Female, he took no notice of the irrelevant creature who stood between him and the object of his desire.
Haigho's scream was a masterpiece of fear, the type of sound that film directors would give blood for - someone else's blood, of course. It rolled across the field like the despair of the damned, and it brought several of the Travellers to the scene in a hurry. The rest weren't going to hang around to find out who was massacring whom; they were busy legging it to the hidden depths of their caravans. Some of them had made a real art out of developing hidey-holes, which were extremely useful when certain items needed to be removed from the sight of, for instance, the Guardian Officers of Land, Ethics and Morality.
As Farrell and his new friends rounded the corner of the elephant pen, the scene which burst upon them was extremely busy. Haigho was stuck between Papillon and the mare's rump, desperately shielding his head with his arms and praying. Well, perhaps praying wasn't exactly the right word, thought Farrell; Haigho was certainly calling upon his god, but his vocabulary was colourful and wide-ranging. Farrell was impressed.
The Prancing Pansy had looked up in surprise, and was examining the activity at her rear; while even Orangputeh had been jerked out of his rapt contemplation of the elephants and had swung over to watch. Oh boy, he thought as he watched Papillon's struggles to make contact. Never mind the stupid blunt noses, just look at the-
"Haigho!" Holly shouted. "Get away from there - you're spoiling Papillon's style."
"Miss," Haigho managed to say between curses, "Bugger his style. I've got other things. To worry about. Right now."
At this point, the Prancing Pansy obviously decided that whatever was going on had nothing to do with her. She ambled away; man and horse descended to the turf in disorder.
Holly frowned at Haigho and hurried toward her beloved stallion. She shook her head as Farrell helped the man to his feet. "Standing behind a horse like that!" she said. "How daft can you get?" She turned her attention to Papillon, who had taken the opportunity to have a bit of a roll while he was on the ground. He didn't believe in wasting anything.
Haigho winced as he straightened up. "Ouch!" he said, "I think the damn horse must've bruised every part of me." He collapsed on the ground again, groaned and put his head in his hands. "That's tonight's performance finished; I can't bound around in this state. What Sir Liam will say when I've got no takings for him, I just don't know-"
"Why worry? We can stay and help." Holly had come over to him and was examining his bruises.
Haigho groaned. "Omigod. And what would I say to me lord when he sees your vans here, eh?"
"Simple, pal. You allowed us a couple of nights' rest on condition that we helped out in the circus. That ought to appeal to the mean bastard." Holly turned back to her horse. "Liniment, that's what we need. Hey, where's Drew? Can someone go get it from him? I want to give Papillon a good look over. Shut up, Haigho; you need us. You know you do."
Farrell volunteered. He smiled to himself as he left the scene, his pack already on his back; the argument continued. He knew who would win. Holly seemed a very determined sort. He'd travel onwards after this; he needed to get to somewhere with power for his machine, fast. There was a big ache inside him.
Drew hadn't taken any notice of the noise; he sat in the doorway of his van, at the top of his wheelchair's ramp, absorbed in his carving. "Liniment? Oh, certainly," he said as those powerful hands turned his wheels around, "come on in."
Farrell was amazed at his first glimpse of a van's interior. While Drew rummaged in a paint-daubed cabinet at the far end, the young man glanced around. Intricate murals enveloped him. Painted forest scenes frolicked around overcast, mist-filled river pictures; over all, creepers twined until they met in a rose-knot in the roof.
Then Farrell looked back at the doorway and gasped. Vinny, he thought; my god, it's Vinny! Beside the door hung a simple, framed painting. It was a summer scene; a field of poppies in full flower, with a dark-haired, green-eyed woman standing in their midst. Her whole being was poised with the grace of an otter. She had been captured just as she had stopped running, with her clothes and hair coming to rest around her and a laugh fading from her eyes. Something on the ground had caught her attention, something too small for the viewer to spot, and she had begun to be completely absorbed in its contemplation. Farrell peered closer. She had dark hair, so she couldn't be his Vinny; but he could have sworn - no, the eyes were different too. "Who is this?" He heard his voice come out as a squeak.
His host turned to him with a querying lift to his brows. "There. Found the stuff. What?" he said. "Oh. That. That's Megan; my lovely Megan. I painted it after - after..." His voice started to shake, and his eyes filled with pain. "Why?"
"She reminds me of a woman I - know."
Drew zipped his wheelchair towards the young man and grabbed hold of his shirt, shaking him. "You know my Megan? Where, where?" He was almost sobbing.
Farrell's head rattled. "No, no! Not your Megan. My Vinny. I know a Vinny who looks like her. Please put me down. Thank you." Drew had let go. "She's got fair hair and blue eyes, but she's very like - Megan. But anyway, I don't know where she is; I'm looking for her."
Drew gave a crack of laughter. "You too, eh? What did you do to violate the Laws, then?"
"Laws? Well, I stole the machine, but-"
"VR machine. I needed her, you see. But hell," Farrell's stomach clenched, "The battery's conked out and I can't see her again until I get to Fallekin or somewhere."
Drew looked surprised. "Why not tap into mine? I've always got a battery or two charged up."
Two minutes later, the VR machine was connected. As Farrell put the disc in, Drew saw the label: "Vinia Merrilees. She's steaming with sex!" Drew gasped, grabbed the Cap out of the young man's hand, and smoothed it over his own temples.
Farrell yelled: "No! You'll get caught too!", but he was too late. He watched helplessly as Drew moaned and writhed slightly. It wasn't a good idea to rip a Cap off anyone's head while VR was in progress.
Drew's legs felt strong again. She was there! He could smell the wild rose of her, and he opened his arms wide as she came warm and laughing into them. "Farrell; that was awful wasn't it? I'm so glad you're-" her voice broke off as Drew opened his eyes. She pushed back, frowning. "But you're not Farrell! Where is he? What have you done with him?"
"Megan?" he said. No, he thought, she isn't my Megan. But, my god; how like! He could feel his loins sit up and take an interest.
She still frowned, but there was puzzlement in her eyes. "No, my name is Vinia. My mother was called Megan."
"Mother?" his voice squeaked. Oh hell, he thought. So Megan had married again? He cleared the lump out of his throat, and managed: "Your father?"
"What business is it of yours?" She looked at his desperate eyes and shrugged. "Oh well, if it means so much to you. He died before I was born. He was called Drew Fareman."
"Drew Fareman?" said Drew. "But that's me. Me. I'm - gluck." He was having severe problems with his libido. His daughter, for heaven's sake, and he wanted nothing more than to slip that silky black blouse off her, bury his face in that red-gold hair, feel the smoothness of her breasts against his chest...
He scrabbled the Cap off his head, and stared across at Farrell. "Gluck," he repeated.
Farrell nodded in sympathy. "Yeah. Me too. But it's your own fault - I tried to warn you, these discs are addictive. I just hope you haven't-"
At that moment the peace was shattered by a haunting bagpipe-note outside, accompanied by the sound of breaking china. Farrell looked out; a dishevelled old lady with a squashy set of pipes was clambering out of the back of Holly's van.
Holly herself stood at the bottom of her steps, tapping her foot. She was on her way to Drew's caravan, to demand the liniment. Farrell grimaced. He'd obviously taken far too long - at least five minutes. Patience, it seemed, wasn't Holly's strongest point.
"What d'you mean by cluttering up the place with all that stuff?" said the old lady, handing Holly the shattered remains of a tea-urn.
Holly looked at the shards and sighed. "Ceredwen, pal, if you'd only tell me when you intend to arrive, I'd prepare an empty ten-acre field-"
"Cheeky girl!" Ceredwen's lips quirked, but she suppressed the smile. "By the horns of Kernunnos, you'll keep a civil tongue in your head, girl, or I'll send you a plague of spiders."
Holly grinned and winked across at Farrell. "Just the ticket! That'll deal with last month's plague of flies."
Ceredwen chuckled and took off her hat to wipe her brow. A toad jumped out onto her shoulder and glowered at everything.
"Know anything about Science, girl?" the goddess said to Holly as they reached Drew's van and climbed up the ramp. "No, I didn't think you did. This boy used to, though, didn't he?" She nodded towards Drew, who still looked shattered. "Keeping it up, is he?"
Holly took in the scene at a glance, and gave a gurgle of mirth. "Well, he's certainly keeping something up," she said. "If I'm not mistaken, pal, that's a bit of Science for you." She wandered over to the machine, patted it, and took out the disc. "Vinia Merrilees, eh? Sounds like pretty hot stuff. Shame on you two!"
"Merrilees?" Ceredwen grabbed the disc and looked at it. "Oh yes, Merrilees!" She burst into cackling laughter. A minute later, she wiped her streaming eyes and looked at the three humans who faced her. They huddled together, gazing at her in surprise.
"Well," said Holly, "are you going to share the joke?"
"No. You'll find out - go to Fallekin Astow; show that thing around there. Shouldn't wonder if the grumpy woman decides to help me after all, when she spots this-" The goddess glanced from the disc to the still-shocked Drew, and subsided onto a chair. "Ah well, I reckon it's time for a drink. Anybody for some Nectar?"
Holly caught sight of the liniment-tube on the cabinet, and grabbed it. "Must take this to Haigho. I'll be back - save some for me!" she called over her shoulder as she hurried out.
Ceredwen poured the Nectar into her hat, and Natterjak jumped in with glee. Farrell tried not to notice, as he took a tentative sip of the liquid. It had the fresh tang of daffodils dipped in honey and lime. Rather more-ish, he decided, and forgot all about the toad. Ceredwen took a long pull, glanced at the disc, and chuckled again. "My oh my, won't she be mad!"
Megan Merrilees Fareman was already mad. She was seething with fury; if she could have got hold of Sir Liam Hang at that moment, she'd have liked to drag his guts out of his anal passage and strangle him with them. He'd sent some more of his blasted Toff friends around to view the cottage, with intent to purchase it. She was going to have to do some serious discouraging, when she just wanted to get on with her psi Project - she was sure she'd succeed with it, in spite of those damn Natural Laws.
But right now, she was going to have to concentrate. Toffs could be difficult to dislodge, they usually couldn't see her, and these two were looking over her house. Her home, where she and Drew had loved and lost. She glowered at their backs. The man wasn't too bad, she decided; the gangling type who never know what to do with their hands. Rather gentle-looking and vague. But that woman!
"Gerald Da-arling, isn't this just too marvellous? Liam was so right. this is going to be a perfect holiday home for us." The woman peered out of the window at the back garden. "Of course, it'll need a fair bit of work; lots of crazy paving. Get rid of those flowerbeds and those awful untidy rocks; put in some Grecian urns, all that sort of thing. But we can get someone in for that."
Gerald gazed out of the window. His skin crawled slightly, as though someone was watching him. "I think it's nice the way it is," he said.
"Gerald! Really, darling, you haven't a clue. Sometimes I wonder why I agreed to marry you!"
He wondered, too. In fact, he didn't remember having proposed, but he supposed he must have done. He was certainly engaged to Linsey.
She carried on twittering: "And isn't the river at the back delightful? I was so afraid that the power-station would be visible from here; dear sweet Liam is asking such a low price for the place. I don't think I could have borne to watch all those chickens run about over there."
Gerald rather liked hens. They didn't pretend to be clever; they just got on with producing eggs and chicken-shit; both useful commodities. He felt a little wistful about an old shack, across the river from the chicken-farm, which they'd looked at first and which Linsey had rejected with loathing. He shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets and followed her through the dusty, cold rooms, and back into the sunshine.
He'd been puzzled by one thing: "I say, Linsey, didn't you notice those damp patches on the floor? They looked quite fresh to me."
"Hmmm? No, darling, I didn't notice. Well, we can get good central heating in and dry the place out; and I suppose the roof will need to be fixed. Let's just go and see how the garden is; the river-bank could be made into a real Feature." She trotted off down the path.
Gerald hung back and looked up at the roof, his puzzlement deepening. This was one of the few houses with a roof that looked perfectly sound. So where had those damp patches come from?
"You wouldn't like it, you know. It's haunted." The voice made him jump and look around. A woman sat on the wall, with a couple of otters watching him suspiciously from her lap. She appeared to be about forty years old, but her dark hair, tied back in a loose bun, was liberally sprinkled with silver; and she wore an ankle-length skirt which made him think of an earlier generation. It was the mottled green of water-weed, and she obviously didn't believe in showing her ankles even when paddling, because the hem was wet.
He blinked. "Sorry?" he said.
"You're welcome. Yes, haunted. By nixies. You wouldn't like that; they drag people down into the river and-" Her face suddenly distorted itself into that of a struggling, drowning woman. Gerald shuddered and leaped back several yards. "Not bad, eh?" the woman said, reverting back to her normal, gentle expression. "Took hours to perfect, that did. I had to practise for hours in front of a mirror."
Gerald felt faintly hysterical. He was intrigued. "Are you a neighbour?" he asked, seating himself beside her on the wall.
"You could say that," she said. "Megan's the name-"
There was a sudden scream from the riverside. "Gerald! Help!"
Gerald jumped off the wall and dashed toward the sound. His Linsey had slipped on an otter-slide, and was threshing about in the unexpectedly deep water. When he finally dragged her out, she was wet, cold, and furious. "We'll have to put concrete down there," she said.
Gerald glanced up at the wall where his new acquaintance was practising her drowned face again, and shivered. He had to admit it was very good. "Uh," he said, "perhaps we shouldn't take the place? It does have a history of drownings. That woman says so." He nodded towards the wall.
Linsey looked in that direction and then back at him in surprise. "What woman? Darling, I think your eyes must be playing tricks."
"Up here," he dragged her towards the wall and stood her in front of Megan, who grinned.
Linsey pulled away from him. "Gerald, this isn't a nice game. You know as well as I do that there's nobody here. I don't know what you're trying to do to me; if you're too mean to buy the place from dear Liam, you should just have said." She tossed her head and strode away from him.
Gerald shook his head, and wandered after her. He couldn't believe this; had she gone crazy, or was it him? He looked back at the woman on the wall. She winked.
At the other side of Fallekin Astow, Doug Marrow had found himself a beautiful soft limestone rock, not far from the church. He was hacking away at it with verve. The old eagle perched on the wall nearby and watched him intently. He wished she would go away; she looked as though she was waiting for him to carve a decent perch, but he was blowed if he was going to. The vicar would only make him chop it off.
Between the rhythmic and musical "ting, clunk" of metal against stone he could hear the comfortable village sounds. Distant hens were cackling about their business, and the murmur of human voices floated uphill to him along with an odd scream. He paused for a minute. A scream? Very odd, he thought. A good way to clear the lungs, though. The sun warmed his back, and the exercise was producing a good healthy sweat. This was what he needed; all those hallucinations he'd been having - phew! He really should steer clear of Jeston's Special.
A "foom" sounded behind him, and his back crawled. Just the sound of wind, he thought. I'm not going to be fooled into turning around. Beautiful, semi-naked goddesses don't just turn up and threaten to rape men - not little, bandy-legged, thick-looking gravetenders like- "-Urk!" His thoughts stopped abruptly and his tools clattered to the floor, as the beautiful, non-existent goddess in question grabbed him by the back of the neck and swung him around. She was glorious, dressed in something shimmeringly diaphanous and with a large tabby cat draped over her shoulder.
"Let's have some respect around here! Abase thyself, mortal!"
He abased himself. He didn't have much choice, really. As he sank to the ground, the thought wandered through his mind that it was really quite pleasant, being mad. At least it wasn't boring. To his dismay, his personal tool began to rise to the occasion.
Brigid stood over him and watched his desperate attempts to hide his excitement. She laughed, scooped him up and flung him across her shoulders, dislodging the indignant cat. Doug was too absorbed in the feel of her firm warmth, and in trying to get her hair out of his mouth, to notice the wild whistle with which she took him out of this world.
The cat was left to contemplate his half-finished statue. Ethniu shook herself to unruffle her fur, and glared at the eagle. Food? No, she decided. Not worth the effort. Too stringy.
The eagle gave a derisive "Yark" and flew off.
Ethniu washed vaguely while she thought. Things were getting far too restless; Arianrod never took time away from her pottery, these days, to give a cat a comfortable sleep. As for the other three, they were always fooming in and out.
Another home, that's the answer. Yes, indeed.
Ethniu stood up and wandered off down the hill, in search of suitable accommodation.