Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved

Chapter 12.

A voice spoke beside Susie: "Hello, dear lady; how's the jumble going?"
        She jumped. "Oh, Vicar!" she said, "Did you see anybody run from behind here? I've been attacked."
        The Reverend Willey shook his head, and his pale brown eyes opened wide. "Attacked, dear lady; on Jumble Day?" He looked around at the brisk stalls, as though each one harboured an unsuspected, cleaver-wielding maniac.
        Susie bridled. "Yes, Mr. Willey. Disgusting; he pinched my..." Her lips folded primly and she rubbed the spot. Something jabbed her other buttock, and she sprang forward with a gasp. "There it goes again!"
        A long, thin, beak-like object flopped out from under a colourful cascade of jumpers. Willey lifted the woollens and was rewarded by a baleful glare from one round eye. He shuddered. "I think I have found the offender," he said as he tugged the huge bird's head out and held it up. Susie shrank back from it.
        There was nothing wrong with the head. It was a fine head, for an ibis. A long, strong beak; bright eyes; feathers - the usual stuff. Where it fell down, and badly, was in the body department. There wasn't one. In place of a down-covered bosom was an amorphous garment which trailed on the ground. It had been carefully made in the image of a man's body. Unfortunately, the effect was flaccid; as if the man had been liquefied within and then sucked out.
        "Ugh! I won't have that thing on my stall!" Susie's features oozed revulsion. "Who put it there? Take it away, Reverend, please." She fluttered her hands at it.
        Two minutes later, Willey was stumbling across the field, clutching the bundle of skin-like material. The ibis-head flapped under his arm.
        "Ow!" a young woman jumped as he passed, rubbed her bottom, and regarded him with disbelief. "Vicar!" she gasped.
        "Madam? Oh dear," he said. He hurried to explain: "It's this beak, you see." He held the head up for her inspection and she scurried away in alarm. He looked at the head closer, while he walked on toward the edge of the field. He could have sworn it winked at him, and he nearly dropped it. At that moment the beak yawed open at him and he did drop it. A clattering noise came from near his feet, and he looked around wildly for help.

In the south-east corner, the museum's untidy, down-market stall hid away with Tansy and Arlo. Arlo was moping around listlessly. Tansy was on her hands and knees, trying to gather debris from a disaster. A box had given up the unequal struggle with gravity and had slid to the ground in a spectacular explosion of beads and bangles. She shook her mop of curls out of her eyes and chewed her lip; she regarded her friend with exasperation. "Arlo!" she snapped. "Can't you do something useful?"
        "Oh, sorry," he said, and bent to pick up a brilliant blue ceramic bead which had rolled to his feet. He rubbed it absently between his fingers.
        Tansy sat back on her heels and hunched a shoulder. "Where's your precious vulture, then?" she asked.
        "I dunno - sometimes she'll disappear for ages and then I wonder, `Will she ever come back?' She's amazing, Tansy..." He sighed.
        "I'll bet," Tansy muttered; she screwed her face into a wry grimace. Damn his obsession, she thought. Stupid, stupid boy. She looked up at him; at that shock of ginger hair, the expression of bewilderment never far from his face... Her eyes softened and her heart gave a little lurch. She felt her eyes prickle with moisture, and she sniffed angrily. What was she doing, letting another woman win her man - the one she'd been working on for months? She snorted. A woman who was a bird half the time, too! What was this idiot saying now?
        "-weird, Tansy. This great tall woman turns up sometimes, just comes into my room and talks like she knows me. Keeps offering me milk; well, you saw her at the museum, didn't you? She's been at me a lot, since. And then she starts to undress! Must be out of the loony-bin. But I'll tell you what's really crazy; she's got ears just like a cow's." He hunkered down beside Tansy and started to pick up bangles and chains. "Do you know if they're looking for a nutter anywhere?"
        Tansy looked at him in disbelief. "Are you telling me that this beautiful woman keeps offering you... And you don't-"
        "Beautiful? What're you yattering about?" Arlo looked at her, his eyes wide, and then he lifted a hand and ran his forefinger gently over her left eyebrow. His voice softened. "You're beautiful," he said, and blushed fierily. He looked away and scrabbled to pick up a handful of beads. A warm glow filled Tansy, from her stomach to her tingling toes; she sat back on the ground and hugged her knees in a dream. He didn't want Hathor; he didn't. And then she was struck by a thought. Arlo didn't know that the woman was the vulture! She jerked upright and the pit of her stomach froze. He certainly loved the bird; if he ever realised the connection, would he not fall for the woman then? The clouds gathered over her heart again and she rose wearily to her feet. At least the great lummox was doing something useful now; she watched him grovel on the ground, with satisfaction. A thump and a gasp caught her attention, and she peered out from their cramped corner.
        It was the vicar. What was he doing? she wondered. And what was that, down at his feet? "Hey, Reverend," she called, "is that from a stage act; ventriloquist or something?"
        A pink man and two shapely blondes who had been gently disrupting a stall nearby, turned to look at Tansy. They followed her gaze. "Oh," one of the women said in honeyed tones, "it's that cute man again!" Nephthys hurried over to him.
        Isis followed, close behind, and grabbed at her skirt. "This one's mine - we agreed, you know we did. I let you have the one we found in the street until he was finished; now it's my turn."
        "Oh, phooey; that other one was only good for half an hour and then he fainted. Get your hands off me..." there was a tearing sound as Nephthys tried to smack her sister's hand away from her clothing. Two seconds later, Isis was dashing across the field toward the trees, laughing wildly and waving the other's skirt around her head.
        Nephthys, displaying a dramatic amount of shapely, black-silk-clad leg and naked, flamboyantly-gartered thigh, churned up the grass after her. The whole field watched till they disappeared among the leaves; and then a collective male sigh rent the air, followed by a splatter of female slaps to husbandly faces.
        The vicar had watched the whole episode with a glazed expression on his face. He was having difficulties with his philosophy. He jumped when someone tapped him on the shoulder; it was Djehuti.
        "I think you have something that -ah- belongs to me," the god said. "I have been -ah- looking for it for several days."
        Willey looked at him and shook his head. "What?" he said.
        "That," the other replied, nodding at the awful thing on the ground.
        "Yours?" Willey's disbelief was total. He hurried on: "I mean, are you sure? It was over there, for sale-"
        "Foolish mortal!" Djehuti drew himself up to his full height, and thundered: "My head is not for sale! It shall not be desecrated!"
        "No no, dear sir," Willey made soothing motions in the air with his hands; "we aren't trying to... Someone made a mistake. I was just removing it from the stalls."
        Djehuti bent to pick it up and made gentle, crooning noises to it as he stroked the head-feathers flat.
        The vicar wrenched his eyes away from the sight and saw Tansy standing, doubled up with mirth. She had her hand over her mouth and her eyes danced with suppressed laughter. He smiled wanly at her.
        The twins wandered back onto the field, arm in arm and giggling. At least the skirt seemed to be roughly back in place, thought Willey. They headed straight for him, however, and his heart did a worried little dance.
        He turned away hurriedly. "I must go and see Mrs-" he started to say. His flustered tones were drowned by an immense, rhythmic drumming which pounded across the air of Jumble Day. Eerie flute-music floated after it, and he stopped to listen intently. A slim, cool hand slipped around each of his elbows.
        A honeyed voice spoke in each ear: "Come! Let's join the musicians, and make a festival; sing! Dance!"
        Willey looked down with alarm. "I'm not much good at such things, I'm afraid, ladies."
        Djehuti regarded him gravely. "When the -ah- call rises for music and dance, all should obey," he said; "it is written in the books of -ah- great magic and truth that music is the mania of gods. Even in the Book of What's in the Dwat, the power of the word and of -ah- song is made clear."
        "Those great Egyptian tomb-writings?" Willey's round face twitched eagerly. "Is that how you translate them?"
         "I have no need to -ah- translate. I am the -ah- Creator of words. I am Djehuti, god of scribes."
        Willey glanced at the bird's head, looked into the god's eyes, and gulped. He scratched his grizzled temples and brightened. "My dear sir," he said, "then you are the very man to explain to me. I have recently been reading about Egyptian beliefs..."
        Isis leant across him and shrugged at her sister. "Djehuti has him now. We'll have to save him for later. As you said, there's enough of him to go round. Come, sister. Let's dance!"
        They raced off together, leaving the men in earnest philosophical debate. The ibis-head was examining Willey's crotch closely. A scream of agony soon floated after the twins.

Bryarus and his other guests had made straight for the tents, that morning. Ra and Bes wanted a drink, and Bryarus wanted to keep an eye on them. They were about to enter the licensed marquee, when the hesitant sounds of a waltz wheezed at them from nearby. Bes looked enquiringly at Bryarus, who said: "That is the music-and-dance part. See why I said `you could say so', when you asked if there would be any?"
        Bes and Ra frowned at each other and marched sternly toward the noise. To be accurate, Ra hobbled; but the effect was of general determination. Bryarus' heart sank. He knew that look. All three slipped into the warm-earth smell of the big tent; the sun's light was dissipated by the canvas, casting a pleasant glow over the dance floor. Polished boards were laid, a shallow step up from the ground, on pallets.
        The local band was seated on a narrow stage at the far end. The piano was played energetically and out of tune by the town's primary-school teacher, a matronly woman in a flowered dress and gold chains. The violinist wore the suit which he had bought, in the forlorn hope of joining the National Orchestra, thirty years ago; and he played proud-backed, with vigour and inaccuracy. For today, lost dreams lived again behind his eyes. The clarinettist had never - quite - made it into jazz; and the squeezebox player needed a team of Morris-dancers to complement his skill.
        The band did not merge perfectly. Bryarus winced. Couples had taken to the dance-floor, however; dreamy couples who didn't mind what the music was, so long as they could hold each other either in youthful lust or in aged nostalgia. Cicely was there too, shuffling around in a genteel manner with Arkwright. He was whispering sweetly into her ear; something about endowment mortgages.
        Hathor flew into the tent and alighted beside Bryarus. She transformed instantly into her woman form with the merest shimmer of light - the few dancers who thought they'd seen a vulture change into a woman ignored the hallucination. She looked smug; Bryarus wondered what she had been up to and then decided he didn't want to know. She turned to look at the stage, and an expression of irritation crossed her face. "Hath music been destroyed? Is this the way mortals praise their gods today?" She turned an outraged glare on Bryarus, who shrugged and said: "We're just a small town. This is the best we can gather, I'm afraid." He considered the players for a second.
        "They really are doing their best, you know." Hathor nodded. "Their best shall be better. Bes, Ra; get out the instruments. Come." She strode toward the stage. Something shimmered and solidified in her hand; it looked very like the museum's ancient pair of duct flutes, thought Bryarus. Then he closed his eyes. Bes' stocky form staggered onto the stage with the massive African drum. Bryarus never failed to be amazed at the dimension-flip trick. Olwyn seemed to have got the idea, he admitted to himself, but even she couldn't manipulate the two-to-three conversion.
        By this time the musicians had jangled to a halt and were regarding the newcomers with hostility. "Music," Hathor said; "thou shalt play music of the gods, with the gods. Thou shalt cease making this awful row."
        The pianist had started to gobble, but Hathor ignored her and spread her arms wide. As in a trance, the musicians took up their instruments again and Bes started his drum to a deep-throated, wild hammering of sound. Feet for miles around began to tap, and Hathor joined in with a wild, ethereal melody from one pipe; the sound was held to earth only by the husky drone of the other. The fiddler found himself effortlessly following, with a counterpoint which created such ecstasy in his heart, and the clarinettist joined the free flow of the autumn-leaf dance with an unfaltering purity of note. Tears were running down her face. The squeezebox player forgot all about Morris dancers; and even the piano resonated in tune.
        The music flowed and eddied throughout Postleton-over-Wold.
        People burst into the tent and started to do wild dances all over the floor; Cicely and Arkwright stood still, indignant at the change. Cicely looked around her, patches of colour high in her cheeks, and spotted Bryarus. "You did this!" she said.
        "Me? How do you work that out?"
"Them! They're all your friends, up there. Even those - those-" she gasped to a halt. Isis and Nephthys had taken to the floor and were dancing together in a fluid, intricate undulation. They never touched each other, although they moved their bodies so closely that Bryarus held his breath. Their hips moved to the rhythm in figures-of-eight, and the firm, youthful flesh quivered in a recurring shake. Each twin's hands constantly ran over her own hips and thighs, up to her breasts, and outwards, in a gesture of pleasure and offering.
        "That's utterly disgusting! They won't get away with this. Come along, Arkwright," Cicely said, and stormed out of the tent.
        Bryarus shrugged. He looked around; he was a little puzzled to see that the East was mixing happily with the West end of town; businessmen cast off their ties and women whisked their hats around like frisbees; the ragged Lower Postleton crowd flapped happily over the dance floor, legging it busily without thought to arthritic limbs; and their accompanying flies thought they were in heaven.
        Bryarus stopped his bank manager and asked if he was feeling all right. The man was dancing energetically past at the time, in his vest, with a pair of frilly knickers on his head.
        "Absh'lutley, ol' chap. Shplendid danshing, eh? An' that cordial they're shelling outshide - oh, my," and he put his thumb and finger unsteadily to his lips in an ecstatic gesture.
        "Cordial?" Bryarus muttered to himself. "The man seems pissed out of his mind!"
        The flutes were being played now by one of the twins, but Bryarus couldn't tell which one; the tent was getting very cramped. The quality of the music had changed to a slightly sadder, more haunting sound. A man was dancing with Hathor; Bryarus couldn't place him, though he was sure he'd seen that face before. It was very distinctive; the man looked like a ferret.
        Hathor's partner was, in fact, the hapless Kraphedd. He had just arrived in town, intending to keep a low profile, and had stumbled on this "do". He felt sure that he could learn something here; and anyway he liked fete days, even if they were for charity. That cordial had been spicy and heady; just like this amazing woman. This was so comfortable; dancing around on air, with his head propped between the warm silk mounds on her chest...
        Flash-bulbs popped; Kraphedd was immortalised for the Postleton Globe and the News On The Wold. Television cameras were whirring around the tent, shoulder-held by the practised cameramen who were following Murdo Goshawk's lead. Murdo was getting plenty of material, today.
        Bryarus shuddered and pushed his way outside. He needed some fresh air. He nearly fell over a sign which proclaimed: "Wych-hazel Cordial, this way. Free!"
        He followed the painted finger and sure enough, there was Olwyn, her massive barrel propped up on a bench and a crowd of eager customers surrounding her. Min was industriously helping her to ladle the stuff into small paper cups. He looked up, saw Bryarus and winked. Bryarus pushed his way over, grabbed a cup and hissed: "Cordial?"
        Min looked uncomfortable for a minute. "Well," he said, "is for making people cordial, no? And many women, they came, looked so sad - like this," and he demonstrated by pursing his lips into a disapproving little pout, "so we think - how to make them happy?"
        Bryarus grinned weakly, thinking of the "cordial" scenes to which he had just been witness, and Min's smile grew broader.
        Olwyn looked up from ladling, and her eyes brightened as she saw him. "Hi! This is a terrific Jumble Day, isn't it?"
        His heart warmed to that smile. "Couldn't be better," he said, and meant it. Then he looked up, across the field. "Uh-oh," he said, "do you see what I see?"
        Five assorted policepersons were standing beyond the jumble stalls; they had just been stopped by Cicely, and he could see her talking earnestly to them. She waved her arms and pointed toward the dance-tent, which was still bellowing forth that unearthly music. Bryarus felt that it could be a good idea to be otherwhere when they arrived.
        "We'd better dash, folks. Our welcome is running out. Meet you back at the cars." He shoved himself back into the tent and cupped his hands over his mouth: "Gods! To me; emergency!"
        The big drum rolled to a halt and the gods responded energetically to his call. They cut a swathe, swimming through and over the dancers to get to his side.
        The fiddler wept with joy and his violin sang; the clarinet laughed, and the piano rippled with mirth. The dancing went on.
        The police, on their way to investigate a complaint about the Jumble Day dance tent, passed an orderly group of people who were strolling toward the jumble stalls. "Evening, sergeant; constables," the long, thin one said, nodding at them.
        "Ah, 'evening, Mr.Watts. I gather there's been a disturbance over there?" The sergeant pointed to the tents.
        Bryarus looked back and shrugged. "Nothing more than high spirits, I should think," he said.
        Far above, a vulture circled, looking for someone to molest. The Balloonists' Association loomed majestically over the horizon, aiming for the far side of the Wold; it was a dignified race. Until Hathor found it.
        Daniel had saved all his commission bonuses, wrung from Cambider's unwilling management, and he had bought himself a cracker of a balloon. It was a huge, fat pagoda, in stripes of pink, gold and green. It caught Hathor's eye; she flew at it like a javelin, beak poised. Daniel screamed, and descended faster than he had intended. He sat, under masses of deflated fabric, in the middle of a Jumble Day stall, and sulked.
        The sky became a mess of bursting balloons and yelling balloonists. Hathor was enjoying herself.
        Kraphedd was lonely, bereft of that firm bosom. His partner had left him embracing empty air. He wanted company; he grabbed the first body which passed and whispered love-chants to its ear. The body happened to belong to a policewoman on active duty. She twisted his arm behind his back and marched him out of the tent; she was enjoying herself.
        Outside the tent, Bonasus had at last found where the fun was. He had waded down the stream, following the noise and his nose. A quarter-full barrel of delicious wine was hanging around outside the tent. Bonasus stuffed his nose into it and slurped.
        Bonasus was enjoying himself.

Go on to Chapter 13
Book of Watts and the Dwat
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1993
All Rights Reserved