Go back to previous chapter
"I know why you've called me in here", Kieran sighed, sitting down in Julian's cabin.
"Well this is becoming an increasingly embarrassing problem", said Julian "Everyday this week the wretched woman's been round. None of us can get any peace".
"But what else can I do?" Kieran exclaimed "I've turned her down politely, I've turned her down firmly. There are times I've stopped just short of being downright rude, but she won't listen! Dolores has warned me that Lady R's used to getting what she wants, and won't stop until she does".
"Then give her it".
"But I don't want to!"
"Kieran, rumour has it that in the old life you had a way with the ladies".
"So?" said Kieran, aggressively "I'm not prostituting myself just so's you lot can have a quiet life! I'm not a focking performing seal!"
"It will take up one evening of your time", said Julian "One evening out of your entire life. Now that's not asking much is it? Not when you consider that she may well be able to help us track Tamaz. She knows this area better than anyone".
"That's all you care about, tracking Tamaz!"
"Don't you want to get him for what he did to Joby then?"
"Of course I do".
"But you're not prepared to put yourself out for it".
"It's not as simple as that, Julian. For God's sake could you do it?"
"If there was this much at stake, yes. Just grit your teeth and think of Joby. Chances are, knowing her sort, she won't expect anything fancy and drawn-out. You'll be putting your pants back on within a few minutes!"
"If it was Dolores or any of the other women in the village I could but ..."
"Oh don't be such a pathetic little wimp!" said Julian "Frightened of a bit of power competition are you?"
Kieran didn't trust himself to reply, so he got up and paced the room angrily.
"Look, believe me, I wouldn't ask this of you if it wasn't important", said Julian "From what we've gathered round the village this past couple of weeks Tamaz must have fled up the river that leads off here. He stole a fishing-boat and fled into the wilderness, possibly meeting up with Dalman at some point. Dolores reckons the chances are he has some kind of bolt-hole, undetected even by the Ministry".
"Obviously", Kieran snapped "We're so far off the beaten track here we must be in the Twilight Zone!"
"We are also at the mercy of these villagers", said Julian, with the utmost seriousness "This is the sort of area where people can easily disappear without trace and are never seen again. If we upset or offend these people then anything could happen".
"But where do we draw the line?" said Kieran "What if she next decides she wants to make me her consort or something? You don't seriously think that once she gets satisfied on deal she's going to leave it at that do you! She'll just want more and more. Stop focking laughing, it's not focking funny!"
"Oh it is", said Julian "A glamorous redhead wants a night of rumpy-pumpy with you and you're carrying on as though she'd declared war!"
"Well I don't think she is glamorous, I think she's an old floozie".
"I was always under the impression you were a perfect gentleman", said Julian "I admit she's a bit ... well vulgar, and not as young as she likes to make out she is".
"You can say that again! She told me she was twenty-eight. Not on your nelly! She's forty if she's a day", said Kieran "I like women. No one's more delighted than me that they're here, and I can live with a bit of vulgarity. God knows, I practice it enough meself at times, and Joby's a past-master at it, but there is nothing remotely loveable about her".
"You don't have to fall in love with her, just poke the arse off her! That's all she wants", said Julian "And then we can safely get after Tamaz, leaving Lady Red with a big smile on her face and oozing cordial assistance. For heaven's sake, she's not going to eat you!"
"I wouldn't be so sure about that".
"Think of Joby", Julian leaned over Kieran in a threatening way "Think of all he went through at Tamaz's hands. The chains, the squalor, the taunting, the buggery".
"Don't!" Kieran put his hands to his head.
"We can avenge all that. We can get after that transvestite brat and make him pay for what he's done. But the last thing we need is Lady Fat Arse getting in our way. Remember the old saying about a woman scorned, and don't under-estimate it. She could be highly dangerous if we don't keep her sweet".
"Jules", Adam walked in "I hope you're not bullying him".
"Shut up Adam and stay out of it", said Julian "A bit of ruthlessness is called for here".
"Patsy, you don't have to do anything you don't want to".
"That's your answer to everything isn't it?" said Julian "No wonder this lot are so spoilt and self-indulgent with you keep pampering them all the time".
"No I don't", said Adam "Perhaps we could send Hillyard in Patsy's place. He's a good-looking chap, and I'm sure he could satisfy even her".
"Adam, she wants the Vanquisher of Evil as the father of her child", said Julian, patiently "If all she wanted was a handsome stallion, she could have her pick of the village".
"Yes I see what you mean", said Adam, and he bit his lip thoughtfully "Well perhaps we could all go and collect him at midnight. Make sure he gets out again safely".
"That won't be necessary", Kieran sighed, miserably "I'll find me own way home".
The atmosphere was pensive on the Indigo after Kieran had gone. It infuriated Julian, because he felt he was being blamed for it.
"Anyone would think he was being thrown into the ring with the lions!" he said "If it was any of the other women in the village he was going to see, you'd have probably been cheering him!"
"Yeah but Lady R's a bit of an old boiler isn't she?" said Joby "She can probably crack men's skulls between her tits".
"Then you don't have anything to worry about do you?" said Julian "If she was some lissom beauty you might have cause for concern".
"What's she going to do to him?" said Lonts, wide-eyed with anxiety.
"We'll tell you when you're grown-up", said Hillyard.
"I am grown up!" Lonts exploded.
"She wants the use of his body for a little while", said Adam.
"But there's not much to him", said Lonts.
"There'll be even less of him by the time she's finished", said Joby, glumly.
"We should've sent Julian over instead", said Ransey.
"It might yet come to that", said Adam, darkly.
The first part of the evening hadn't been at all bad. Very enjoyable in fact. Lady Red had been "delayed by business", and Kieran sat in an ante-room at the Governor's House, surrounded by the female staff. He had grown up almost exclusively in female company, and he enjoyed once more the sensation of simply sitting there and letting women's voices waft over him. It took him back to his early childhood.
Lady Red's staff were a comprehensive mix of ages and looks, and Kieran felt emphatically he would rather have gone to bed with any of them than the dreaded She Who Must Be Obeyed. The ladies were curious about the women of his time, and if whether they had led such entirely different lives to their own.
"The world was such a diverse place", Kieran smiled, eating from one of the many bowls of fruit dotted about "It's impossible to categorise".
"What were they like where you came from?" asked a willowy black girl, wearing blue chiffon.
"Very spirited, fun-loving".
"What would your mother say if she could see you now?" asked an adorable little blonde girl who still had her puppy-fat.
"What? Of me sitting here like this surrounded by a bevy of gorgeous women?!"
"No, silly", the blonde girl giggled "Of you being the Vanquisher".
"She'd probably say it was a lot of sacrilegious nonsense and I should be ashamed of meself", said Kieran, sadly.
"Wouldn't she have believed it?"
"I doubt it".
"Do you miss her?" asked the black girl.
"Yes I do".
"I'd miss my mother if I got sent away", said the little blonde, sombrely.
"How did you cope with having two consorts?" asked a much older woman with a deep, commanding voice.
"Not easy at times", said Kieran "But then, you know what men are like!"
He was gratified when they all laughed knowingly.
"How does Mr Joby feel about you being here this evening?" asked Deep Voice.
"Concerned for my safety", said Kieran, in a conspiratorial whisper, which made them all laugh again.
"You should've brought him along too", said Little Blonde.
"I wish I had, he'd be having the time of his life", said Kieran "Do you think Her Ladyship might forget I'm here?"
"I don't think so", said Deep Voice, shaking her head sympathetically.
"Pity", Kieran sighed "When we're all getting on so well. It's quite cosy with us all here isn't it?"
"She won't forget", Blue Chiffon proffered a tin of chocolate, as though trying to take his mind off his impending doom "She's talked about nothing else for days".
"She's determined you're going to be the father of her child", said Deep Voice.
"I don't know if I'm capable of fathering a child", Kieran shrugged "I mean, I've been with Joby all these years and he's never conceived once!"
The ladies all fell about hysterically at this. Suddenly Dolores appeared in the doorway, waiting expectantly, and Kieran his time was due. Dolores patted his arm, and he felt even more like a condemned man than ever.
"Does she do this often?" Kieran whispered, once they were alone in the corridor.
"Do what?" said Dolores, with a wry twist to her lips.
"You're special. She wants a child from you".
"But what if I can't give her one?"
"You'd better hope you can".
Never before in his entire life had Kieran felt quite so miserable in female company. The whole night promised to be a complete and utter disaster. Lady Red had been waiting for him in her boudoir, spilling out of a scarlet silk nightgown, like a sponge pudding with an inadequate covering of strawberry sauce. She was cracking the shells of giant prawns and swallowing them in one piece.
He didn't just feel small next to her, but colourless too. He hadn't dressed up for the occasion, as after over a year at sea he had nothing to dress up in. He had put on his only pair of long trousers, and a t-shirt which he jokingly described as his "posh one", in that it was the only one he possessed which had no holes or tears in. When he sat down next to her on the couch he felt absurd, as though he was the small, skinny, henpecked husband from a seaside postcard, sitting next to his fat, greedy, overbearing wife. He thought grimly that during the act itself he would end up sitting on top of her like a cherry on a melon.
"I hear you're a vegetarian", she said, bluntly "Why?"
"No heavy moral reason", said Kieran "Just that I've seen too much flesh-eating since we crossed over, and it put me off".
"Carnivores don't instantly become vampires you know".
"I realise that", said Kieran, awkwardly.
He wondered where the woman's wit and charm from several nights ago had disappeared. He had enjoyed her company then. Why was she acting so belligerent now? It was almost as if she hated him. If it had been Joby, Adam or Amy acting in this way, he wouldn't have hesitated to ask them what was wrong, but he felt no closeness to Lady Red at all. If this act of copulation was going to go ahead as planned then they had to establish some degree of intimacy, or it would be joyless parody of love-making.
"You're too thin", she said.
"Sorry", he mumbled, feeling too down-hearted to make his usual jokes about it.
"You need some fat on you".
He had to severely bite his tongue to keep himself from remarking that she could certainly donate some in that case.
"And why do you wear your hair long?" she went on.
"Just what I've got used to I suppose".
"Never thought of having it cut off?"
"T-the others like my hair the way it is".
"Your consorts I presume?" she said "I understand you were married to a woman in your past life. How do male partners shape up compared to female ones?"
"I don't sit around comparing lovers", said Kieran, shortly "I take people as they are. If I can laugh easily with a person, I often find we can have a good time in bed too. Gender doesn't have anything to do with it".
They sat in silence for an interminable while.
"What are you thinking of?" she asked, suddenly.
"How much I hate Julian", said Kieran, and he got to his feet "I'm sorry Lady Red, but this really isn't going to work. I feel a jerk walking out on you like this, but you and me don't seem to be hitting it off. Goodnight".
He went out into the corridor and retraced his steps rapidly, pursued by Dolores, who seemed to have materialised out of nowhere. She caught up with him eventually.
"Please, give her a chance", she said, insistently "I know she can be difficult, but she is head of the village".
"No disrespect Dolores, but I was once President, and I didn't see that as my God-given right to force myself on who I pleased".
"But you had consorts, she has no one. She gets very lonely".
"She deserves to be!"
"Please, it's not asking much", said Dolores "And it could save a lot of unpleasantness for everyone. Can't you see that?"
"Yes I can", said Kieran, sadly "I just sometimes resent having to bury my own feelings that's all".
"Just for a few hours", said Dolores, soothingly "And it would make things so much easier for us all".
He had gone back to Lady Red's room and apologised. She had accepted it as her due, and the "session" had got underway immediately. Her Ladyship had seemed satisfied with his performance, even if she had severely curtailed it to the bare necessities. She wouldn't even let him kiss her. Not that he felt any great urge to.
Afterwards she had left the bed immediately and gone into another room. He had lain there for a while, wondering if she was going to come back. Instead her pet tiger-cub had appeared, and had crawled over his bare back. It had then sat on Lady Red's pillow and watched him, whilst licking its lips in a disconcerting fashion.
Kieran had left soon after. He had found Lady Red in her study, discussing business with some men from the village. From what he heard it all seemed pretty innocuous, something about building an extra water pump, although he found it bizarre that she should be discussing such things at three in the morning. When he was President he had only conducted business at such an hour if there was a dire emergency.
He felt like her harlot as he bid his farewells, and could only assume that was exactly what she intended. Her sudden antipathy was as confusing as it was upsetting, and he didn't understand it. He bitterly regretted turning her down so glibly when she had first asked for his assistance, and could only assume her reaction was some hurt pride on account of that.
Out in the small courtyard at the front of the Governor's House, he found Joby talking to Dolores in low whispers. Dolores anxiously asked Kieran how he was, as though he'd just been the recipient of some sad news.
"Don't you ever sleep?" he asked her in return.
"Not as often as I'd like", she smiled, tiredly.
"And what are you doing here?" he asked Joby, sharply.
"Come to fetch you", said Joby "I'll take you back to the Indigo".
"I want to go for a walk first", said Kieran "If you'll come with me".
"Don't go too far into the bush", Dolores warned "It's easy to get lost if you don't know the area, and you can't always be too sure what's out there".
"We'll only go to the edge of the village", said Kieran "Goodnight Dolores".
"How can you say you messed things up?" said Joby, as they walked hand-in-hand towards the outskirts of No-Name. The air was still and humid, and the moon shone down fully.
"I've made a complete botch of the whole thing, Joby", said Kieran "I shouldn't have turned her down when she first asked me. It was a stupid thing to do. For all I know I might have breached some rigid local protocol".
"Leave off! Just 'cos she's got a lot of power in these parts doesn't mean to say she can expect every bloke she meets to fall into bed with her. She's gotta play the game, just like everyone else".
"I feel the same as you, but the fact remains she's taken offence, and it worries me".
"Kiel! She's treated you all along the line like some glorified rent-boy. I've a good mind to go back there and tell the fat old scrubber what I think of her!"
"No Joby, you mustn't. We're in her territory, remember? We have to play by her rules".
"Bollocks", said Joby, stoutly "First of all she demands you father her a child, even though she knows you're with me. Then she gets all stroppy, and then she treats you like a tart. She can't expect any respect from me until she starts giving us some. It's all bloody Julian's fault anyway. He should've stood up to her".
"He couldn't do anything else", said Kieran "He has the welfare of all of us to consider, and we're in a strange land, with Tamaz still loose and up to God knows what. That's the way politics is sometimes".
"From what Dolores was telling me earlier Lady Muck doesn't seem to have much time for anyone's feelings", said Joby "Apparently she's been in power here for nearly twenty years. No one dares say boo to her, and she's kept her assistants so cowed that no one else seems to have any idea of leadership".
"Then it's up to them to sort it out if they're not happy with it", Kieran sighed, his voice weak with exhaustion.
"I'll take you back to the Indigo now".
"No, I don't want to have to go back just yet, and be forced to explain meself to the others. Let's walk for a bit longer".
At the very outskirts of the village they came upon a small encampment of nomads, who had taken up permanent residence there many years before. The communal fire was still burning, and the wagons stood around it in a protective fashion.
"Takes us back a bit", said Joby.
"Would you like a drink?" said a nomad girl. She was young, in her early twenties, with coal-black hair to match her beautiful eyes, and a round face the colour of weak coffee.
"Everybody seems to keep late hours around here", said Kieran.
"We don't have clocks", said the girl, ladling out two cups of mulled wine, which had strips of orange peel floating in them.
"I was just saying we used to live like this", said Joby "Although I expect your wagon's in better nick than ours was".
"I'll show you inside", said the girl "And then you can compare them".
Joby was a bit nervous about going into Rosaleen's wagon, if only because he expected a jealous boyfriend to appear and get entirely the wrong idea. As though reading his thoughts, Rosaleen explained she lived in the wagon alone.
"Well it's certainly a lot more comfy than the one we had", said Kieran, once they were inside it.
The wagon was small but very cosy, with plenty of glass and lace. It had a snug womb-like feel, which in his present state of mind, Kieran could fully appreciate.
"What was yours like then?" said Rosaleen, sitting down at her folding-table, which was covered in a mint-green velvet cloth.
"Very basic", said Kieran.
"You can say that again!" said Joby.
"Just mattresses on the floor, all jammed in together", said Kieran "But we never had any money to speak of, it was all a bit hand to mouth".
"You have fond memories of it though, I can tell", said Rosaleen.
"They weren't easy times", said Kieran "But ... well you know how it is, we were young, and in spite of all the fear that Gabriel would get us, we were free".
"I spose we might have gypsy blood in us too", said Joby, laughing shyly.
"Don't knock it, it may well be true", said Rosaleen, seriously "Those that have a natural affinity with the travelling lifestyle, in spite of all its hardships, usually implies their ancestors may have been travellers".
"But that means we all have it then", said Joby "Because we all enjoyed it, didn't we Kiel?"
"Even Ransey", said Kieran "He's always saying it doesn't do us any good to be stuck too long in one place".
"Then I think you were all pre-destined to meet", said Rosaleen "I don't believe in coincidence or chance. I think everything in life was pre-ordained to happen. It may very well be true that you lot all knew each other in a previous life, perhaps more than one previous life, and were all destined to be together in this one".
"You're right", said Kieran "I've always thought it strange the way we all seemed to meet up by chance, and then stuck together. Look at the odds on Adam and Julian meeting up again".
"And look at the way Ransey fell in with us so abruptly and stayed", said Joby "Even though he gets brassed off with us most of the time".
"We met Hillyard in strange circumstances too", said Kieran "And the baby".
"What about Bengo and Toppy?" Joby asked Rosaleen "Are they meant to stay with us too?"
"Yes", she replied, simply.
"Julian'll be delighted to hear that", Kieran chuckled.
"Do you like it here?" asked Rosaleen "In my wagon I mean? Because you'll have a place like this one day. You'll all settle together like a group of nomads, and people will come from far away to look at your lifestyle, and then they'll try and copy it".
"Will they?" said Joby, in astonishment.
"I won't be President again, will I?" asked Kieran, cautiously.
"No", Rosaleen shook her head firmly.
"Thank God for that", said Kieran, flopping back in his chair with an exaggerated sigh which made the other two laugh.
"The next President will be a woman", said Rosaleen.
"Not Lady Red?" said Joby, dubiously.
"Rest easy, it won't be her", Rosaleen smiled "This woman will have yellow hair like Kieran's. That is all I know at the present time".
"And we're all gonna live as nomads?" said Joby.
"You will be legends, guru's. People will come to see you from miles around. You will be credited for keeping the concept of family life going in this dark interim period that we have all known".
"And what about Tamaz?" said Kieran.
"Tamaz's fate is entirely up to you", Rosaleen replied.
They talked for an hour, with Rosaleen telling them of the villagers' life out here in the wilderness, and their terror of being discovered by the outside world. Kieran was fascinated by them. This community of about two hundred souls was like a small microcosm of the world they had left behind in their own time. Whoever their ancestors were, they had been a pretty mixed bunch. There was no atypical-looking resident of No-Name, and he had high hopes of them all fanning out into the wider world eventually and creating the human race all over again. It would be a vast improvement on leaving it to Tamaz and his offspring.
"What are we going to do with his children?" said Kieran "Even if they are half-Ghoomer, they are still children. I don't want to even consider killing them off".
"A lot will depend on what happens to Tamaz", said Rosaleen "I cannot tell you anymore than that, regarding them. Tamaz and his kin keep themselves closed off to everyone".
Although young, Rosaleen had the wisdom and worldliness of a woman forty years older than her. Even so, she hadn't lost her infectious child-like giggle, and she laughed at their daft jokes, and shared their enthusiasm for the bright new future.
Dawn came up, grey and misty, and Kieran said it was time they left her to get some rest.
"Come and see me anytime", she said "I'll help you as much as I can".
She followed them outside, and suddenly looked more serious than ever before.
"What is it?" said Joby, concerned.
"There's something I've been putting off telling you", she said, her voice low and breathy "But it's the most important thing I can tell you. It concerns Tamaz's mother".
"His mother?" said Kieran "You mean she's still alive?"
"His mother is the Gorgon", said Rosaleen, and she returned to her wagon.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site