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The village they had felt so unwanted in the night before was still uncomfortable for them, but it was real, not part of Dalman's dreamscape as they had originally thought. Phyllis took them to the bar that they had been chased away from, and bought them crab sandwiches and coffee. They sat at the tables on the pavement outside, and earned plenty of askance looks from the passers-by.
Everyone in the village looked as squeaky clean as the ones on the other side of the abyss. The women wore linen frocks in bright colours, their sun-tanned arms bare to the shoulder, and their bosoms displaying a lot of freckles. Kieran and his party felt more dilapidated and unclean than ever, after their "rough night". The young waitress who brought them out their order looked shocked by the revolvers, Tamaz's bound hands, and Julian's whip, which he had flung carelessly into the middle of the table.
"What is this place, Phyllis? It's rather delightful", said Adam, looking up at the windows of the surrounding buildings, from which several pairs of eyes seemed to be watching from behind the shutters in a surreptitious manner.
"It doesn't have a name as such", said Phyllis "It's known locally as the Marsh Village By The Mountain. They are completely self-contained here, along with their sister village on the mountain. They have their own currency and everything. It all seems to work very well for them, in spite of all the superstitions about the tower".
"What are these superstitions exactly?" said Julian.
"There are reputed to be strange, freak-like monstrosities that come out from underground during the dark hours", said Phyllis "I haven't seen anything myself, but it is reputedly why the Marsh Witches carry out their nocturnal rituals, particularly at the time of the full moon, as these creatures aren't said to like moonlight terribly much".
"My Mother functioned best during the moonlight", said Tamaz, suddenly "She drew her strength from it".
"Of course she did", said Kieran "Hecate is one of the moon goddesses. One of three, all representing the different stages of womanhood. Artemis, the young girl, Diana, the fertile mother, and Hecate the post-menopausal old crone".
"What's the connection with Medusa then?" said Joby.
"Hecate was often portrayed as snake-haired, and one of her many nom-de-plumes, for want of a better word, was gorgo. The hideous woman with the basilisk stare".
"How you know all this?" said Joby.
"There was rumoured to be a devil-worshipping cult in our time", said Kieran "Who called themselves the Cult of Hecate. They believed she was a demonic being, who rampaged through the countryside at the time of the full moon, driving a chariot pulled by hounds from Hell. She popped up all over the world in different forms".
"Yes, the Indians had Kali", said Adam "A woman with a necklace of skulls, whose emblem was the snake".
"And snakes and serpents are always cropping up connection with demons", said Ransey "Remember all the connections with Gabriel?"
"But the Gorgon's dead now", said Joby "I mean, surely she has to be, doesn't she? Even she can't survive having her head incinerated!"
"Very doubtful", said Kieran "Fire can purify most things, even her".
The journey back to No-Name took several days. Phyllis had used the last of the money Dalman had given her to purchase much-needed food for them, and fuel for the Indigo. She slept on the sofa in the saloon, and Hillyard rigged up another of a his blankets on a string to give her privacy from the rest of them.
Phyllis was summoned to see Lady Red the instant the Indigo docked at No-Name. Lady Red was scathing over her adventures, and was even going to have her incarcerated in the gorilla cage, claiming that Phyllis had probably been in league with Father Dalman all along. Fortunately Dolores was on-hand to point out the absurdity of this accusation, as Phyllis had gone out of her way to help Kieran. The truth was that Lady Red was insanely jealous of Phyllis's adventures. She had always looked down on Phyllis as a dumpy and dowdy spinster, and was decidedly miffed to hear that the woman whom she privately referred to as The Woman In Brown, had been having such a busy and hair-raising time of it. Particularly as Phyllis was now in great demand in the village to tell her story.
Lady Red was only mollified by the idea of them all going back to the City en-masse, and had even entertained thoughts of putting herself up for President. Rosaleen the gypsy had to go into hiding for a few days when she was innocently overheard remarking that "actually the next woman president will be a blonde". Julian had absolutely no wish to have Lady Red's company on the long voyage home, and Kieran had been ordered to use all his fabled charm to wean her off the idea.
"We'll send an air-buggy for you all the minute we get back", he had said, truthfully.
"Let's hope she gets air-sick and only the others can make it", Joby remarked, afterwards.
Kieran was sent back again the next day to ask, very nicely, if they could have the floating gorilla cage to put Tamaz in. Lady Red wasn't easily won over. She had menstruated since her clinical bonding session with Kieran, and her disappointment at not being pregnant was acute. Kieran was torn between wanting to be sympathetic to her, but not wanting to be too nice in case she suggested another session. Fortunately for him, Lady Red's ego was such that she blamed him entirely and said "you can probably only fire blanks". Kieran felt it wasn't at all wise to point out that, considering the amount of lovers she'd had over the years, she hadn't fallen pregnant once. Anyway, he reasoned to himself, in her heart of hearts she probably knew the truth.
She conceded to his request for the cage, and Tamaz was duly incarcerated, and the floating raft attached to the stern of the Indigo by a long heavy-duty chain. Tamaz was wretched with misery at the thought of the long journey ahead, and frankly terrified at the idea of eventually being out on the high seas in this contraption, however sturdy it was. He was also depressed at finding himself to be a sideshow freak. The women of No-Name were fascinated by the "boy with breasts", as they called him, and gathered on the bank to watch him at all hours. They had heard about him giving birth to a litter of children, but how he only menstruated three times a year, and derived a lot of morbid satisfaction from simply comparing notes with their own state of "pure womanhood". Hillyard began to feel sorry for the boy, and used some spare blankets to make a set of blinds for the cage, in order to give him some privacy. Julian referred to it as spoiling him, and got into the tiresome habit of asking every evening at sundown if Hillyard had "thrown the rug over the budgie's cage yet".
On their last evening in No-Name Lady Red decided to have a fit of hospitality and threw a dinner-party in their honour. This was to be a grand affair, by No-Name's standards anyway, and Lady Red infuriated everyone on the Indigo by sending out a terse request that they "dress smartly". This was akin to asking them if they could bring the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holy Grail with them as well!
"I suppose we should feel sorry for the poor old trout since we found out she was barren", said Joby, as he and Kieran inspected their shirts for holes.
"I hope you don't go saying things like that in front of her", said Kieran "We should try and be kind. She's been good to us, lending us the gorilla cage, and there's no doubt we can do with a night out. And there's no evil in her, just a touch of petty malice occasionally".
"I know", Joby sighed "But I do feel sorry for her. An old fella in the village showed me a picture of her today, taken when she first took over as Governor twenty-odd years ago. She was really attractive. Slim and with masses of red hair. And now look at her. A fifteen-stone alcoholic".
"Power did that", said Kieran "Or at least having it for too long. Absolute power corrupts, even in a small place like this. She just lost all idea of self-restraint. She's a genuinely clever woman, but it's all got buried under her monstrous ego".
"That didn't happen with you", said Joby "Made you the other way round in fact. A seven-stone weakling".
"I never felt like I had absolute power", said Kieran "There was always some awkward bastard disagreeing with me, usually you actually!"
"Kiel, about when we confronted the Gorgon", Joby began hesitantly, and then changed his mind "It's nothing really".
"Sure?" said Kieran, puzzled.
"It'll keep", said Joby.
For all her faults Lady Red knew how to throw a good party. Being a confirmed boozer of many years standing, she had no objection to anyone else indulging, and in fact entertained them in a very amusing fashion on those she regarded as "virgin drinkers".
"A real drink should be strong enough to dissolve a horse in", she said "I've no time for those who get pissed on half-a-glass of ale".
She was impressed to find that Adam had been such an alcoholic, that he couldn't now drink anything without getting totally pie-eyed.
"After all these years it should be worth a go", said Lady Red.
"Believe me, it wouldn't be much fun for anyone else", said Adam, sadly.
"Do you still miss it?"
"Yes. It's like sex, the longing never leaves you entirely".
"How true", said Lady Red, quietly.
They had all arrived at Lady Red's house to find Brother Monene hovering in a semi-permanent fashion by Dolores's side. He had got rid of his cassock and wore ordinary clothes, which Kieran took as a sign that he had forsaken the priesthood once and for all. After what had happened with Ketts he felt he couldn't blame him. In return Monene looked abashed by Kieran's presence, and wished he had declined to come down to dinner. The others, who had all been hoping to pair Ransey up with Dolores, were considerably put out by Monene's presence in return.
"I see he's got his feet under the table", was the only comment Ransey could be persuaded to give on the subject.
The biggest surprise though was the presence of Pendor. He had sailed single-handedly up the river in their wake, intrigued to find out for himself exactly what was to be found there. He told them he hadn't originally bargained for going beyond Toondor Lanpin, but after hearing that the Indigo had suddenly dashed off one day, he had decided to follow them. It was obvious that he was impressed by Lady Red's queenly lifestyle, an made no secret of the fact that he would like to show her his magnificent house. Kieran couldn't help but feel that Lady Red would fit in very well amongst its opulence, and hoped the two of them would hit it off even more.
Pendor seemed quite keen on the idea himself, and after several drinks confided to Kieran that his house needed a regal presence like Lady Red's. Pendor was also enraptured to see Toppy again, and remarked on how sun-burnt and well the boy looked.
"I can see you've taken care of him", he said to Adam "It's done him the world of good".
"We just give him a good thrashing everyday", said Julian "It benefits him immensely".
"Take no notice, Pendor", said Adam "We've enjoyed having Toppy with us".
"You speak as though I'm leaving", Toppy suddenly erupted, which astonished everyone "That's not fair, you said I could stay with you".
"You are, Toppy", said Adam "For as long as you wish".
"I don't want to go back to Pendor's house!" Toppy exclaimed.
"I'm not asking you to", said Pendor, hastily "I didn't mean it to come out like that. I can see you're happy as you are".
"Shut up, Toppy", said Julian "And eat your dinner".
After the meal the party split up into little groups around the room. Adam and Julian sat on one of the sofa's, and watched Pendor leaning adoringly over the back of Lady Red's chair.
"Goodness knows why Toppy wants to stay with us after the way you carry on sometimes, Jules", said Adam.
"What's the old saying, treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen", said Julian "It particularly applies to little boys. They should always cower in terror at one's approach".
Meanwhile Lonts was comforting Toppy on the other side of the room.
"Adam's always saying you're one of us now", said Lonts, soothingly.
"But I don't think Julian likes me", Toppy sniffed "Not really".
"Yes he does", said Lonts "But you have to stand up to him. He liked me a lot more once I started doing that. I've got an idea. Why don't we play a trick on him?"
"What kind of trick?" said Toppy, nervously.
Lonts looked around the room until his eyes came to rest on a bowl of jellied eels, which had largely remained untouched.
"What are we going to do with them?" said Toppy.
"Put them in his bed", said Lonts.
"But that'll make the sheets all slimy and greasy", said Toppy "He was saying only this morning how it's been so long since we've washed the bedlinen that it was smelling awful".
"Then that'll make it even better", said Lonts "It's great fun standing up to Julian, you'll see".
At the end of the evening Kieran managed to have a quiet word with Lady Red.
"I'm sorry things didn't work out", he said, sitting on the floor at her feet "With a baby, I mean".
"At least we tried", she said, in the post-midnight mellowness of steady drinking "I'm not a one for looking backwards. I look forward to coming to the City instead. I hope I can see it".
"Of course you will", said Kieran "Give us a few months to get back there, and we'll send an air-buggy for you immediately. You have my word on that".
"I don't doubt your word, Kieran", she said, softly "I just hope I'm around to see it".
"Why shouldn't you be?"
"Women in my family aren't a healthy lot as a rule", she said, candidly "They have a distressing tendency to get cancer. And I've been having disturbing dreams of late, doubtless what Rosaleen would call precognitive dreams. In them my breasts are painted red and are rotting. Horrid, horrid dreams".
"That doesn't mean they're precognitive", said Kieran, squeezing her hand "It might just be your subconscious fears coming out. You don't want to turn them into self-fulfilling prophecies now. Is this what drives you? Is that why you work til all hours?"
"Yes, I am driven".
"You must rest more", said Kieran "Stress has probably killed more people than anything else. You have to let go a little, delegate more. You've already proved yourself, you don't have to try much harder".
"Will I have a place on the Council of Governors?" she asked, wistfully.
"Most definitely", said Kieran "They're largely a bunch of self-indulgent old men, they need shaking up a bit! So you have to stay alive and well to give me that satisfaction".
"And you must keep safe", she said, prodding his shoulder gently "I was talking to Rosaleen earlier, and she tells me the forces of darkness haven't left you completely".
"I know", said Kieran, with great seriousness "Yet another aspect of Tamaz's legacy I expect".
"You have to keep safe for our sakes", said Lady Red "Without you we will never be able to emerge into the world".
"And that would never do", Kieran smiled.
"Has that idiot Bengo dumped you, Finia?" said Julian, changing into his nightshirt.
"Don't say it like that", said Finia, from his own bunk.
"He has, hasn't he?" said Julian, sharply "He must be even more moronic than I gave him credit for. Not that he ever deserved a classy piece like you. You were always well out of his league. But how he thinks he has the right to dump you, I really don't know".
"Julian!" said Finia, angrily "Just drop it. To be honest with you, I simply don't care. Bengo's a sweet guy, but I really can't be bothered to get worked up about it. He was an interesting fling while it lasted, that was all, but nothing else. Now go to bed".
Toppy watched apprehensively from the top bunk as Julian turned out the lamp, and then climbed into his own bunk on the other side of the room. Julian seemed to shift about awkwardly for some time before gauging that anything was amiss. As soon as he gave a disgusted yelp though, Toppy jumped out of his bunk and ran out of the room in terror.
"What is it now?" said Finia, irritably.
"I'll kill the little shit!" Julian roared.
Toppy ran across the gangway and into Adam's cabin, where he climbed up into Lonts's bunk and cowered under the blanket with him.
"What's going on?" said Joby, just as Julian thundered into the room.
"Come out of there, you little brats!" said Julian, yanking the blanket off the top bunk.
"What's happened?" said Adam, sitting up and catching his hair on the springs of the overhead bunk.
"Those two brats have put little slimy creatures in my bed", said Julian.
"Well it's not the first time you've had little slimy creatures in your bed, old love", said Adam "You used to make quite a habit of it at one time".
"My bed is ruined!"
"Then get in with me for the night", said Adam, flinging aside his blanket suggestively.
"Do you have to make such a bloody racket about it?" said Hillyard, standing in the doorway like an exhausted ghost, with Bengo behind him.
"You'd think they'd put a Venus fly-trap in there, wouldn't you?" said Adam.
"Jellied eels are nothing", said Bengo, who had witnessed the operation earlier "In one act I did I had to share a bath-tub with a real baby crocodile!"
"What a wonderful thought", said Julian, calming down at once "Suddenly life doesn't seem so unjust after all!"
The following morning Lady Red visited them, accompanied by Pendor, Dolores, Monene and Phyllis. It promised to be a very emotional send-off.
"I can see you're keeping the boys busy", said Phyllis to Adam. She was referring to Lonts and Toppy, who were washing Julian's sheets in a tub on the forward deck.
"It's a punishment", said Adam "They were rather naughty I'm afraid. They put jellied eels in Julian's bunk".
"Oh what fun!" Phyllis exclaimed, in delight.
"Julian didn't see it that", Adam sighed.
"Pendor, I want a word", said Julian, who was smoking a cigar from a consignment brought aboard as a leaving-present "We anticipate, judging by the maps, that it's going to take us about a year to get back to the City".
"What route are you taking?" said Pendor "I take it you're not going to risk that raft with the gorilla cage out on the high seas?"
"No, we're going to resume the route we originally planned", said Julian "Before we got sidetracked round by your house! We're going to get back onto the Beyond River, and follow it up to the Great, which'll take us directly back to the City".
"Sounds pretty straightforward".
"The thing is, if anything drastic and unforeseen should happen to us, that rather leaves the women of No-Name and Toondor Lanpin back where they started", said Julian "So what I'm suggesting is that if you don't hear anything from the Ministry by this time next year, then you'll have to contact them and arrange a visitation yourself. How does that sound? Can we trust you?"
"Of course you can", said Lady Red, indignantly "We won't let him forget!"
"Good", said Julian "Because anything can happen to us out there".
"I pray it doesn't", said Dolores "We want to go there under Kieran's guidance".
"I can't wait to see the City", said Phyllis "It sounds tremendously exciting".
"Rather humdrum actually", said Adam "But it'll liven up considerably when you get there".
Everyone wept buckets when it came to the final farewells. Pendor wanted to have a final word with Toppy, who stood staring at him warily, looking like a street urchin in his grubby vest. It was as if he expected Pendor to suddenly abduct him and take him back to the opulent, but silent house.
"Last chance to escape, Toppy", said Julian, teasingly.
"Take no notice of him, Toppy", said Lonts "He'd really miss you if you weren't here".
"Her Ladyship couldn't be persuaded to take Bengo on as a house-boy could she?" said Julian "He's reasonably attractive and very fit".
"Jules!" said Adam "Bengo wants to stay with us, he told me so this morning".
"Pity", said Julian.
The No-Name party went ashore soon after, and stood on the banks as the Indigo moved off, towing its strange cargo of Tamaz in a floating cage behind it.
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