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Lonts woke up to find Gimmit standing by his bed. Gimmit was an extraordinary-looking creature. His hair was so long that it covered his nipples, and his peculiar face peered out from it like an inquisitive weasel. Lonts wondered what he was doing standing there when he should be asleep on his pallet on the other side of the room.
"It's daylight", said Gimmit "Well, just".
"What do you want Gimmit?" said Lonts, sitting up in bed.
"I've made you a present", said Gimmit. He held out his hand to reveal a small wooden crucifix on a chain that he had carved himself.
"It's a cross", said Lonts.
"In my time it was believed that they could protect you from vampires", said Gimmit, slipping the chain over Lonts's head "Do you like it?"
Lonts nodded. He stared down at the cross whilst sucking his thumb noisily, as he always did when in great contemplation about something. Gimmit slid under the bedclothes.
"Go away Gimmit", said Lonts.
"It doesn't matter. Adam doesn't mind me doing this, he said so".
Gimmit kissed Lonts hungrily in a way that he had done many times before, only Lonts usually gave him a more enthusiastic response. This time he merely stared at Gimmit sternly.
"Oh come on Lonts", said Gimmit, trying to insert his hand down the front of Lonts's nappy "Give it a bit more juice. You're not normally all cold on me".
"I don't want to kiss you Gimmit", said Lonts, imperiously "In fact I don't want to kiss you ever again. I think you're ugly".
As was customary on a Sunday morning Kieran stood on a balcony that directly faced the clock over the main entrance to the Quadrangle, and took the salute from the City Guards. What was usually a mere formality though had taken on an extra poignancy of late with the return of Angel. It was vital to show the public that everything was still under control.
Adam breathed a sigh of relief as Kieran finally stepped back through the open double windows into the small chamber.
"There was no need for you to get out of bed just to watch me do all that rigmarole", said Kieran, taking a glass of wine from a tray offered by a steward "You can't wrap me up in cotton-wool just because of Vanod's spaced-out ramblings".
"Hillyard said that Vanod is determined to whip the public into a frenzy", said Adam.
"He's got a long way to go then", said Kieran "That was one of the most orderly parades I've covered. Stop sounding so nervous, you're getting like Joby with all your Jeremiahing".
"We care about you".
"Don't I know it!" said Kieran "Look, the chances are Vanod's going to kill himself long before he gets anyone to assassinate me. Anyone who's injecting smack under their eyelids is not likely to live long enough to seize power, so stop worrying. You're more likely to pop yourself off smoking those filthy cigars".
"Have you been talking to Julian?"
"I'm just saying", Kieran slipped his hands round Adam's waist "Don't worry too much. Remember what you said to me. Take one step at a time".
Trixie's suite was full of braying men. He hadn't told Lonts that there were to be other guests at tea-time. His Lordship had invited his Pepuaahan friends who had also fled to the City, along with him and Vanod. Kieran though had flatly refused to accommodate them all at the Headquarters, and now they were whining about the standard of lodgings they had found in the City. They recited these complaints along with a whole barrage of moans about how they were certain every innkeeper, restaurant-owner and rickshaw-driver were fleecing them of their precious cash.
His Lordship had invited them to show off Lonts, but now he wished he had kept the party down to a cosy twosome, especially after the way Lonts had kissed him on arriving in his rooms. Trixie found Lonts's kisses a huge turn-on, and the boy seemed to get more and more attractive each time he saw him. Lonts had an eagerness to be kissed that was extraordinarily thrilling to someone so starved of physical affection as Trixie.
"You'll notice that wastrel Vanod isn't here", said Trixie, managing to secure a private moment with Lonts on the sofa. His Pepuaahan friends were so engrossed in whining and getting their fill of the free food on offer that they wouldn't have noticed if Trixie and Lonts had gone into the bedroom "I did invite him, for form's sake, but I didn't seriously expect him to turn up. He makes life in these rooms unbearable at times".
"You could always move in with us", said Lonts.
"You're so sweet", Trixie tickled him gently "But I don't think that will be necessary. Why haven't you had anything to eat and drink? All this is for your benefit you know".
"I-I'm not hungry or thirsty", said Lonts, not wanting to admit that he was afraid to eat or drink anything in case he messed his pants.
"We are good friends aren't we Lonts?"
"Yes", said Lonts, enthusiastically. He took Trixie's hands and squeezed them in his own.
"This lot will be gone soon, and then we can be alone. Something we've both waited a long time for".
As Trixie had rightly anticipated his guests left almost as soon as they had thoroughly decimated the tea-trolley. He bid farewell to the last one with ill-concealed relief.
"I think we'll be more comfortable in the other room, Lonts", he said.
The boy followed him into the bedroom. Trixie had one of the best rooms in the Headquarters. It was large with three floor-length windows overlooking the rose garden. Lonts was still easily impressed by the size of rooms and wandered around it, marvelling at the space. He had never been allowed in the bedroom of the VIP suite before.
"Do you need all this space Trixie?" he said "I mean, you've got this room AND the room we had tea in. Do you need it all to yourself? After all, you can only sit on one sofa at a time".
Trixie didn't reply. He was busy removing the satin bolster from the king-sized bed and turning back the sheets. Lonts crossed over to the windows. There was a lot going on out in the rose garden. Ransey was lying in a hammock slung between two blossom trees, studying a heap of grimly important-looking documents. He had agreed to work in the garden that afternoon as a concession to Joby, to make him feel less vulnerable.
Joby and the under-gardener were shovelling manure onto the rose beds. Gimmit was spreading newly-washed handkerchiefs and underwear over some hawthorn bushes. Finia approached him and, to Lonts's surprise, Gimmit looked pleased to see him. So pleased in fact that they actually embraced. Lonts was confused and hurt.
"It was his idea to play the joke on Finia", he suddenly blurted out to a startled Trixie "I only went along with it because Finia's a eunuch. Adam keeps on at me to apologise but I don't want to, not to a eunuch. And I didn't think Gimmit would either".
"Looks like he has now", said Trixie, giving a bored glance out of the window. Finia was now sitting astride Gimmit on the grass and kissing him with gusto. Both of them were being completely ignored by everyone else.
"I don't understand", said Lonts "Everyone's against me at the moment. Adam's hardly spent any time with me since he got back. He just keeps parcelling me off on everyone else. And now Gimmit's betrayed me. He's my friend, not Finia's".
"I'm your friend, Lonts", said Trixie "Let's do as they're doing, shall we?"
He undressed Lonts and led him over to the bed. Lonts only had to see a bed to want to curl up on it, and he needed no prompting this time. He slipped under the covers, and relished the feel of the cool sheets against his skin. Trixie took off his clothes, feeling self-conscious as he had never shown himself butt-naked to anyone before.
"How far have you gone in the past Lonts?" he said, sidling up close to him between the sheets "Have you done much, other than kissing?"
"Sometimes", said Lonts, sulkily aware of the shrieks of laughter coming from outside "Gimmit sometimes touches me down there, like when Adam or one of the others cleans me up".
"Cleans you up?" said Trixie, in astonishment "Don't you wash yourself?"
"You'll have to wash yourself in Pepuaah. You'll have a valet of course, although you can share Quinp with me until we get one trained for you. But their duties don't extend to that. Well I've heard some do, but I don't encourage that sort of familiarity between ourselves and the servants. It's one of the few things Vanod and I agree on. You'll have a man to wash and press your clothes, turn down your bed, put toothpaste on your brush, and shave you. But you'll simply have to learn to wash yourself".
"Trixie, I have trouble getting it on myself. I always get it all tangled up, or I don't fasten it properly and it slips off in the night. My nappy I mean".
Trixie was looking so irritated by now that Lonts was humbled into silence. The Grand Lord was aware that things weren't progressing quite as smoothly as he had planned, and so he stroked Lonts's arms in an attempt to get him in the mood. Lonts was very worried though. He could feel the old tell-tale hot wetness seeping down his leg. He had peed himself after all. Trixie felt it too eventually, as was inevitable.
"What?" His Lordship exclaimed "You dirty little ... what are you doing?!"
Terrified by Trixie's anger, Lonts burst into tears. Trixie leapt out of the bed like a scalded cat, wincing squeamishly at the sticky patch on the bottom sheet.
"I want you out of here!" Trixie screamed "You're filthy! Get out of my bed at once!"
Hillyard had been walking past the room when he heard Trixie's raised voice. Thinking that the Grand Lord had found an intruder in his bedroom, he had stormed in, only to find a naked Lonts sitting on the edge of the bed, sobbing into his hands.
"He's disgusting", Trixie spat "My sheets are stained".
"Ring the bell and get a steward up here to change them", said Hillyard "What's Lonts doing in your bed anyway? Did you invite him in there?"
"He's disgusting", Trixie repeated himself.
"We can all be that", said Hillyard, noticing a dried-up dog turd by the side of the chaise-longue "Come on Lonts, I'll take you to your room. Put your clothes on".
"I never want to see him in here again", Trixie shrieked.
"Don't worry, he won't be. If you want someone to poke, find somebody with a mental age in double figures next time!"
"I want Adam", Lonts wept "He's always ignoring me. I want Adam".
"I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to see him. He's furious enough with you for not apologising to Finia yet, let alone this. Keep still".
Lonts lay on the bed with his legs over Hillyard's shoulders, whilst the older man swabbed his private parts with cotton-wool.
"Well you've certainly managed to cause enough trouble Lonts", said Adam, entering the room.
"Have you heard about it already?" Hillyard exclaimed.
"I should say so. The staff are talking about nothing else. I heard two different versions on my way up here. From Trixie finding Lonts waiting in his bed, to Trixie violating Lonts. Neither of which I believe".
"Don't be too hard on Lonts", said Hillyard "I don't think he knew what he was doing".
"I'm hope I'm fair", said Adam, indignantly.
"So you came up here to listen to Lonts's version?"
"I came up here to see if Lonts was alright actually. I appreciate your help Hilly, but let me talk to him alone for a little while".
"When he said 'let's be friends' and 'let's go into the bedroom', you must have had some idea what his intentions were surely?" said Adam, sitting next to Lonts on the bed.
"Yes but ... I-I think so", Lonts stammered "Oh please don't be cross with me Adam".
"I don't want to be. I feel like I'm interrogating a rape victim as it is", Adam sighed "I don't think Trixie would have hurt you. But I just wish you'd exercise a bit more caution Lonts. You have a knack of getting yourself into situations you don't understand. You've been a huge headache today. I found Gimmit in tears this morning because you were nasty to him. Why did you upset Gimmit for heaven's sake? I thought you two were friends".
"He keeps trying to kiss me".
"You've never complained before", said Adam "Don't you like it anymore?"
"Yes but I-I didn't think Trixie would like it. He thinks Gimmit's a common peasant".
"You're a common peasant too, and a bratty little one at that. Fancy telling Gimmit he's ugly, after he's made you a gift!"
Tears began to roll silently down Lonts's nose. Adam busied himself selecting a clean nappy and pins from the cupboard by Gimmit's pallet.
"And you haven't apologised to Finia yet. I've had Julian on my back about it, and he won't stop nagging me until you have".
"Gimmit's made it up with Finia", Lonts spat "I saw them earlier. Rolling around on the grass together".
"It's no bloody use getting jealous after the way you've behaved to Gimmit!" Adam exclaimed "What's got into you Lonts? Is it Trixie's influence, is that it?"
"No!" Lonts screamed "It's you, you've been ignoring me. Since you got back you haven't taken me out for any apple pie once, and I drew you a picture of a horse, but you never told me what you thought of it".
"You never showed it to me that's why", Adam protested "I haven't seen it. And I've only been back a couple of days, so I haven't had a chance to go out with you, much as I'd like to. Things have been a bit hectic here lately. Where is this picture then? I'd like to see it".
"I don't know", said Lonts "I did draw you one. I thought I'd given it to you, so I don't know where it is now".
"It doesn't matter. You can always draw me another one", said Adam "And before I go taking you out for any apple pie, don't you think you should apologise to Finia? It'd be quite painless. Words cost nothing. And when it's over we can forget about it".
"I hate Finia. I hate all eunuchs. And now Finia and Gimmit are ganging up against me".
"Don't be absurd. Look, I'll take you to Julian's room, you stand there and say 'I'm sorry Finia', and then we can go out. What do you say to that?"
"I'm not apologising to a eunuch".
"I'm not, Adam".
"Finia hasn't done anything to hurt you".
"He's a eunuch", said Lonts, stubbornly.
"You're disappointing me Lonts. What am I going to tell Julian?"
"Tell him I don't apologise to eunuchs".
"Fair enough", Adam ran his hands through his hair in a tired and dispirited way "You leave me no choice. I have to punish you, and it's not what I want to do at all".
"Can we go out afterwards?"
"You cynical little brat", Adam exclaimed "I spank you, and then you play on my guilty conscience to get some apple pie out of me!"
"I'm not bothered about the pie", said Lonts "I want to be with you. Trixie said you couldn't come to Pepuaah with us when he goes back. But I don't want to be without you. It's been horrible for ages. I just wanted you back and you never came. I know it wasn't your fault Adam".
"Stop buttering me up", said Adam "And come here".
Lonts threw his arms around Adam, who squeezed him hard. He then pulled Lonts across his knees and gave him a few light token smacks on his bottom. Just as Lonts started whimpering, Adam stopped and started to put his nappy on him instead.
"See how much easier it would have been if you'd apologised to Finia", he said.
"I couldn't Adam", said Lonts, staring at the floor "I just couldn't".
"With that attitude I should've smacked you a lot harder", said Adam, securing the nappy with pins "I don't know why I bother teaching you a lesson Lonts, you won't learn anything".
"Good grief", said Julian, coming into the room to find Lonts sprawled across Adam's lap having his nappy fastened "Everytime I see you with that boy Adam, you're doing something more and more bizarre with him".
"What are you doing out of your coffin at this hour Jules?"
"I decided to go for a little walk".
"Ooh you steady on. Sudden hard exercise like that can be a terrible shock to the system at your age".
"I hear Lonts's attempts at seduction took a rather unfortunate turn?" said Julian.
"Is everybody laughing at me?" Lonts wailed "I can't stand it! I can't!"
"Stop that Lonts", said Adam, firmly "Or I shall spank you properly".
"Don't mind me", said Julian.
"Shut up Jules, you're upsetting him", Adam pulled Lonts off his lap and lay him down gently on the bed "You get some rest now baby".
"Please stay here Adam".
"I'm not going anywhere".
"I know something you don't know, Adam", said Julian "Juicy gossip".
"Is there ever anything else around here?" said Adam, sitting with him on the windowseat.
"I saw Hillyard coming home in a rickshaw last night, with none other than Vanod".
"Stale news Julian, I heard all about that from the horse's mouth this morning".
"He's got quite a reputation in the City has Vanod the Vicious", Julian went on "Finia tells me he's become a notorious troublemaker in some bars. Usually stoned out of his head. I bet you didn't know this one. But he's very nearly been arrested a few times. If it wasn't for his position he would been".
"No, no. Picking up eunuch whores and beating them up. Rumour has it he also frequents a notorious S&M brothel down Blossom Street".
"I know the one you mean. It crops up regularly in the reports Patsy gets from the Chief Constable. Some of the brutality that goes on there is even too much for some of the punters, it seems".
"And others revel in it believe me", said Julian "The tales I've heard about that place have nearly made my hair curl. Finia says he heard on the grapevine that sometimes they hung some of the punters upside down over the dinner table, and make slits in them to drink their blood. They like to play at being vampires. And now we all know that Caln had S&M tendencies ..."
"In a very schoolboyish way", said Adam.
"Nonetheless they've adopted him as their patron saint as it were".
"And Vanod the Vicious frequents it?"
"Yes but I can't say that comes as any surprise to me", said Julian "He's the sort that would probably get turned on by having electrodes placed on his balls".
"You've had some pretty dubious practices yourself in your time!"
"Nothing like that", said Julian "I've always been quite a staid old thing really. And the longer I live in this place the more I feel like an old maid. I even find myself tutting when I catch members of staff snogging on the stairs".
Adam leaned over the bed. By now Lonts was fast asleep and breathing heavily. Adam pulled the covers over him and rejoined Julian on the windowseat.
"What you've said is very interesting Jules", he whispered.
"Yes. I hired the nurse for Lonts through an agency, who supplied all his past references, but of course it didn't tell me anything about his private life. But I'm beginning to think he might have had some connection with the Blossom Street brothel".
"Possibly. From what I've heard he certainly came here armed with enough professional gear".
"Quite. The paddles and the whips. God, what a fool I've been!"
"Oh don't start all that again".
"Patsy said that when he went through his things it reminded him of an S&M kit".
"I'm surprised he didn't pinch one of the paddles for you to use on him", said Julian, tartly.
"He doesn't enjoy being hurt Jules. They're very light smacks I give him. Just enough to stimulate the juices, as he puts it. Anyway, we're getting off the subject. I wonder if the dreadful eunuch I hired may have had anything to do with the Blossom Street brothel".
"So what if he did?" said Julian "He's not going to have met Vanod. The eunuch had been banished from the City before Vanod got here".
"That's the flaw in my theory", said Adam "But by God Jules, I'd swear that a lot of what's happening at the moment is tied up in that place ... and I'm aware of the pun! Vanod, the sadistic eunuch, and the regulars playing at vampirism. They're all behind Angel's return!"
"And the sadistic eunuch came here to infiltrate the Ministry?" said Julian, dubiously.
"He was up to something, that's for sure. After all, he was here for a good few weeks before anyone sussed him. He could have been up to anything in that time".
"Well if I was you I'd get Tinkerbell to put Vanod under lock-and-key pretty smartish".
"How can he? Vanod's a guest, and he hasn't actually been caught doing anything wrong".
"That wouldn't work as an excuse to put him in the dungeons", said Adam "You should see what some of our VIPs get up to".
"I know", said Julian "Finia's told me what the cleaners sometimes find in the VIP suite".
"And Vanod's drug-taking is far from unusual".
"Even so, if Tinkerbell wants to halt all this in its tracks he needs to get Vanod under control. And the only way he can do that is by incarcerating him".
"Not good for diplomatic relations Jules".
"It's either that or he puts up with the growing cult of vampirism, and Angel at large", said Julian "Locking up Vanod might deprive Angel of his puppet-master. It's a long-shot I admit, but it might be worth a try".
"It's ridiculous Adam, how can I go locking him up!" Kieran exclaimed, pacing up and down his study so rapidly that his monkey was chirping with great excitement "You know how high-and-mighty Trixie can be. If I go doing that he could cause a terrific political storm".
"And we could lock Vanod up in a steel-trunk with seven locks", said Joby "But he could still manipulate Angel".
"Shut up Joby", Adam snapped "You sound like Patsy's echo, keep agreeing with him all the time".
"If you're going to be like that I'm going to bed", said Joby, and he stormed through the curtains into their bedroom alcove.
"There's no need to take it out on Joby", said Kieran "The fact remains we're placing rather too much importance on what Finia says, and we know he hasn't always been a fount of truth in his time".
"Talk to him yourself then".
"I might. Perhaps I'll get a chance at the May Day picnic".
"That's still going ahead then?"
"Of course it is. We have it every year, I'm not going to let Angel ruin that. Anyway, it's important we show as much normality as possible, just in case things are starting to panic in the City".
"And Vanod's coming with us?"
"Best way of keeping an eye on him", Kieran yawned "I'm going to turn in now Addy. It's been a long day".
"Fair enough. You can go and curl up all cosy with Joby".
"What brought that on?"
"I'm fed up Patsy", Adam snapped "I'm supposed to be your consort too, but I never get to spend a whole night with you".
"Adam, it's crazy to bring that up after all this time. You know how it is", said Kieran "It's convenient this way. You have to be near Lonts, and Joby needs me".
"So do I! And it's getting a bit pathetic of Joby to still be clinging to you like a life-raft after all these years".
"But you've always understood ..."
"I've given up understanding. I need you too Pats, and perhaps I'm sick of sharing. Perhaps it's time you made a choice".
"Adam, that's not fair!"
"Goodnight Patsy", said Adam, and left the room abruptly.
Kieran wandered in a daze through into the alcove.
"What's the matter with him?" said Joby, sitting up in bed.
"I don't know", said Kieran "We've never quarrelled like that before".
"He'll be alright in the morning. I expect all that business with Lonts and Trixie got him down. Lonts can't seem to stay out of trouble for five minutes".
"Anyway, he's always made cracks about you sleeping with me".
"Well it is a bit hard on him isn't it?" said Kieran "He's always the one who has to clear off".
"Bollocks Kiel", said Joby, punching his pillow into submission "He can't have everything his own way. After all, you don't complain about him bonking Julian do you?"
"No, and it's not easy not to at times. He's never told me to choose before though Joby. I couldn't. It'd require the wisdom of Solomon", said Kieran "I don't know how Brigham Young coped with eighty consorts, I really don't".
"They were women".
"You'd think that'd make it harder! Having to remember all their birthdays for a start, and making sure one didn't get a more expensive present than anyone else".
"Imagine the din at the dinner-table!" said Joby "Makes me and Adam look easy by comparison. Oh come on, get into bed. He isn't really going to make you choose. He wouldn't dare. He'd be too terrified of losing you".
"Perhaps because he knows I'd choose you".
"Really?" Joby exclaimed.
"Well as you pointed out, he'd still have Julian, and Lonts too. Whereas I'd be abandoning you all alone".
"I see", said Joby, sulkily "So you'd choose me out of pity?"
"There's no other way I could decide".
"Perhaps I'll go off and have an affair then", said Joby, rolling onto his side.
"Yes, with Adam probably if I know you. Or you could take Trixie up on his offer".
"Get into bed!" Joby yelled.
"Don't be so tetchy".
"Well some things just aren't funny", said Joby "You carry on saying things like that and you'll lose both of us!"
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