Go back to previous chapter
Trixie had been in prison for nearly a month. He had expected to be released as soon as he heard the news of Vanod's death, but rather disconcertingly Kieran hadn't sent for him. He knew there were serious problems on the outside, that the plague was raging, but even so he hadn't expected to be treated with quite such insolence.
He had felt nothing over Vanod's death, only a regret that it had come too late for Trixie to enjoy being Grand Lord of Pepuaah. He now gave up any hope of getting back there, and even if he did he doubted that life could ever be the same, or that there would be anyone left for him to govern.
He was being housed in a wing for non-violent prisoners. This part of the Assizes was run more like a monastery than a jail. Inmates were supposed to make themselves useful doing necessary chores, and to remain as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. Trixie resented the way he was expected to scrub floors that he felt were already clean, and to polish the heavy wooden doors that were already dust-free.
The inmates were kept in their cells from four in the afternoon until six in the morning, and so when he heard the key turning in his lock he thought it was merely the supper round.
"Not more coleslaw please", he said wearily, not looking up from his pillow.
"That's alright then", said Ransey, jangling the keys by his side "Because I don't have any".
"Ransey!" Trixie jumped to his feet "Am I to be let out?"
"Well I haven't come down here just for a chat. You're to come back to the Headquarters with me now".
"Why wasn't I let out weeks ago?"
"Kieran's had a lot to deal with. I think he felt you were one less problem to cope with if you were kept in here".
"Is it bad in the outside world Ransey?"
"Pretty grim", said Ransey "The plague's taken a firm hold in quite a few areas. The news from Pepuaah is particularly bad I'm afraid".
"I see", Trixie gave a heavy sigh.
"Come on, if we're going to catch the tide. I expect you've had enough of this place".
It was hotter than ever outside, and much stiller than would normally have been the case. As Trixie sailed back up river with Ransey in the covered barge, he couldn't help noticing that there was hardly any traffic on the water. The plague had affected trade badly. And in the far distance, beyond the City walls, rose a pall of black smoke. This was where the deceased plague victims were being burnt, to stop the risk of infection spreading further. To many it was a reminder of Father Gabriel's Terror.
The barge came to a halt at the bridge to the Headquarters. Ransey led Trixie through the guarded gates and into the Quadrangle. Trixie was startled to find it crowded with tents and wagons.
"Plague-free refugees from the City and environs", said Ransey "Kieran's turned this place into a bit of a sanctuary. Don't worry, they're all thoroughly examined before they're let in".
"Reminds me of the circus days", said Trixie.
"Does a bit. You've got your old room back, and your dogs have been taken care of. Lonts has been feeding them".
Kieran was waiting for them on the main staircase to the west wing. He greeted Trixie cordially enough, and said he had a home with them for as long as he wanted. In fact he rather advised it, as there weren't many other places that were completely safe. Not a word was said about Vanod. Lonts was standing a few feet up from Kieran, but when Trixie went to thank him for minding his pets the boy hung his head sulkily and refused to look at him.
"Has he still not forgiven me?" said Trixie, when Ransey carried his bundle into his old room.
"Lonts is a law unto himself", said Ransey "I expect he's scared Adam'll give him another hiding if he talks to you".
"I suppose I might as well be a plague victim for all the popularity I'll have here", said Trixie, tartly.
"Prison doesn't seem to have cured you of much", said Ransey "See you at suppertime".
"Was there something wrong with that?" said the steward belligerently, as he collected Trixie's plate at the end of the meal "You've hardly touched it".
"I'm not used to exotic food these days", said Trixie, addressing the dining-table in a martyred tone.
"Fish pie is exotic food!" Joby exclaimed in disbelief.
"In the Assizes we had bread and milk for breakfast, and then nothing else until coleslaw and cheese for supper", said Trixie.
"If that's the case why haven't you lost any weight then? You're still a fat pig as far as I can see".
"Joby!" Kieran exclaimed "Let's all try and make an effort to turn over a new leaf shall we? It's bad enough we all have to be under house-arrest like this, without slipping back into the old ways of trading insults".
"It's the heat", said Hillyard, mopping his face with his napkin "It's enough to make anyone uptight".
Lonts had been flicking his fork on the table with the flat of his hand, and suddenly he hit it so hard that it somersaulted into the air and landed with a loud clatter on the floor. Kieran slapped his hand gently. Lonts scowled, and one of Trixie's bull-terriers went howling in terror to its master. Trixie picked it up to mollify it and set it squarely on the table in front of him.
"Get that fucking dog off the table!" Adam roared, whilst lighting up a cigar "No one's got any standards anymore".
"I'd rather have the dog on the table than you wafting cigar smoke in me eyes", said Joby.
"Let's go and have a game of cards shall we?" said Kieran "It might help to keep our minds occupied".
A heavy silence had descended on the room, punctuated only by the odd murmured command and flick of the cards. A steward walked around the room performing his sole occupation, which was to spoon fresh ice into everyone's glasses. Lonts sat on a sofa behind them all. He was completely at a loss to understand why no one else had mentioned Caln's sudden appearance in the room.
The vampire was sitting in the window, watching them all with a bemused smirk on his face. He was dressed in a shirt, trousers and braces, looking in fact like any of the businessmen normally to be found in the City bars of a lunchtime. The last time Lonts had seen him he had been a charcoaled lump, riddled with the Virus. There was absolutely no evidence of any of that now.
Caln was watching everyone in the room, but his gaze constantly returned to rest on Lonts. Why couldn't anyone else see him? Lonts thought. Not even Kieran seemed to be aware of him. Lonts slumped down further in his seat, as though hoping that by doing so Caln wouldn't be able to see him anymore.
Kieran got up at the end of the next round and went to join Adam and Julian who were inspecting some paintings on the other side of the room. Deprived of his customary landscape scenes during their month-long incarceration in the Headquarters, Adam had taken to doing portraits of anyone who grabbed his imagination. The ones he had done of Hillyard and Lonts even won praise from the normally caustic Julian.
"What gave you the idea of painting Hillyard in a great-coat?" he asked.
"Hillyard tends to like a fairly military style of dressing sometimes", said Adam "Anything with brass or silver buttons on. So I thought I'd exploit that. Trouble is, it was so hot he had to wear it with nothing on underneath. Shades of Sargent's portrait of W Graham Robertson".
"All adds to the frisson", said Julian "Shame you never exploited this talent of yours in our own time. Your pictures would have sold like hot cakes. Far better than those whimsical attempts of yours to imitate van Gogh. This is your true voice. As for Lonts's portrait! He looks positively debauched. Like a child prostitute. Was it you who ripped his shirt open?"
"No. He did it. Lonts got it into his head that I wanted him to look sexy, hence the attempt at a sultry expression too. Trouble is, to me it's the expression he wears when he's just been told off".
"Not one of Tinkerbell I see".
"I can never get him to see for me. And I just know I won't be able to capture him. It's the eyes. They're too Irish. Impossible to imitate correctly without making him look like a blue-eyed psychopath".
"That's a charming way to talk about me", said Kieran.
"Well you're impossible", said Adam, slipping an arm round his shoulders "What's the matter, have you lost all your money?"
"No. I felt a draught coming from the window, it was making my shoulders feel stiff".
"A draught?" Julian exclaimed "I only wish there was! The air's as musty as an old sock".
"Well I feel it anyway", said Kieran "I don't want to be boring Addy, but Lonts is beginning to look a bit drowsy to me. I think it's time he was in bed".
"My sentiments exactly", said Julian.
"Shut up Jules", said Adam.
"What are you two on about?" said Kieran.
"For reasons best left known to himself Julian keeps on at me to bed Lonts", said Adam "For his own good apparently".
"He could do a lot worse", Kieran winked.
"Oh don't you start!" Adam exclaimed "This place is a den of iniquity. Nobody has enough to do so they think about sex all the time. You'd think that this heat would dampen anyone's ardour".
"It never did on the island, remember?" said Kieran "Or in Husgalonghi for that matter".
Meanwhile Lonts was sitting paralysed in a state of abject terror. Caln had crossed over from the windowseat and was now sitting next to him on the sofa. Caln's clawlike hand was squeezing his knee, as though he was a piece of prime fillet.
"You've filled out a little", said the vampire "Not the skinny little wretch you were at the Winter Palace. And pure. Pure meat. The best kind".
Why couldn't anyone hear him? Lonts thought. It must be me, I'm losing it completely.
"Come on Lonts", said Adam, tapping his shoulder. Caln instantly evaporated.
"Adam", Lonts whispered, in a dazed voice "I think I'm having my bad time".
"You're just tired I expect. Come on now".
An hour later Kieran sat in the window of his study and read by the light of a rose-scented candle the sheet Ransey had given him. The romance of the candle and some distant singing wafting up from the Quadrangle, was completely at variance to the dreadful facts on the document he was reading. It was the list of plague fatalities for the month of May.
"And what's the betting the fatalities list for June will need more than one closely-printed page?" said Ransey.
"Oh don't sound so ghoulish Ransey", Kieran snapped.
"The pages'll keep growing over the months ahead".
"Ransey, belt up!" Kieran exclaimed, getting off the windowseat and pacing the room so vigorously that the candle danced hysterically in the breeze "I don't need upsetting anymore than I already am".
"I'm just trying to shock you into action".
"And what the bloody hell is that supposed to mean? What action?"
"I think you need to leave the City for a while until all this starts to blow over", said Ransey.
"Leave the City? Abandon everyone you mean?" said Kieran.
"There is nothing you can achieve by staying here, except to increasingly put yourself at risk. And if you die, the whole place will descend into anarchy. That's if there's anyone left to cause anarchy that is. Whereas if we left then there'd be more room for the refugees in the building. It's also high time you went on another state progress. The Governor of Port West has been complaining that you shut yourself away in the City far too much. These provincial bods can get a bit funny about that sort of thing. It too easily breeds a sense of the City versus the rest of the world".
"And so you suggest we go to Port West?"
"By all accounts it's one of the few places that's managed to remain plague-free", said Ransey "Even so, because the plague's caused a slackening of sea-trade they're beginning to feel the pinch a bit. A visit from you would at least cheer 'em up".
Lonts was having a nightmare. He was back in the bare white room at the Winter Palace with Caln. The vampire was bearing down on him, plucking at his clothes, impatient to get at the flesh beneath them. Lonts was trying to scream but no sound came out of his mouth. Suddenly, just as he thought all was lost, Kieran came into the room. Kieran was naked, and his normally small penis had grown to a quite startling degree. It now hung stiff and erect in front of him, like an upturned elephant's trunk. Caln saw it and screamed. Kieran was laughing at his fear, taunting him for being a frigid vampire. Lonts only knew that he wanted to scream for Adam. Instead he woke up to find he had soiled his nappy.
Adam lay awake in his bed with a damp cloth over his face. The heat was so intense that sleep was impossible. And to make matters worse there always seemed to be some awkward bastard out in the Quadrangle with an irritating laugh.
"Adam", said Lonts, from close by.
Adam pulled off the damp cloth and looked up to find Lonts standing by his bed without a stitch on.
"Where's your nappy Lonts?" he said, irritably.
"I messed it", said Lonts "So I took it off and put it in the bucket. I've cleaned myself up".
"So I see. I could do without this tonight Lonts!"
"I'm sorry Adam. But I had a bad dream. Caln was after me, back at the Winter Palace".
"Alright baby", Adam patted his wrist gently "It was only a dream. Just a dream. I'll put a clean nappy on you, that'll make you feel better".
"No, a nappy'll get in the way Adam".
"In the way of what?"
Lonts clambered across him and onto the other side of the bed. He then sat on his haunches and stared at Adam expectantly.
"What do you think you're doing?" said Adam, quietly "I don't want you in here tonight. It's too hot for one thing".
"Caln said he wanted pure meat".
"It was only a dream Lonts".
"No, he really said it".
"He's spoken to you?"
"This evening", said Lonts, tears welling in his eyes at the memory "He wanted pure meat, and that's me. I'm not safe! You have to help me Adam. Make me unpure".
"This is completely absurd", Adam laughed, but Lonts started crying in earnest "Alright, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at the situation. Why don't I wake Gimmit up for you?"
"I don't want Gimmit", said Lonts, firmly "He's been with a eunuch. He brags about it. Says it's like having a woman. He's disgusting. I don't know how he can let a eunuch touch him".
"Stop getting yourself so worked up. Listen Lonts. There's no rush on all this. I know you've been itching to lose your virginity ever since we met you, but you've just got to be patient. The right person will come along ... oh hark at me, king of the cliches!"
"Don't you love me Adam?"
"You know I do. You're very special to me. But it's because of that that I don't want to go ruining anything", Adam sighed "Oh lor, now I sound like how Joby used to carry on about Patsy".
"I don't want anyone else Adam", said Lonts "I know you're going to say that I never know what I'm talking about, but I do this time. All that business with Trixie, I didn't really understand it. And me and Gimmit just played with each other. But I understand the feelings I have for you. I want to be with you".
"You don't know what it all involves Lonts".
"I know you'll be kind to me, and that's all that matters".
"Is this what you really want?"
Lonts nodded vigorously.
"You're asking a lot of me Lonts. It's a huge responsibility for me. If I should hurt you ..."
"I know you won't mean it, and I once heard Joby saying it could be a nice hurt if you let go of all your inhibitions. That's what he said".
"It sounds very Joby-ish".
Adam laid Lonts gently on his back and pinned his hands above his head. He wanted to control the first kiss, as he felt that after that Lonts would own his body and his feelings. Completely.
It was very late. So late that the irritating laugher had finally shut up and gone to bed. Adam sat in the window-seat smoking a cigar. His body was still sweating profusely, a reminder of what had gone before. It had all been so easy in the end. So easy in fact that he marvelled at how he had kept his self-control around Lonts all these years. His nervousness had worn off very quickly, and for a while Lonts had ceased to be his sick child, and became instead simply a beautiful boy in his bed. Lonts had trusted him completely, not querying anything they had done. They had given each other beauty, and neither had anything to regret. If, as all the doctors had said, Lonts was taken from him over the next couple of years, then at least they had known this.
Lonts had got out of bed and come to sit by him.
"Adam", he said "You don't regret it do you? You still want me? You won't send me away?"
"You crazy boy, of course I won't send you away", Adam pulled him close.
"Was it like it is for you when you have sex with everyone else?"
"I don't have sex with everyone else!" said Adam "And anyway I don't go around grading people. All I know is I'm a very lucky man indeed. I don't know what I ever did to deserve so much love as I have at the moment. It surely can't last. I know enough about life to realise that".
"Don't cry Adam", said Lonts, as the older man broke down into great racking sobs "Please".
"I'm just being silly", said Adam, gulping heavily "I brood too much, that's my trouble It always was. I should live for the moment, but underneath I've always got one eye on what's coming next. Perhaps I've just always been afraid of life".
"I'll sit with you until you go back to bed", said Lonts "And then you won't have to be afraid. Everything'll be alright Adam, you'll see".
Whilst Adam finished his cigar, Lonts sat next to him, sucking his thumb in the noisy, squelchy way that always implied he was contented.
Adam opened Kieran's study door to find Joby sitting in his robe eating his breakfast, and Kieran nowhere in sight.
"We're off to Port West", Joby grunted, whilst sucking heartily on a chop bone "That seedy tatty place. To escape the plague. It's going to be even hotter there than here".
"On the karsey. Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost".
"I'm fine, I just want to talk to Patsy".
"He won't be long. It was all Ransey's idea you know. To go to Port West. I don't know why we've suddenly started doing what he says".
"Morning Addy", Kieran emerged from a door in the far wall "Has Joby been boring the tits off you about how he doesn't want to go to Port West? Look at him! Not exactly a pretty sight at this hour is he? I sometimes think I should have a medal for all the times I've had to wake up next to him".
"Patsy, I must talk to you", said Adam.
"There is something wrong isn't there?" said Joby.
"I can't cope anymore Patsy".
"It's being shut in this place in all this heat", said Joby "It's enough to get to anyone. You talk to Kiel, Ad. I've got things to do elsewhere".
"I don't know what you're upsetting yourself about", said Kieran, sitting on the edge of his bed and holding Adam's hand in his "Half the men in this City would want to be where you were last night".
"It's not as simple as that", Adam wailed.
"If you carry on like this Lonts'll think it's all his fault you're upset, and that isn't fair", said Kieran "I don't know what your problem is".
"I'm growing apart from you, that's what my problem is".
"No it's not, it's true. What with you and your presidential duties, and me having to cope with Julian and Lonts, we don't get any intimacy together anymore. I'm being pushed away from you. Joby's more of a consort to you than I'll ever be. And Hillyard sees more of your body than I do! It's you I want Patsy. To be alone in a relationship with you. But it's not going to happen is it? I sometimes think we should make a clean break, instead of just letting things drift".
"Do you mean that Adam?" said Kieran, feeling as though his heart had arrested.
"Not on your life".
"Then don't say it!"
"I'm sorry Pats. You're the love of my life you see. Lonts is adorable, and beautiful, and I love him more than words are adequate. But nothing with anyone else, however special, has ever equalled that electrical charge I've known with you. And Lonts's beauty can't compare with the first time I ever saw you. You were almost luminous, it was incredible".
"I think the old luminosity's faded a bit now", Kieran laughed.
"Not to me it hasn't. It's still there, striking at me when I least expect it. And then I just want you, like a hunger. And then I find there's a whole phalanx of Ministry men in between us. And I think perhaps it's my penance for beating you that time".
"I thought I was the Catholic!" said Kieran "All this talk of penances. Now you listen to me. It has been difficult lately. It's been just as tough for me you know. Sometimes I stare down the length of a table at you during a state dinner, and I just want you to come and take me away to the Marlsblad love suite! But things are always much less pressured when we're out on progress. There's more time. Think of all the days and nights we're going to be at sea for instance. It'll be our chance to catch up. And I can shake off this dreary old president persona I have to wear all the time. And then I can be your daft Patsy again. Things are going to be alright".
"That's what Lonts said", Adam smiled "You two are so much alike sometimes".
"And you can't let him down", said Kieran "He's yours Adam. You have to take care of him".
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site