And the next day. when the cart carrying the two City Scavengers from Milan, arrived at the village of Marzipani and the Inn where the slaughter of the innocents had taken place, Guido and Giulio the Duchy's most respected and venerable Scavengers – licensed by the Duke to collect, transport and bury those dead whose family were unable or unwilling to do so themselves – or who had no family nor means to pay for the privilege – greeted the Duke's Men-at-Arms who had remained behind after Boo and Licinic returned to Milan and had stood guard all night; they all knew each other – the youngest of the foursome being near 50 years of age and it would be fair to say that although the two soldiers were no longer fit enough to take active part in war or conflict, the Duke had known them all his life and rewarded their long service with lighter and less arduous duties, so 'stood guard' simply means being in the vicinity and keeping at least one of their three eyes open throughout their shift - and shared a little wine with them, from the goatskin bladders both men carried to relieve the hardships of their lives and then the soldiers removed the planks which had been nailed across the door to prevent looting (as if any could have taken place with two stalwart Men-at-Arms posted outside) and Rodolfo, the senior Man-at-Arms, flung the door open and gestured for the Scavengers to enter; he was surprised when, just moments later, they returned, scratching their heads, and Guido casually said: "all right, the joke's on us, where are they?" and Roberto, the junior Man-at-Arms, strode forward, his jaw thrust forward pugnaciously: "it's no joke, Carrion, Seven Innocents and two Devils, or can you only count on one hand?" but before either of the Scavengers could take a swing at that forward-thrusting jaw, Rodolfo stepped forward to save the dignity of the Duke's Service: "easy does it lads, it's been a long cold night," and Giulio. a born gadfly, smirked: "unless you were tucked under a wench's petticoats and keeping warm by the heat of her notch!" at which Roberto's face turned red – though more from embarrassment than anger, for he had indeed been entertained for part of the night by a serving wench from the village's other tavern who had casually strolled past and flirtatiously asked where he kept his chopper when it wasn't in use, and he showed her, and they were soon in the empty stables behind the inn where he gave her a demonstration of his prowess at thrust and parry – and his only retort was to blow a raspberry towards the old wrinkled dwarf of a man who had cheeked him, and mimic Giulio's ungainly walk; But Roberto wasn't the only one who had been distracted through the night, for while his companion was otherwise occupied, Rodolfo’s eye was caught by a different wench, who looked like she was from one of the surrounding farms, and as she walked along, sashaying her hips, she looked back at him over her shoulder, still walking away, but not so fast that couldn't catch up with her in a dozen strides: "where are you going on this cold night?" and she answered: "just walking, sir, for I could not sleep, it is so cold in my bed, it is warmer to walk about, though there is a touch of frost in the air, I fain would have a hot poker to warm me up," and he said: "come round to the stables, it is sheltered and warm there, plenty of straw to rest upon, and I have just the thing to put some fire into your belly," and she laughed and asked: "and would you keep me safe in the dark?" and he replied: "indeed, Lass, t'would be only fulfilling my duty, for I am an officer of the Duke's personal guard, charged with protecting the citizens and peasantry of the Duchy and I feel honour-bound to shelter you in your need; my present duty is one I would rather exchange for battling foreign armies, or any and all enemies of the Duke of Milan but while I am here and you are in danger outdoors on such a dark night, then my duty is clear!" and she was impressed, so when he offered her his arm, she took it and they walked quickly round to the stables, empty of horses, but rather noisily occupied by his brother-in-arms in one snug corner, so Rodolfo drew her to that which was furthest away and pulled her down onto the straw with him and made merry with her; several hours later, the two wenches left the sleeping guards ere the cock crew, and that sound was what had woken the pair of them, just in time to be standing at the front door when the Scavengers cart drew up; "no it ain't no laughing matter," replied Guido, "but nor is removing nine bodies and spiriting them away right under your ugly noses!" and though he knew he was being played by these two – gravediggers and scavengers being known for their use of coarse levity to spare them from the worst effects of the horrors they worked with daily, he pushed open the door and looked in – the large candles he had set up as darkness came on last night still burned, though getting low now, and the furniture was overturned as it had been, even the air was fetid with the stink of blood, piss and shit, and a tang of fear which seemed to be sucked into the walls, but the bodies which had lain on the floor last night were gone, and he could swear, he did swear, "by all that's Holy this is indeed the work of the Devil himself, for we guarded this inn with the dedication of a mother to her young, every hour on the hour, one of us walked right around the building and checked the rear door and the stables, but neither saw nor heard the slightest thing untoward;" and when they went round to the back they saw that, there too, indeed, the door was stoutly barred with thick planks nailed across, and the door itself locked; "it's a mystery," said Rodolfo, "the strangest ever encountered," added Roberto, and Guido examined the straw on the floor of the stables and, bending over, despite the stiffness of his arthritis, picked up a pair of white stockings, and his brother, Giulio, likewise a pair of grey stockings at the other end, and Guido drew the two Constables close, so that none in the village should hear the coze which followed and said softly: "the only mystery is whatever the wenches of Marzipani saw in you two pensionable oafs – whatever happened you were either too busy shagging or too shagged out afterwards to see or hear anything, but don't you worry, we'll send a purse-priest to exorcise this place retrospectively and then you'll be able to return to the really arduous work of opening and closing doors for Duke Federico hisself, but mind you don't lock him in a room that may be a-haunted while you put your hatchet up some Palace doxy's skirts – we mayn't be around to verify your stories, but one last thing: any valuables in the place, pile on the cart, we may as well be recompensed for the damage to our bodies driving up to this Godforsaken hole and back again to Milan, and don't worry, we'll split the proceeds with you two blind beggars, and as a gesture of goodwill, another round of wine, Guido, before the clodhoppers get to work – any breakages will be deducted from your cut, boys," and none of them noticed that the candle-smoke in the room seemed to be drawn towards the huge fireplace, though there was no wind outside to suck it up, and twisted into a loose spiral before it disappeared into what might be mistaken for a wormhole in the brick-work at the back o the hearth!
Now, as it happens, Tavish had been able to make the acquaintance of The Maister o Kilquhenny, an old goat of a man who divided his attentions between the very young lassies he employed as servants and bedfellows in his house, just across the High from MacFarlane House, and Isabella MacFarlane, whom he was seriously courting – being rather pleased that her husband had been most foully murdered in Melrose Abbey, which Tavish knew begged the question of whether presumed death in one time, did not preclude certifiable life in another; and one night he confided to Tavish – believing him to be a Monk – that he hoped to further his intentions with Lady MacFarlane in her grief (a hint of sarcasm there, thought Tavish) and would Brother Tavish be willing to assist him, in return for a place in a convivial – and secret – fellowship of which he was now President; and Tavish, convinced that this could only be The Ring of Gold, agreed without a moment's hesitation; the plan was simple: that very night, he, Brother Tavish, would knock loudly at the side door of the MacFarlane's, which would bring Mistress Doubleday to open it; Tavish would beg admission for an urgent communication with Lady MacFarlane, concerning her dear, departed husband and, once quickly in, would lock Marie out and admit The Maister at the front door, who would plight his troth with Isabella and conquer her by force if not entreaty; the plan seemed sound enough and an hour later, when the street was quiet, Brother Tavish made an almighty racket at the Close door until it was opened by a visibly pregnant Marie Doubleday in her chemise and a shawl, having come crossly down from her bed; the message was given and he was invited in, pushed Marie out and slammed, then locked and barred the door and hurried to the front of the House to admit the old roué, who first headed through to the kitchen for a bottle of wine – being too mean to bring one of his own; there, catching sight of Mistress Doubleday attempting to gain access by an open window, old Kilquhenny slammed down the window with such force that it nearly decapitated the poor woman, and would have if Tavish had not managed to block it's descent with a fish kettle; the poor woman was senseless and collapsed in a heap outside; so, while Kilquhenny – oblivious or regardless, to the state of the pregnant servant, mounted the stairs, Tavish let himself out of the Close door and went round to the back: the window was still held up by the kettle, but of Marie Doubleday, there was no sign, she had simply vanished into thin air! which gave Tavish some pause for thought – this was become too frequent an event and he wondered if she had, in fact, entered into a Worm-Hole? there were many tales of bodies going about their legitimate business in Edinburgh who, venturing down one or other of it's numerous closes, were never seen again, and he wondered if Ludmilla Lermontova would be able to compile a list of Edinburgh's Mispers over the past 2000 years, it might make interesting reading; and meanwhile, The Maister had burst in on Lady Isabella, finding her awake and dishevelled, one of her maids between her legs enthusiastically licking and sucking at her motte; "if ye'll merry me Mistress, ye kin bring ye'r freend an aw, an av ither weans wha'll dae thon," indicating the gamahuching still continuing, despite his unexpected entry, "oo'll be a maist Haily Alliance," which Tavish earwigging at the door, wondered at the mumpsimus being voiced by the ancient fornicator in his description of the marriage being prosecuted was truly his belief or simply an ingratiating approach to win her hand, "an ye kin suck me at yin end while ye'r sucked yersel at t'ither," and Isabella, her body approaching it's crisis, while her mind was still capable of rational thought, gasped: "aye, Maister Kilquhenny, av nae objections tae that: pray consider yer proposal accepted, but gie me a wee minnit till Molly here, ooooh, aaaah, oh, Deo Divinitas! yesss, yesss, YESSS!!!"
After spending some time in perpendering on the situation, Tavish had reached a decision and gathered the others together; he told them about the rent in his cloak, about the Moth-Hole that turned into a Worm-Hole and about the steampunk string-telephone and the suggestion that they use it, tied together for safety, as a guide to get back to Melrose; then he spoke quietly with Sister Evadne Eglantyne and told her what he knew of her sister: "could I reach her?" was the only question; "we have no idea, Sister Evadne; once a person enters the passage through the Cosmos, they become miscible – mixed or dissolved into it, and hopefully, coming out in one piece at the other end – but you might easily land up somewhere else in the Past or Future and with no means of ever escaping – but now that we know where and when Griselda is, there is a hope – okay, a slim hope – that we may be able to contact her, that's what everyone is holding on to, and my friends working on," she paused for a heartbeat, "and if I don't come with you?" but he shook his head: "then you would be alone here, with no chance of coming later to join us, or of being with Griselda," and she smiled wanly, "so there is really no option, is there?" and Tavish clasped her shoulders, gently, for he did not want to alarm her: "look, my advice is 'no' it isn't safe here, there are still friends and allies of MacFarlane and they will already know about you having been in the company of this motley crew, now I'm not given to orogeny, making mountains out of molehills, the difficulties we face are real enough and big enough without having to inflate them, so go with the others and you will still have hopes of making reaching Griselda, and being reunited with her; I don't make promises I can't keep, but I feel responsible for what Griselda did, so I won't rest until everything that can be done has been done and with luck . . . . ." and she said: "or perhaps with Faith and Prayer? let me go now and pray for guidance," and in his heart he knew that her decision had been made and she would go with the rest; for himself, there was still a job to do and he would do it tonight!
And that was how it came about that, the next day, as the Lady Christiane Lauderdale and the Emperor's Paladin, Marcus Gaius Vulpecula were saying "cheerio," to Cornelius Laudius Claudius, fondly known as Umbraticus, as they prepared to set out for a few days exploration of the region, keeping well away from that part which was coterminous with the others still held by native tribes, many of them known to behave much like the armatole of later times, using sneaky and cowardly guerilla tactics instead of facing a Legion like men! she gave a gasp, and her hand flew to her mouth, trying to stuff the knuckles between her teeth to prevent the shriek which desperately longed to burst from her lips, and the two men turned to look in the direction of her gaze, and saw only two other members of the Legion crossing the Parade Ground; "who's that?" gasped Christiane, clutching Marcus' hand and squeezing it with all her might, to stop her from turning and running up the hills to find the legendary Cavern which might take her back to the last days she spent in Bowden – but then, remembering what had happened there immediately before her arrival her, she slightly relaxed her grip, for nothing on Earth would compel back there; "oh," laughed Umbraticus, winking at her, "that's just Paracelsus Priapus Mafarlanius, the Third Tribune we were talking about, and his slave Domus Dublidais, you'll never see one without the other, so if you avoid one, you will easily avoid the other," and Marcus looked intently at Christiane, who still held tight hold of him: "you look as if you have seen a ghost, are you alright?" and with his free arm, he pulled her into a comforting embrace, and she dabbed at her eyes with a corner of his cloak: "they look so alike two men I used to know, who I was afraid of, it scared me," and Marcus stroked her back, "well, they can't be, for they are not long arrived her, and will be gone ere we return, and anyway, with us here, he included Umbraticus, his friend, bosom buddy and lifelong pal, "no-one can cause you harm," and she smiled back into his frank, open face and, not caring if it was against some protocol about fraternising with the natives, kissed him full on the lips. which, she could feel, pleased him and she believed that her future lay with him, to be miscible in his embrace and feel their two bodies mingling as they became one; and then, with a last shake of Umbraticus' hand from Marcus, a peck on his cheek from Christiane, the two were quickly mounted, wheeled the horses towards the gate and had soon passed out of the great Camp; watched by two pairs of eyes in the shadow of the Quarter-Master's Stores; "so this is where you have been, Christiane," growled the Tribune named Priapus, in honour of his ever-standing organ, "it's more than five years, but I never forget a whore!" then he snapped his fingers and together the two entered the warehouse and got to work! at which point, Dear Reader – I am not going to patronise you with the epithet, Gentle, which I hope went out with Jane Austin – you will be wondering how on Earth Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his sidekick, Dominic Doubleday, the original villains of this story (never mind their descendants – well, Sir Parlane's actually, for despite his over-riding interest in, and enthusiasm for, fucking under-age children, Doubleday has never been able to have sex with anyone his own age and all of the descendants who bear his name, are actually the product of the loins of the MacFarlane baronet in whose company he always is, and the same genes which impregnated his wife Marie, have been passed down through generations and every wife the Doubledays have taken has been similarly impregnated by the then baronets, all obviously descended from Sir Parlane) have turned up in Roman Scotland, when they were last seen restored to the pink Dolls House in Washington DC after the débâcle caused to the forces of Laura Norder (first woman Director of the FBI) by President Duck Trumpet-Trousers' brilliant wheeze of winding the nation's clocks back 24 hours which made the warrants for arrest and seizure invalid because they were now dated a day in advance; well, in the contemporary narrative I haven't yet reached the fateful day when a huge and unexplained explosion rocked the city and the two miscreants were never found again, alive or dead, it was as if they had been vaporised, and for the following twenty or thirty years, conspiracy theorists have been wading through the Archives in an effort to prove that they were assassinated by, either Theresa Maybenot's MI6, Ginger Goldfish's Tartan Spies, or the CIA, all of whom were discomfited at Duck's intention to send his ignoble ancestor to Scotland as the US Ambassador, thus besmirching the reputation of the United States and returning MacFarlane to the Land of his Birth as an Untouchable, under Diplomatic Protection; well, many different versions abound, but the truth will soon be revealed if you Watch This Space! and of the pair themselves? they came to their senses in Ancient Rome, miraculously intact with just a few minor burns, scrapes and bruises, sprawled beside the bodies of two dead Roman soldiers – a Tribune and his slave, both of whom so closely resembled the Bad Men that after they had swapped clothes, they were taken for the real deal; indeed, the discovery that the Tribune was named Priapus in honour of his immense and ever-ready shaft, it only took a cursory glance at MacFarlane's to convince any Doubting Thomases that he was indeed Paracelsus Priapus Mafarlanius and his slave was Domus Dublidais; and that was five years ago in that particular epoch, so when they were despatched to Trimontium in Alba, well, it really felt to the pair that they had Come Home! and to the Master, it fulfilled an old story that he had been told by his Great-Grandmother, an old bat of a woman he hated, but on this particular occasion had listened to with ears pricked and a strange sense of Destiny coursing through his veins, for she told him that the MacFarlane Family and Clan were descended from a Roman who had deserted the Legion and been accepted among the indigenous people and that the Clan MacFarlane was the oldest in Scotland and by rights should have provided the Kings of Scotland for ten thousand years, which was when he had lost interest because it seemed just an ancient crone's drivelling, and yet, and yet, and yet here he was carrying the name Mafarlanius, which was obviously the origin of MacFarlane, and wondered if that meant he was destined to be his own ancestor? but imagine the unreconstructed debauchee’s surprise at seeing Christiane there, having last seen her in Ranulph Ochan'toshan's Bowden cottage in 2017 when she had been felled by a mighty blow to the head delivered by Dominic, just before the sirens of the Police she had called could be heard in the distance: really, he felt, as they began their intimidation of the Quarter-Master, you couldn't make it up!
And that was how Mhairi Macleod (the cover name of Sadie Glenfinnan) and Betty Singer (cook/housekeeper in the Glasgow home of Martin Elginbrod) became friends; it was soon clear to Mhairi that Betty was a desperately unhappy woman, still grieving for her husband and son and despite working in a house occupied several days a week by her employer, with a couple of other live-in servants and at present a resident guest, feeling lonely and in need of a confidant; well, if that's what she wants, thought Mhairi, that's what I am happy to be: "you know," she said, with the Highland lilt her Grannie had retained all her life, despite living many years in Glasgow and now in Queens, "I've always felt that a woman can really only be herself with another woman – men just don't cut the mustard; oh we might need them for some things," managing to colour up at what, by some, would be regarded as a 'suggestive' remark, "they don't really understand us, do you know what I mean?" and Betty laughed, giving her new friend a knowing look: "I'm with you there hen," she said; "I suppose most of us want a husband, don't we? but it's true enough that they never seem able to sense what we're thinking, or be able to anticipate us; Mr Elginbrod says women share a sense of esoterica," and, her voice lowered, she whispered, "I thought he meant erotica, you know, about S.E.X. but it just means something like a common language of shared secrets and knowledge and emotions, and I do think that is very true, men can't seem to understand things as we do, but if we want children, well there's not much alternative, is there?" and it was Mhairi's turn to laugh, "I'm so glad we've met, Betty, for my sister Lorna's so busy with her family – she's got twin boys, just three, and her husband's a Doctor at the Southern," (hopefully, that hospital being on the South side of the river, was one Betty would never have had occasion to visit) "so she's wrapped up in them; oh, don't get me wrong, we've always been quite close, but I've seen it when friends get married, their focus shifts, and while you might still be friends, it's different." and Betty understood, "and then if you lose your family as I have," she said, "and thousands of other women, too, you find you've really lost touch with the friends you had before you married, and the ones whose husbands came home, well, I think they secretly feel guilty, they seem afraid to meet your eye, oh, they rallied round when Simon was killed and then Andrew's ship went down, but that only lasts so long; they have their own families to look after – but the nightmares started after that, and I still have them – though I can never remember what's in them, only that when I wake I'm shivering and bathed in perspiration, and I mentioned them once to Mr Elginbrod, and he said dreams are a place where our memories become miscible and rhemetic," and Mhairi, puzzled, asked: "rheumatic?" and Betty laughed, "that's what I asked too, no, it's to do with there being an underlying theme but all mixed up - I think that Sigismund Fraud had something to do with it: can I ask, Mhairi, are you not wed yourself?" and Mhairi shook her head: "my fiancée was in the RAF, a navigator in Bomber Command and then one night his plane didn't come back from a run over Germany; oh, I hoped for a long time that he might be a POW but after the war ended I got confirmation that he and the rest of the crew had died when they were shot down, near the Channel on their way back; he's buried in France and I'd like to go over and see his grave, but I don't know when I'll be able to afford it," and she gave herself a shiver, and the cloud which had come over her face was shaken away, and then she asked: "so your employer, Betty, Mr Elginbrod, is he a good man?" and Betty’s eyes seemed to darken suddenly: "well, hen, I don't know if you would ever say he was a 'good' man, but he's a good enough employer, pays us fairly, we've got good conditions, comfortable staff accommodation, and the work is never as arduous as it would be if he had a family there, but his family's in Edinburgh and though they occasionally come over for a week, at Easter and in the Summer, and before Christmas, that's the most they're ever here – he's got two boys, both called Martin, which people find strange, and a wee girl, Martina, but that's just the family tradition ever since, oh well, forever really; his wife Glenda, used to be a model, you know, for clothes, her photo was always in the magazines, but she's a quiet body and she's good enough with us; but some of Mr Elginbrod's friends, well, least said, soonest mended," but it was said archly, and told Mhairi that Betty kent plenty, had lots to tell, but that would have to wait till they knew each other better, then she glanced at her watch and cried: "oh! will you look at the time? it's been lovely to meet you Betty, but I must get back to give Lorna a hand – can we meet again, this is the first proper conversation I've had with anyone since I got here!" and Betty confirmed that she felt just the same, said that she was usually in the Tea-room every morning at about the same time, and would be delighted to meet with Mhairi, and with a slight embrace and a peck, the two women parted outside, and walked off in different directions; after about twenty paces, Mhairi looked back, and she had judged it just right, for she caught Betty doing the same, both gave a little wave and were then lost to each other on the busy pavement!
It may be bromidic,
Or slightly acidic,
To uptalk your every phrase;
But poor Throttlebottom,
On a visit to Sodom,
Found the watershed
Caused a malaise;
But an Antipodean?
Fat, bald and named Ian?
Whose walk was a most silly gait?
Said "go straight down the street?
And the first girl you meet?
You must try not to interrogate?
For her Pa's a Llama,
And her Ma, is gaga,
And she'll turn you down flat - no date?
As they walked back to the car, Jasmine said: "I really enjoyed the film, if that is the right word for how I feel – it seems to have been such a dreadful outcome for so many, displaced, harried out of their homes and dispersed, rather like what is happening now in the Middle East, was Mountbatten really a Throttlebottom? he seems to have had no grasp of the consequences which would come from the Partition?" and Sam glanced at her: "I take that as a question from your uptalk, rather than a statement," and she nodded, "we were never taught about it at school, like so many things in recent history, although I did know that there had been some kind of watershed, and a lot of rancour on both sides," He brought forward the projected date of Independence by about a year, was persuaded against his Government’s instructions that Partition would be less disruptive than otherwise and when asked about the possibility of violence, gave assurance the there would be none, but if there were any, he would clamp down on it and 'nip it in the bud'! but his principal aim was to extricate Britain before it became Britain's responsibility and in the course of what could be considered ethnic cleansing, 2.28 million people disappeared, both Muslims (the greater number) and Hindus; and it was brutal, bloody and horrific in the extreme – not just killing, but eviscerating and humiliating people even after death; so I think his assurances could be regarded as bromidic, much like the man himself! but promise me you won't repeat anything I've said to Teri, I don't want to read my words in her Blog!" and Jasmine crossed her heart and hoped to die – while on her other hand, behind her back, her fingers were crossed, and we know what that ploy means, don't we?
As Sam and Jasmine walked down Broomilees Road towards their own cottage in the centre of Darnick, he suddenly asked her: "Jazz, would you come with me to the cinema this evening?" she stopped: "wow!" said she, "what's this about?" and he felt a little embarrassed at her caustic tone: "there's a film called The Viceroy's House which I really want to see, it's had very good reviews, but I always feel a little self-conscious going to the cinema alone, so I would be very pleased if you would accompany me; my Old Man was in the Colonial Service in India during the War, until Independence and obviously he knew the Viceroy pretty well – he met Gandhi. was very impressed by him, such a tragedy that he was assassinated, but as I say, I would rather have a companion than go alone and there is no-one I would lief go with than you, Jazz; a man alone in the cinema always feels that he is under suspicion, not that I would ever do anything untoward," and Jasmine agreed to go with him, but laughing said: "if it protects your reputation as a Normal Person; you took me to Sunday Lunch at the BGH and now the cinema, people will talk, you know, first the orts and now the flicks," and laughing too, he assured her that he had no ulterior motive; "remember when we went to Schindler's List? and when we were leaving there was none of the usual banter, everyone was quite silent until we got to Tesco's car park, all thinking about the story? and then driving back, talking about the film; I have several times gone alone – always careful to sit apart – but afterwards having no-one to discuss it with, rather cancels out some of the pleasure of the film, and in keeping with the period, I shall shake out my Harris three-piece suit and my Club tie," and Jasmine laughed as she took out her keys, "and if you are in Tweed, perhaps so should I," but Sam shook his head and with a sly look in his eye, said: "the hydronym is incorrect, as well you know Jazz, it has nothing to do with our fine waterway, merely a London clerk's misreading of Tweel, and the error became established as False Facts often do," and Jasmine replied: "of course I'll come with you, Sam, so long as you get me a box of Maltesers," and he agreed to the condition, cheap at the price!
At last, Little Levy said: "I have spoken with The Creator and because of my slip of the tongue I have been given permission to tell you a little; the Lady Griselda let go of the string which would have brought her here, and at a divergence of the Worm-Hole, something like a greenwood fracture of childhood, an outer splinter took a different direction and she is now in London, in 1867, in a part called Drury Lane; I know it well from a different life, she is safe and well for the moment, though the lady friend she has there, and I am allowed to tell you, is a Miss Sarah Siddons and is kept there by Sir Peveril MacFarlane whose valet is Dirk Doubleday, yet another of that inglorious race, and Sir Peveril has already encountered Griselda – who is now using the name Grace – and been struck by her comportment – he recognises her virginity and will be determined to take it!" he paused and looked round at Sam: "your friend Ludmilla – a descendant of Mikhail Lermontov and long before of Thomas Learmonth – will be able to learn much about them, I am sure, but I do not know anything beyond that which I have been told; you must understand that while there are some fixed Portals in the network of Worm-Holes, many, possibly most, are transitory and may only be available briefly at one point in the Space/Time Continuum which can prevent a Traveller from returning to their original departure point, particularly if they do not have a string such as that between Karla and Tavish, and to some extent, the fabric of the continuum itself can act as a solvent and erase a Worm-Hole, and once that happens – well, no more Travel from the points previously connected: it's a kind of self-repair that The Creator installed to prevent misuse," there was silence for a few moments, then Sam asked: "would it be possible, can you tell us, for Tavish and his friends in Edinburgh to use the string to guide them here?" and he thought he saw something wary in Little Levy's eyes, before the wee boy glanced back at Jasmine: "there are no certainties, maybe 'yes', maybe 'no' - it would be chancy, but should they wish to attempt the voyage, The Creator would not interfere, save perhaps to ameliorate their predicament; it would be entirely at their own risk, but should they decide to attempt it, my suggestion would be that they link themselves, as well as holding on to the string, that would certainly increase their chances," and Sam clenched his teeth: "we can tell Tavish that, and maybe the others will choose to attempt it, but if I know Tavish – and I do, only too well, he will not want to leave without doing his damnedest to eradicate the other members of The Ring while he has a chance, and by that time he could be too late!" and Jasmine spoke softly to Levy, cuddling the boy and smelling the shampoo from his hair and the baby freshness of his clothes and body: "but maybe he will enable the others to take the chance – Bernie and Tammy and wee Lolly could choose to come back, and Sister Evadne and the kitchen boy, Wullie, may choose the same, don't you think they have the right to choose for themselves?" and Sam agreed, so while Rilla was still out, he pulled the string tight and spoke into the can: "Ground Control to Major Tav . . . . . Ground Control to Major Tav, come in please, old friend, this is very important!"
Communication with The Creator, Little Levy Balquhidder knew, from long experience, was a process of osmosis, with no time span – it might be as short as the length of a mandil, or the distance between galaxies, so little, or so much might be passed between them – but the hackles did not rise as The Creator considered, during which time, it felt to Levy's Spirit. simply like floating in an anthophilous haze for an eternity.
Little Levy Balquhidder laughed and gurgled with delight when Sam and Jasmine entered the living-room, Jasmine carrying Karla, his favourite Teddy which they had borrowed to communicate with Tavish in the 13th Century; once Levy's mum, Rilla, had brought coffee, and after a little chaffer, left them to go out to the Co-op, Sam explained the reason for the visit: "We have been in contact with Tavish and know where they are just now, well, I guess moving in parallel with our Present," and Levy chuckled: "you are learning, Sam, the whole Universe is moving in Parallel, all time is simultaneous; so have you made contact with any others?" and Sam looked pensive: "one of Tavish's group climbed through the hole in his cloak and disappeared, we know she isn't here. a lot of things have quietened down, overwintered, you might say, but she could be anywhere, and that is the same with the others, although we have evidence of another group in Milan in 1497, not all from here, or indeed from Britain, so there must be other Worm-Holes, do you have any way of identifying them?" and the question hung in the room as Levy cuddled his bear and seemed lost in thoughts – his appetence was to aid them, but he knew he had already gone way, way beyond what The Creator would approve of; oh, he had been reckless in the past and each time had been rebuked, but this time, he really was going too far, but, in for a penny: "the Worm-Holes were never The Creator's intention, if you think of the Universe as a big thick blanket, the Worm-Holes are flaws, like dropped stitches in a piece of knitwear or holes where the knitting or crochet isn't as tight as it should be; and then if you think of that Snakes and Ladders board, where the snakes and ladders can swivel between moves, so the board has hundreds or even thousands of permutations. you might be able to move one way, but not go back, or be joined by another player; it isn't stable, or static, but here's another example – Mornington Crescent!" and Sam smiled, living up to his name as his face lit up at the reference, and Levy continued: "so if Griselda didn't hold onto the string, she could have been sucked somewhere else, maybe not even on Earth – though that is unlikely;" which was when Jasmine picked up the little boy and held him on her knee, her face inches from his: "we never mentioned a name, so how come you know it's Griselda? do I need to change your nappy, eh? or are you going to give us it in Spades!" and the baby let out a surprised kind of bleat and through his eyes Jasmine could see him rapidly running through all the options available to him!
"Ground Control to Major Tav . . . . . Ground Control to Major Tav," the voice echoed tinnilly, as if it were being spoken inside an empty soup can, and Tavish pulled the string tight, as he unwrapped his cloak, or what was left of it, and put the gourd to his mouth; "Major Tav to Ground Control," he replied, and waited; now that he and the group were in Edinburgh, safely - or relatively safely - installed in one of the rooms on the fifth floor of a tenement which led off the High Street and down towards The Cowgate, rented off Mistress Machrahanish - or Bunty, as she kept asking Tavish to call her, - for a penny down, he was finding it increasingly difficult to instil any discipline; ever since Griselda of Longformacus had disappeared - whether into past or future, Tavish knew not - her sister, Sister Evadne Eglantyne, had been sunk in a depression, and though Bernie and Tammy (his own daughter) had done their best to try to keep her spirits up, the nun was sinking fast and Tavish was despairing fast; even Lolly and Wullie, the kitchen boy they had found tagging along behind them when they fled Albany Palace in the melee following the 'mysterious' death by Gunpowder Plot of the Duke of Albany, both of an age and similar in personality, had seemed listless and disinterested here - they haunted the close and scavenged for food which kept the party's bodies alive, but they were fast becoming known and identifiable street urchins which would soon bring them to someone's attentions. whoremaster of Sergeant-at-Arms. the outcome might well be the same; luckily, Harry Magog, the giant under-jailer at the Heart of Midlothian prison, had a soft spot for them and was managing to keep a watchful eye on the pair; Tavish had, however, managed to identify and trace several members of The Ring of Gold which, despite the disappearance - believed murdered by person or persons unknown - of Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his manservant Dominic Doubleday, had managed to remain active: it was now apparently run by the Lawyer Elginbrod, and included Lord Umpherston and the Maister o Kilquhenny, and now that these three were in his sights, Tavish had a sense of purpose about him, and after the declaration by the Court of Sasines that the Baronet could justifiably be declared legally dead, on account of his seeming disappearance from the 'face of the Earth' after his last-known sighting in Melrose Abbey, Elginbrod had announced that his Last Will and Testament would be read in the White Hart Inn on the 18th of March; that day came around and Tavish, in the guise of a Capuchin Monk, joined the throng of creditors and nosey, who packed the room, while Lady MacFarlane, accompanied by her visibly pregnant maidservant, Jeannie - Doubleday's wife - sat demurely at the front table, opposite Martin Elginbrod, much vaunting in starched white neckerchief and dead black gown, his lawyer's cap set tight upon his thin skull: "I, Martin Elginbrod, Writer to the Signet, appointed executor of Sir Parlane MacFarlane now adjudged deceased, and formerly of this Town, will open and read the Last Will and Testament of the said baronet and confirm the disposition of his worldly goods: "I. Sir Parlane MacFarlane, baronet, of MacFarlane House in the High Street of Edinburgh, together with property and lands known as MacFarlane Castle and Estate on the Isle of Skye, do hereby and herein dispose of my worldly goods and chattels in the following wise: 1) to my wife, Lady Margaret MacFarlane , or Branxton, my Third Best Bed, and my accumulated debts and 2) to Marie Doubleday, wife of my faithful Valet and manservant, Dominic Doubleday, the remainder of my Estate in totality of Lands, Buildings and contents therein and thereunder, and the income of such to her and her descendants, in perpetuity, this day and witnessed by Martin Elginbrod WS and Archibald, Maister o Kilquhenny!" the silence was palpable and hung heavy in the room until Elginbrod broke it by banging with his gavel on the table three times to pronounce the proceedings over, when the room erupted, the import of the words having eventually sunk in: "third best bed an his debts?" asked one gnarly tradesman of his servant, "aye, maister, aw the debts!" "run an fetch the bailiffs, lad, he owes me se'nty-fouwer poond, oo'll tak the bed if needs must!" anyway, it was just after that when Tavish received the first communication from Sam in a quite a while - he supposed that wherever Griselda had gone, whenever as well, she must have stretched the Moth Hole and that was what accounted for the long silence, despite his making a regular twice-a-day tin-can-and-string equivalent of a call to Home. and he hadn't really been thinking of Home at that moment, his thoughts were on the two women who, he had observed furtively, walked back to MacFarlane House arm in arm, each silent with her thoughts, and what thoughts must they be? treachery, rape, betrayal, murder? certainly, Tavish thought, they must be at that level of emotional angst, and to go back under the same roof, for the present, at least, until some practical arrangements could be made: to leave his Wife a bed and all his debts, seemed, to Tavish, like sticking a knife between her ribs; it would surely to condemn her to that part of The Heart which house the Debtors' Prison; unless a friend, relative or benefactor came up with the sums due, a person could literally rot away in there until death released them from their bond - of course it would depend how sizeable a sum were the baronet's debts, and it was with his thoughts on that line and a growing appetence to gain admission to the House and discover the reality behind their demeanour that he heard the call-sign and pulled the string taught, replied and waited: "Tavish, we think we have some information about one group of Time-Travellers who were in Milan around 1497 and involved in the deaths of two Scottisch rapists and murderers, named Sir Ptarmigan MacFarlane and his valet Damien Doubleday - there is a record in the papers of the then Duke of Milan, of Knighthoods awarded to one Piero Boo of Edambruge, and another, Laszlo Licinic of Bucharest and Ludmilla Lermontova followed these references and found that MacFarlane and Doubleday had been suspected of the rape and murder of a young actor in a Theatre Company, whose members she has found included Peter Lorre, Leslie Howard, Roxy Davidova, Geli Raubal, Unity Mitford and Uncle Tom Cobley, whoever he is! oh and a German lad named Wolfgang Muller, who seems to be the only other non-Milanese in the Company," and he paused: "Roxy," gasped Tavish, "she was there?" and Sam continued: "it certainly seems that her name was listed, and after the Knighthoods were awarded the Theatre Company was given the name of 'The Duke of Milan's Players' and the patronage included regular salaries paid to the entire company, not only performers, but stage hands, wardrobe mistresses and dressers, quite a bundle for the times!" and Tavish interrupted, "and this was to do with MacFarlane and Doubleday?" and Sam laughed, "yes, it seems that they were traced to an inn some twenty or thirty leagues north of Milan, Boo, in disguise entered the inn and discovered them, having murdered seven people and beheaded them, they tried to escape, leaving two children insensible but still alive, and Licinic managed to kill them outside by some sort of derring-do, involving a table, a broomstick and several platters, quite a feat apparently, but the Duke was so impressed and gratified by the bravery and dedication of the two in dealing with the murderers of one of his own citizens that he wanted to reward them, and everyone in their Company, and did you get those other names: Lesley Howard, Geli Raubal and Unity Mitford! it's incredible, of course, but well documented, and Ludmilla is working through documents from 1597 forward to try find out what became of them all!"
It was agreed that a disguised Peter Boo should enter the Inn, observe whether or not the two Scottisch fugitives were within and, if they were, summon assistance for their apprehension using a pre-arranged signal; initially all went well – the disguise was excellent, Laszlo Licinic making use of the bag of stage-kit which had been quickly assembled 'just in case' and Boo looked nothing like himself – and Laszlo, together with two of the Duke's Men-at-Arms watched the former Edinburgh Solicitor walk unsteadily – due, in no small part, to his strong appetence to run, which had draped itself over him during his first five steps – using as a rustic walking stick, a rough club borrowed from one of the soldiers, and carrying an earthenware jug in his other hand, towards the inn and disappear into the gloom within; for his part, Peter had convinced himself of his role and had approached and entered confidently, but the sight which he beheld within took all his adopted character from his mind and his cry of "oh my God!" though said softly enough, disturbed the two villains and they rounded on him with the speed of cheetahs! even at the distance of 520 years, it is impossible to describe the horrors that Peter saw in a single glance, suffice to say that his mind was so overwhelmed by the amount of blood, broken bodies and severed limbs, eviscerated torsos and the row of seven severed heads on the heavy oak mantle above the fire, caused his legs to buckle and he dropped to the floor with a clatter, the earthenware jug falling from his hand and shattering when it hit the flags; but it made sufficient noise for the watchers to hear and reflexively, the two soldiers began running forward, unsheathing their swords; perhaps it was their alacrity which saved Peter Boo's life, or the sound of the jug smashing, which prevented the two savages from waiting to see if anyone had heard, for they turned and hurried out the back, just as the soldiers appeared and were halted by the gruesome scene – even battle-hardened veterans who have seen more blood and gore and grotesque sights than the rest of us, have their limits and Guido and Bartholemew had reached theirs; simultaneously, they were both violently sick, which is why it was only Laszlo, approaching more cautiously, who saw the two horses bearing the murderers as they wheeled out from the rear yard and headed towards the open road; instinct overtook him, he had – indeed still has – no clear memory of what happened next: it involved a round table, lifted onto it's rim and sent rolling like a wheel, with curved legs coming out of the underside, then a succession of platters, strewn across another table which spun like discuses as they arced through the air, and finally a broomstick, flung like a javelin which, the end furthest from the brush sharpened to enable it to be stuck into the ground, pierced the neck of one of the riders, already tumbling towards the ground following the legs of his horse having become tangled with the whirring table-legs, while the other rider was swiftly decapitated by a platter which sliced through skin and bone as neatly as a cleaver, just before his hands hit the road, his own horse tumbling over the first; so by the time the two soldiers emerged, having followed the trail through the back of the inn and out from the stable-yard, emerged into the effulgence of Spring sunlight on the smaragdine sward it was all over and Laszlo, slumped against the wall of the building, could only stare, which is how Peter, coming out of his initial shock and staggering out through the front door, a shillelagh in hand, saw him moments later!
"Today," the President said proudly, "I have been awarded an Alphabetic Award, by The American Association of Abecedarians, for, and I quote: 'the most consistent examples of code-switching performed in a Public Office in 2017' and I am honoured, I am honoured, to receive this much sought after award, it is, it's much sought after, but I have been singled out and chosen, they chose me – think about it, I didn't choose them, I'd never heard about this award until today, and that goes to show how these fine people recognise me, so don't decry it, till you try it, that's always been an axiom of mine, I think it's safe to say . . . . ." and Hyman used to remote to switch of the TV in the Diner and turned to Sadie and Rosa, "he can't even read," he sighed, "it's the Analphabetic Award, they give it to the Dummy of the Year and," he looked at his watch, "it's only the 16th of March!"
One effect of President Duck Trumpet-Trousers turning back the clocks of the United States of America twenty-four hours by his Executive Order was that the Warrant to enter The Dolls House and arrest the adult inhabitants became invalid, being forward dated to the next day; lawyers successfully argued that it constituted an infringement of the Constitution to arrest the three adults – Sir Parlane MacFarlane, his valet, Dominic Doubleday and Mr Doubleday's wife, Marie, also known as Mrs McOgle, proprietress of the establishment – and Federal Judges had no alternative but to dismiss the Warrant as unconstitutional, setting the three free and returning the children, who had been taken into protective custody, to the House and the care of the owner; of course, there was a loud chorus of protest, led by Hyman Z Kaplan, Sadie Moskowitz, and Rose Mitnick, but to no avail; the 'injured parties' retired within, along with the children, and barred the doors to reporters and the television crews who had encamped on the street; indeed, the city police were called and resorted to water cannons and drawn batons to clear the street which soon returned to its normal, boring. somnolence, and it was in the Diner round the corner that the three intrepid reporters gathered, not to lick their wounds, but to plan their next course of action; of course, the media – denied their story, for to publish anything about the incident was to condemn the purveyors to a life-time in Guantanamo Bay, which had already welcomed in five camera crews, four producers, three editors, two Daily News Presenters, and one who became known as 'the partridge in a pear tree' (the Anchor Man on Fox News who had belatedly rewound his watch only to discover that the story he had just broadcast wouldn't occur for another 12 hours!) - and that in itself filled Duck with great joy, for he hated all News Media with a vengeance; indeed at his Press Conference that very morning, when John Soapsuds from the BBC stood up and had the temerity not to back down under a barrage of highly personal insults from the President, but to ask about the constitutionality of winding the nation's clocks back twenty-four hours, giving an estimated 25,000 people a second crack at their birthday and incarcerating 17,000 prison inmates for an additional day before their release (indeed seven thousand who had already been released, had to be re-arrested and returned to their prison cells to await their new release date the following morning) all Duck did was look deep into Mr Soapsuds hazel eyes and, in a voice heady with superbity, utter the immortal words: "you're fired!" which, due to them coinciding with the flash of a photographers bulb, sounded remarkably like "you're hired!" and immediately landed the Presidential Human Resources Department in a welter of logistical nightmares which stemmed from the necessity of delivering employment contracts to Mr Soapsuds, followed in a heartbeat with the same number of dismissal notices and subsequent claims of unfair dismissal which tied the legal-eagles of the White House in knots for the following ten years – ten years of exorbitant bills for consultants, lawyers, specialist advisers and witnesses, five separate courts and judges working on nothing else, fifty thousand Grand Jurymen (and women) examining all the evidence from all seven sides and effectively doubled the National Debt and bankrupted the Cayman Islands accountancy firm of Quandary, Quibble and Umbraticus International Addersup and Dividers Inc, who had accidentally won the contract for the reduction of the US National Debt (their letter requesting payment terms for a $15 postage fee debt having been misinterpreted by one of Duck's Love Children, employed as a Special Advisor. who had mislaid his calculator and simply gave up the arduous and Cimmerian task of dividing the $15 into 12 monthly payments on his fingers and simply mis-filed the letter among the other applications for the National Debt Reduction Program) and, failing miserably, saw its three executive directors and the office cat each jailed for seven consecutive terms of 99 years, with no possibility of release on parole until the sixth had been served to completion! but none of that mattered to Hyman Kaplan, who reminded his friends of his Uncle Gus's immortal words: "if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we only had eggs!" and they agreed on the man's undisputed gift for gadzookery and set to work with relish, mustard, maple syrup and skooshy cream on the groaning trenchers of pancakes delivered by the ever-cheery and smiling 93-year-old Irma Grese (still hiding out under her adopted work-name of Lola Goldstein, after giving her guards the slip and avoiding execution for her infamous treatment of prisoners in Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz Death Camps, she entered the United States in 1947, disguised as a bouquet of barbed wire and walked on bare feet all the way from Rykers Island to The Bronx, where she worked in a sweat shop owned by the industrious Max Abelstein – born Martin Bormann, still a hale and hearty 116-years-young and living in quiet retirement in a Queens Autumn-tide Home where he happily dibbles his stick for the enjoyment of the female residents – running up replica Nazi SS Uniforms for Halloween Costumes and turning white Sheets into Ku Klux Klan outfits for the 5th of July celebrations for twenty years before opening the Diner along with her jovial 98-year-old partner, Lise Volkenrath, now known as Lulu Finckelmann, who also escaped execution after the war and still supervises the kitchen) and the "Rest," as they say on Fox News, "is History – One Fuck-up After Another!"
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