There is a theory, amongst scholars of Oriental philosophy, that the famous Lao Tzu did not actually exist. They conclude that the Tao Te Ching is an amalgamation of various thoughts from different periods of history. Lao Tzu, as an individual, may, or may not, have collated them together, but, the truth of what actually happened, is secreted by the mists of passing time, while shrouded in the misunderstandings of different cultures. Whether, or not, Lao Tzu actually stated the words, ‘A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.’ The phrase has become known to all. Everyone, no matter what their ethnicity, or background, recognises the wisdom of the phrase. Some even devote their entire life to meditating on the simple, but profound, concepts within. One of which is, why is it history, and not her story?
It takes a special kind of person, of either gender, to realise the road of a thousand miles does not begin with a single step. It actually starts with finding your shoes, or, if you are older, screaming, and shouting, because the car keys are missing. Then spending the rest of the trip contemplating why they were in the refrigerator? His story would be to blame the children, and not wonder why they had suddenly become relatively affluent. Her story concerned knowing exactly which shoes to wear, while being able to get ready without being rushed. Her last step being to enquire, ‘Have you looked in the fridge?’ While kissing a tissue.
Lao Tzu would, heartily, approve of Colin’s first step. It was made after polishing his shoes to a gleam obsidian would envy. He had also opened the door of his apartment, in London, which is always a sensible precaution. He had trotted down the stair treads, while striding, swiftly, to the stop, because a bus, to Paddington Station was already there. A London bus waiting is a bit like a tiger collecting lunch from its keeper. There it was, gone. After buying his train ticket, which meant walking to the machine, and standing, while it was printed. Colin ambled down the platform, then boarded the train to Penzance. He had chosen Cornwall for his first, adult, holiday simply because of happy, childhood, times. While Berkshire blurred into Wiltshire, which then greened into Devon, Colin reminisced. He was the young explorer wandering down trails through the Cornish countryside; along sun dappled lanes, bounded by moss covered, stone walls. He used to call it, ‘Walking with dragons.’
Lulled by the clackety click of the train, Colin meandered down his thoughts, occasionally pausing to feed memory sparrows crumbs from his packed lunch. A particular sparrow being his mother’s insistence train wheels actually go clickety clack. On long journeys they had played a tongue-twister game between them. The train, being slightly late, and grumpy, cluckety clocked on, relentlessly. Arriving at Penzance, and, as trains do, stopped with a bump. That particular bump, the harmless one, was a few days ago. The jolt Colin felt now seemed entirely different, and, until its status was decided, left Colin slightly befuddled. So, with nothing better to do, he decided to feed a few more cerebral songbirds.
"Now, my Colin, is, most definitely, a morning person. That's something else he gets from me." The congealing memory forced Colin's eyes open, and reactivated his dozing mind. It was always Colin's first thought on waking. His second was another acquired habit too. Colin hoped that was the only trait his mother had passed on. He smiled, in relief, after twenty-two years of life, nothing else, apart from a shoe polish fetish, had shown through, so far.
Colin was her only child. A fact known by most of the civilised, and some of the uncivilised world, although they were not all on his mum's correspondence lists. Whatever Colin had done, people always heard of it. Usually at great length. There is a tribe of semi - retired cannibals, in the Amazonian rain forest, who are well acquainted with Colin. Things came to a head, figuratively, then literally, when Colin's mother wrote to her missionary friend, Hilda. The final straw concerned Colin's graduation ceremony. Hilda used to read the letters, aloud, to the tribe, for their English language practice.
At page seventeen, a collective muttering, amongst the tribe's elders, led to a decision being made. By page eighteen, Hilda, and his mum's letter, lay in the dust, both were bloodstained. It took a while, being a little out of practice, but, they managed to shrink Hilda's head down to the size of a grapefruit.
Amazonian tribes are usually wary of strangers, these, however, are relatively easy to meet. Take a canoe from Lima, then first channel left, second tributary, on the right. Stop at the mission, to take a bearing, between the right arm of the cross and the conical hill. Follow this line, while staggering, carefully, around the anacondas, but through the swamp. Turn right at the first set of crossed spears, then go straight ahead at the second. After three more days hard hacking, and slashing, you should come to a tall mahogany tree. It is easily recognised as there is a tapir skin impaled on the trunk. Once you get there, just start shouting "Colin," at the top of your voice, they will find you.
Colin knew exactly how Hilda felt. His head hurt too. Colin lied through his front teeth, to himself, which is difficult, for anyone, at the best of times. In Colin's present state, it was nigh on impossible. "I must be starting with the Flu," he pondered. Truth, so many people say, will out. It did, a short while later. Colin admitted he had a hangover, the guilt of enjoyment always brought memories of mum. Both thoughts grew dark, feathered, wings and roosted in Colin's mind, but they lessened the headache. "I am safe, safety though is a strange word. A lion's tooth is safe inside a lion's mouth, a person's head is not. It must be the cider." Colin thought, "there isn't a lion anywhere around here, and Mum is miles away." Funny though, she usually found out, often by grinding Colin down until he blurted everything out.
Colin had persuaded himself it must have been a good session in the Lighthouse last night, he could blame Farmer Tollie's, Vintage, Wurzel Crop End, Celebratory, Welcome The Harvest Home, Special Traditional Cider. As soon as he had seen the tiny writing on the label of the barrel, Colin reasoned, the locals were trying to keep it to themselves. It was the best cider he had ever tasted, and the pub landlord had, eventually, let Colin drink his fill.
"Arr Zir, we have to be careful who we sellz this too. You zee not all the vizitorz haz the palate like you have. We should, by rightz, only let you drink harfz, but you can have pintz tonight, if you wishez."
Colin wished he hadn't quite so much. He had planned to make it back to his tent. Instead he lay, face down, on the close cropped grass. The chilling dew soaked invasively through his shirt, like his mother asking him if he wanted a fried, or poached egg for breakfast.
Thoughts of mum were actually good for some things, Colin began to slowly sober up. For an insane moment he puzzled if it were possible to make them in tablet form, as the ultimate panacea. Reality, though, was Colin's forte, so he returned from day - dreaming. Although his stomach was cold and wet, Colin's back was still warm and dry, he could always turn over. So, rather than wonder if his legs would hold him, just yet, and being comfortable where he was, Colin slid his hands under his chin. He was at peace. Mum was definitely miles away. She had no contacts, within the CIA, training a spy satellite on Colin. That thought was simple, youthful, paranoia. Colin was, at last, happy with his world. It was a nice place, all things considered, then he looked down the slope.
Pen Y Matante was gone. To be precise, exactly where his mother was not, neither was Pen Y Matante.
Either Colin was suffering from the after effects of a tidal wave, which, apparently, feel exactly like a hang over, or something peculiar was going on. There should have been the streets, and houses, of a small, Cornish, fishing village in front of his eyes. "Be rational Colin, you got lost on the way back, and crashed out in a field." He felt a little better for thinking it through. Self-congratulation kept his mind ticking over. Colin looked at his watch; it was missing. Proof positive that he had endured the ravages of a tempest. No, there was something weird going on. Pen Y Matante faced due west. Colin saw the red, glowing, sun slowly sink into the sea. It was not dawn, but dusk. The fading light was still strong enough to reveal the cliffs, they looked as they always had. The estuary, was totally different.
The Lighthouse pub lay on a hill, overlooking the town. Every day, since his arrival, Colin had sat in the beer garden watching the toing and froing of the boats in the harbour. A broad expanse of sand was all Colin saw now, but the topography of the surrounding land seemed as it should. "Unless," Colin mused, "the tidal wave was caused by an earthquake." Which explained everything, the lost watch, the strange shoreline, Colin's dishevelled state, and, most evidential of all, why the dew, on his face, did not taste salty.
"On the other hand it might just be Farmer Tollie's, Vintage, Wurzel Crop End, Celebratory, Welcome The Harvest Home, Special Traditional Cider." Colin strained to remember if anything else had happened, then, when that became too much like hard work, Colin decided he must have thought it all through. He had simply survived an earthquake, and was content with the explanation.
Thoughts are strange things. In the wrong heads they can even be quite dangerous, but, without them, everyone is like a jelly fish after being processed in a liquidiser. Colin was an educated human being, now he might as well have grown tentacles and searched around for tiny fish to sting. Someone, somewhere, then seemed to push a little, red, button.
ZZZZUUUUDDDD! Everything whirled around. Queasily, Colin tried to make some sense of it all. He was at a stage where his thoughts all became worries, and felt like silk wrapped bricks. His troubled mind only made the padding, around them, a little thinner. Then Colin's worries were delivered wholesale. An order, large enough to build a Cathedral, arrived, just behind his eyes. They were unwrapped, and dropped into his head as though tipped from a dumper truck. ZZZZUUUUDDDD. They were not bricks, worries or thoughts, only memories. Real bricks, or the physical presence of mum would have been more gentle in their effect on Colin.
He reluctantly turned his head a little, and saw the pair of black boots, one of which slowly rose and fell. ZZZZUUUUUDDDD. He had seen the boots before. Both of them had been plonked under his nose, when the stranger had sat down in the Lighthouse, then set his feet on the table. ZZZZUUUUDDDD.
ZZZZUUUUDDDD, he had just started his drink when the man asked him to step outside for a moment. ZZZZUUUUDDDD. Colin's headache was easing, only his forehead hurt. That was, he now recalled, because of the impact on the grass, after he had finished twirling through empty space. ZZZZUUUUDDDD. Colin recalled the myriad flashing lights around him, and the dizziness from turning head over heels. ZZZZUUUUDDDD, the sound went with both the end of the fall, and the way Colin's breath had been forced from his body.
ZZZZUUUUDDDD, Colin began to wonder, a lot. He recalled his last words in the car park of the Lighthouse. It was more of a shout against the ranting of the stranger. "Don't be stupid," Colin yelled. Worry became panic, and then escalated into cold horror. Colin heard his last words echoing around his head. "there's no such thing as a Wiz--ZZZZUUUUDDDD is there?"
Paralysed, with fear, Colin managed to raise his head, a little, to take a close look at the stranger. He was around 6 feet tall, thin, and gangly, with a large hooked nose. He wore a pair of metal framed spectacles, with semi circular lenses. A long black trenchcoat reached almost to the ground. On his head was a tweed deerstalker, the flaps hung loosely either side of his head. Colin had thought the man a little overdressed for a warm, June, night.
"Would you like a sweetie Laddie? Did your mother never tell you not ta talk ta strangers Laddie?" His voice was deep and booming. A thick Scots accent roared into the dusk. "Did nae you never wonder why? You slickly, slithery, wee, non entity. For if you had a deed, an ye had noo takked tae me then you would nae be doomed. And did you listen to her? No, you did no, and look at you noo. Doomed as a dodo to your doom."
Fear is a powerful emotion to overcome. Many people choose to confront their phobia, and, eventually, learn to live with it. Colin had graduated with a degree in sociology, and spent three months working with the addicts, at a clinic in Edinburgh. He, admittedly, knew very little about the present situation, but knew a lot about the differences between a real, and utterly faked, Scot's accent. Colin also recognised when a minority was being oppressed.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, although the really clever ones have long before headed off in a different, and safer, direction. Colin was furious. His entire being cried out for vengeance over this unforgivable political incorrectness. The oppressed, and misunderstood, the disenfranchised, and wronged, screamed out to Colin, their deliverer. Colin's fear was driven back, and foolhardy valour rushed in to fill the vacuum. Regardless of the consequences, Colin lashed out at his tormentor, "Excuse me, sir; I really must protest at--" It was hardly Sir Lancelot riding in, to snatch the princess from a Warlock's groping hands, but Colin really had done his best.
"Aye noo the nae. You must always say something. For, if you stop your chatter, then your brain manages to turn over a cog, or three, and you would actually do something. You would not want that the noo knocky nim num nae to happen would you? Nae noo the nae."
The stranger peered at Colin, took a very deep breath, and spoke quietly, in impeccable English. "No, I am not. I am in perfect control of all my faculties." He wobbled a little, staggered two steps backward, then returned to shouting. "Aye, never talk to strangers Laddie. Your mother knows best. Noo the nae, and plenty o' the naes. Here, have a sweetie."
With what seemed a single movement of his arms the man ripped off his trenchcoat and hat. Underneath was a brilliant white gown, tied off at the waist with a heavy, gold, chain. Long, grey, wisps of hair covered his face. "You say there are no wizzads. Hah! What do you know. What do you know of anything at all Eh? Shall I tell you what I did with the toon? Shall I blast your wee mind wi' - with the truth of me mighty powers. Look where it were, and noo is no more the nae." His voice grew into a dread crescendo. "Aye, the noo noony noo. I dooded it me self, wi' a wee snap of me little finger, me Laddie. Look, this little piggy here, y' see. Aye, even Goat Skinner Campbell trembled when me name was whispered into his waxy ear, and so should you. You still think there are no wizzads now?"
The man stopped ranting, to peer closely at his watch. Colin saw the gleam of gold around the stranger's wrist, this reassured him that, although, obviously, insane, Mr. Boots was not a thief, as Colin’s watch had a black band. "Aye y' know nothing. Nor, nae the noo, will you ever. Aye, eeeeeeeeeeee and a noo. With just another snap the seeeeeeeeeeas retreat, and the toon returns. An you, me Laddie, will be none the noo the wiser, for I will disappear with my secrets. Right now." ZZZZUUUUDDDD.
The man's head broke the fall of a Harrods's bag, which appeared from thin air. Colin thought about running away, but the man lay on the ground emitting a low moan. Education quickly overcame common sense; he had only hurt Colin's pride, and might need some help. Colin bent down, to take a closer look. "Out the Way. No, the other way. To y' left, y' blatherin' idiot."
Startled, Colin moved as he was told, then glanced backward. Another, younger, man, crouched by his side. "That was a close one, are y' all right?" He asked Colin.
"No, I'm going. If he is a friend of yours then you can look after him, but I'd recommend a hospital." Colin took a few steps down the gentle slope, toward where Pen Y Matante should have been.
"He's out cold. I should have known; it's the twenty second today. Look I do not know what y' man said to y'. I can tell y' this though, at the moment, I am the only friend y' have. At least you're not royalty"
"What are you talking about, does anyone here speak in anything but riddles?"
"Oh plenty, to be sure. Only as soon as y' replied to them y'd be dead."
Another low moan came from the semi-conscious man, this time he managed a few words. "Romer, what time is it?"
"Nine thirty five, and twenty. Frank, what have y' done?"
There was no trace of an accent in his voice, although the words were slurred.
"I'm late then. Aw...shhh-tick in some swear words for me, I can't be bothered. Anyway, we are late. Well Romer, me old mate, it looks like I've. We’ve, blown it good and proper this time. What was in that bag?"
"A turkey, for tomorrow. I thought we would have an early Christmas. Seeing as they will not be invented for a while."
Frank was slowly coming to, and managed to sit up, "I didn't think you would get a turkey in Harrods now."
"No, I couldn't, so I went to Sainsbury's instead. If y' think I am going to take a cheap carrier onto the Penzance express, two buses, a taxi, and walk into the Lighthouse with it, then, y' really are canned. 'Tis frozen, but Mave will not notice."
Colin interrupted them both. "Will someone please inform me what is going on, or, at least, tell me how to get back to the Clifftop's camp site.
Frank lifted a hand to his head and rubbed the scalp. "I'm not bleeding, just in case anyone cared, or even wondered." He peered at Colin. "You've got a lot to learn, a very short time to learn it in, and I don’t have a teaching certificate. Right, Romer, Who's idea was it to ask Mave to dinner?"
"The same person who, apparently, goes around, invitin' all, and sundry, to a little time travel." Romer replied
Frank asked, "Now, who would be dumb enough to pull a stunt like that? If I ever find out, they will be in for a really good kicking."
Romer smirked and said "'Tis no need of that Frank, for a turkey has already done the job."
"Help me up you two. We had better get to the bungalow before we are seen. Colin, meet Romer, Romer, Colin. Colin, the turkey, he is with Romer. The turkey that is, not Colin. Frank, Colin, Colin, Frank. Romer, Frank, the turkey. Oh, we've already met."
"He's drunk, Romer."
"He is that Colin, and, pretty soon, y'll wish you were too."
"Who's getting drunk?" Giggled Frank "Are we going to a party? I like parties. Wheeeeeeeee."
"What a way to spend my birthday." Colin muttered, and grabbed hold of Frank's left arm.
Frank swayed from side to side, then burst into song. While not melodious it emerged in his loudest voice. "Nappy burpday to you. Slimy sausages make glue. Put a dummy in your tummy. Nappy burpday to you. Where's me present?"
Romer sighed, "Frank, have y' ever thought of tryin' evolution? Apparently it can do wonders for y' IQ."
Frank laughed inanely, then giggled, "Romer, it is vastly over rated, and, in some cases, works backwards. For example, Mac Linn." He struggled free of their grip and added, "See, s'easy, any fool can walk backwards." After falling flat on his back, Frank gazed up at the darkening sky. "AAAARRRRRGHH! I'm as dumb as Mac Linn; me brain's too small to move me leggies. I've forgotten the words.
"An' what words would they be Frank?" Romer asked
"I don't know, I've forgotten them haven't I? If I knew what they were I would not have to remember them would I? Hang on they are coming back to me. Left forward, right backward, right forward, left backward. Hey up Romer, me old mate, one of those clouds looks just like your mother."
Colin interjected, "He is getting delirious, and really needs professional help. We should think about a hospital. Perhaps he has abused other things, as well as alcohol. I'll stay here with him, and you go for help. I am a qualified first aider."
"Y' right Colin," Romer smirked. "I guess we should quieten him down a little, but have all the help we need." Then hit Frank, as hard as he could, with the turkey, knocking him unconscious. Colin tried to protest, but Romer silenced him with a grin. "It really was for his own good." Colin said little else, it's hard to talk when you are carrying half a body by the legs. Harder still if you are trying to keep a frozen turkey balanced on that body's chest.
After struggling on for twenty minutes, Romer let go of Frank's arms. Frank groaned, "Ooh. My Head hurts." Grabbed hold of the bag, then curled himself into a tight ball. Frank used the turkey as a cushion, and mumbled, "that's better."
Romer said, "Look, the poor things got a bird brain transplant, I wonder if it 'll be rejected."
"By which one?" Asked Colin.
"Y' know Colin, I'm not too sure of that. They can keep each other company for a moment. C'mon I need some help." Colin was beginning to feel reassured by Romer's friendly manner. They were both around the same age. Colin hoped a few explanations would be forthcoming though, and wondered if they would get a chance to talk when they were alone.
Romer crouched down just below the crest of the hill, then signalled to Colin to join him. "Mac Linn does not like me, and Frank, bein' out at night. Somethin' to do with the last head druid's daughter, an' a game of cards. Look down there, y' can see the guard watchin' the entrance."
What he saw made Colin gasp. The moon was just rising, and, with its dim light, Colin could see the intricate, blue tattoos on the guard's body. He was lithe and muscular. The spear, he held, was eight feet in length, while a short sword hung from a belt. The warrior wore only a loincloth. "Colin, there's the path, that's where y' would have come from if y' had left. Y' would have walked straight into him an' his toothpick. Y' would have been out of it then, as y' would be dead. Frank, and me, would have the real trouble though, thinkin' up some more lies to tell Mac Linn. Not that it would be a problem at all. He's high up in the clan for sure, and can call on a warrior or two, otherwise he's as thick as a pancake."
"But, but, they are thin and flat."
"Yeah, then y' roll 'em up to eat 'em don't y'. After that y' put on sugar and lemon."
Colin flustered, trying to find an answer, "Yes, I suppose so, but."
"They are brown, an' crispy, on the outside. Soft and squishy on the inside, while cows leave 'em everywhere."
"That's not a pancake, you don't eat them."
"No, and y' wouldn't eat Mac Linn's brains either. Though about as appetisin', the portion would be really small," Romer grinned. "So, as I said. Crafty, but thick as a pancake. Anyway, Frank saw this comin', an' we made a few adjustments to our hut. Y' will need to hold the lighter, while I fiddle with the lock."
Romer kept his hand on the small of Colin's back while they wriggled the short distance down the hill. The hut was round, with a thatched roof. It's floor was raised up on stilts, the gap beneath plainly visible from the path, twenty yards away. "Mac Linn's idea, so we couldn't hide anythin' underneath. See what I mean about thick? We just tunnelled into the hillside." Romer moved a bundle of thatch from the low roof, revealing a door set into the ground. A peg, through a loop of frayed twine, held it tightly shut.
"Now this is the tricky bit, the lock is behind the peg. It looks like it should just lift out, but, unless the lock opens, everythin' is held together. If anyone thought to cut the cord it would take them years, it's really stainless steel cable. All the blades here are bronze, so Frank's secrets are safe. If this were found, then, I'm sure whoever did it, would run off to Mac Linn, talkin' of witchcraft. He would pace up and down screamin' for our heads on a platter. Backward and forward, moanin' and groanin'. Then Mave would tell y' man to sit down, an' shut up, makin' everything rosy again. Do not listen to all that Frank says about Mave, she's not so bad. Hold your hands round the light, that's it. I know it's awkward, but I need to see the numbers. We had another lock, but Frank kept losin' the key. That's got it. Make yourself at home. I'll go back for the birdbrains, before they start on some pancakes."
When someone says, 'Make yourself at home.' What do they really mean? Is it an invitation to head straight for their fridge? Or, instead, throw newspapers around and give their place that lived in look? The decision can be a hard one to make, but is a lot easier if you can see where home is, what it contains, while knowing how the hell you arrived there makes a big difference too. After banging his shins, twice, Colin decided the safest thing to do was stand by the half open door. Romer soon reappeared, dragging Frank behind him. Frank kept repeating "I'm a very naughty boy, a very, very, naughty boy."
Romer left Frank propped up by the door while he closed it, Frank slowly sank down to the floor, "I'm a very naughty boy, a very, very naughty boy." Romer flicked a switch, and Colin's mind reeled. About twenty-five feet over his head, a huge, crystal chandelier blossomed into life, flooding the place with light. The room, was as square, and as large, as four tennis courts. Colin was pretty certain the ornate marble fireplace was French. Mum always made sure Colin's name was top of the list for any educational trips from school. He was a little unsure of his Louis, and unable to give a more accurate date than quite old, verging toward phenomenally expensive.
Colin's mind should have jumped up, and, down in his skull screaming, but, instead, decided to become a mushroom. Sending out this last thought before settling down to vegetate, "That's it; I give up. Normal service might be resumed after I've had a nice nap." Spears make useless shovels, which was as far as Colin’s mind had gone with making sense of things. This was because the cavern walls were solid granite. Somehow, his new friends had excavated this entire complex without any access to modern technology. The walls sparkled with quartz crystals, yet, if touched, felt eggshell smooth. Doors were set into each of the four vertical sides of the cube. Colin thought, "Not much." He struggled to get his brain functional again. Mushrooms, though, take a lot of raising to self awareness. Some Tibetan monks once claimed to have perfected the art. When the team, from New Scientist magazine, arrived, to interview them. They were unable to find the monastery through the low clouds.
A non fungal thinker would have reasoned more along the lines of. "If each of those doors leads to another room, with the same perfect cube design as this, then... And Romer said it was a tunnel in the hillside. That is like saying the earth is a lump of rock in space, essentially true, although a little understated." Colin's brain decided to do what no mushroom has done before, and had its nap, as promised. Colin needed to sit down, and staggered over to one of the five, red leather, Chesterfield sofas arranged around the fireplace.
"If y' are cold, Colin." Romer said, "just give me a minute and I'll throw some more wood on. I'm goin' to pluck this parrot's feathers first."
Frank still burbled, "I'm a naughty boy, a very, very naughty boy."
"Yeah, y' are y' old git. Romer had bent down to Franks ear and bellowed into it. "The worst part is that y' won't even regret it in the mornin'." After drawing in another breath, Romer shouted, as loud as he could, "are y' listenin' to me!"
"Yes Romer," Frank beamed, and slurred his reply, "but speak up. I've gone deaf in one ear. It always happens when I'm a naughty boy, a very, very naughty boy."
Romer walked past Colin, and went through a double door, returning, a few moments later, with a glass of water. "Here y' are Frank. Only this time I hope y' fart, that might wake y' up a bit."
Frank swallowed down the pill Romer offered. Colin felt a little safer, he had worked with addicts before, and began to mentally categorise them both. Frank stared at his toes, for a minute, or so. Then sprang to his feet, swallowing air, noisily. "Who got Mac Linn's short straw tonight Romer?"
"'Tis the farrier's boy Frank."
"That's all right then. He'll be used to a few sparks."
Romer grabbed Colin's arm, "C'mon, y' don't want to miss this, s'brilliant. In more ways than one."
Outside, Frank was fumbling with a lock, hidden in the thatch of the hut. Romer pushed him out of the way and quickly did the job. Frank mumbled something about sixes and nines both looking the same, then walked into the hut. Opposite them was another door. Only this one was plain to see, and, compared to the others, primitive in design. Frank had his hand on it and said, "Oh, I forgot something. I need to go back."
Romer handed Frank a jar of vaseline, "There y' go Frank, give it some."
After Frank had liberally smeared the gel over his lips, he whispered, "Colin, stand behind Romer. You'll still see, but it will stop any awkward questions." Frank massaged his stomach for a few moments. "I tell you what Romer, this is going to be a good one."
"Y' just make sure it comes out the right end Frank, that's all that scares me. Have y' got a lighter."
"Of course, how dumb do you think I am?"
Frank opened the door then took a few steps toward the guard. The spear was held out in readiness. Colin saw the warrior's eyes flash in the moonlight as he called to Frank "You both heard Mac Linn's orders, and you know mine, take another step and you will die where you stand."
"Are you listening?" Frank shouted, "Take this message to Mac Linn. Tell him his spears do no harm when they are reduced to ashes." Frank belched louder than a thirsty buffalo trapped inside a pop factory. He raised the lighter, hidden in his palm, and flicked it against his lips. A huge blue fireball glowed in the night. Colin could see clearly for a moment with its light. He saw the huts gathered around the mass of black rock and the stockaded fort on its top. The sight did not frighten him, he had visited it yesterday. Then, it had been home to a colony of seals, instead of a Bronze Age warrior. It had also been a mile out to sea, not a few hundred yards away across dry land.
Colin watched the colour drain from the guard's face, but he defiantly stood his ground. "I will tell Mac Linn, what you said, in the morning. I tell you this now. Take another step and you die."
Frank had told Colin to stay out of the way, behind Romer, this became difficult as Romer collapsed to the floor through laughing. Tears streamed down his face while Frank closed the door. The guard had belched too, challenging Frank to repeat his performance.
“Frank, that would’ve made the blackest dragon, green, with envy.” Romer giggled.
“Don’t be stupid, Romer.” Snorted Frank, “there’s no such thing. Trust me, I’m a scientist.”
In the distance a blood curdling howl rent the night apart. "Wolves! There are wolves here?" Colin gasped.
"Well, no. Well, yes, and no." Frank grinned, "but, Romer is supposed to be the story teller. that's his job. Come on you two, I want a drink." Romer and Colin followed Frank back into the cave.
Romer sat beside Colin, and handed him a full tumbler of Bushmill's whiskey. "At times like this y' need a drop of the Irish inside y'. It helps make some sense of his blarney."
"How the hell did you do that?" Colin asked Frank. "It's impossible, if I had seen you put petrol in your mouth, and spray it out, then I could probably understand, but--."
"Simple biology, though it looks like magic doesn't it? It is a hangover cure. Basically, a metabolic enhancer. It allows the lungs to expel a greater concentration, of alcohol, in a shorter time, the permeability of lung tissue increases by a factor of between fifteen, and twenty two degrees of magnitude depending on the individual. I found that, with practice, I could use the results as my little party piece."
"But, but, you could make a fortune from that if -;" stammered Colin.
"I did," replied Frank, smugly. "That was the basis of the advertising. After a few tipples, I'd blow one off to a voice over, saying, 'You need never feel like death warmed up again. Flames beat back even the demon drink.' I thought the slogan up myself. The States banned it, due to their fire precautions. Too many wooden houses. Japanese executives were the main market, I made a fair amount in Britain too. Even with all the rules and regulations. It funded the research into my main interest anyway."
"Then, it is true; you are both time travellers."
"No." Romer interrupted, "Frank is, I am from now. So, while I do jump, more than y' man does actually. I'm not really a traveller."
"If you put it like that, then neither am I. I mean I am quite happy here." Frank replied.
"Yes, and y' know why that is don't y' Colin?" Colin shrugged his shoulders while Romer continued, "he can indulge in his favourite hobby of doin' folk's heads in, and anyway, if he went back, they will only lock him up."
"Is that because of interfering with the past?" Asked Colin
"More like an overdue electricity bill," Romer laughed.
"Frank, why did you choose to bring me back in time, I, I am nothing special."
"Colin, that's exactly why he did it. Every so often he goes off, and decides to annoy someone. Either appearin' out of thin air for a split second, or playin' some other stupid stunt. What was it this time Frank?"
Frank muttered inaudibly. "That's the closest y' will get to an apology from him, so what was it Colin."
"I'm not sure, he was raving about wizards in a Scots accent-."
"Bloody hell Frank, how many times do I have to tell y'. They're not from someone's autobiography. They're not real. Tell y' what, Colin, go and look in the closet to get a good idea about Frankie boy. While y' are there, hang up his latest costume."
Carrying Frank's greatcoat gave Colin the chance to see the velcro strips fastening it together. He opened the door Romer pointed to, and gasped. Inside was a tailor's Aladdin's cave. A Roman Centurion's uniform hung next to Admiral Nelson's tricorn hat, and eye patch. Colin wondered if Frank had ever used the Papal gown, although it would explain a few things if he had. Frank's embarrassed expression changed rapidly, he was looking at the same gaudy satin clothing as Colin.
Colin whirled round to face Romer and said, "You're no better, you little weasel, I thought I recognised your face, you were in that picture, what was it? That's it The Blue Boy."
Frank rolled off his chair laughing, while Romer's face reddened. "Y' know Colin, I wish I'd thrown that suit years ago, I never liked the colour. I'll tell y' both something else too. We should have gone for a royalties option with that job."
"It's alright Romer, I'd worked that one out, for when we get you on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. At least we can be sure that the church will keep a copy of the contract."
"Frank, only y' would be that stupid. Y' will turn up, looking like y' always do, every fifty years or so. Then ask a bunch of witch burnin' Cardinals to get their hands in their gowns, and pull out the readies they owe y'. Y' are on your own there."
"Don't worry Romer, it's sorted."
Colin glared at them both, "Have either of you any sense of decency, or any shame. How much history have you ruined between you?"
"None at all, apart from one unfortunate accident. Oh, and I saved mankind. If we are in the right place at the right time, then just seize an opportunity where's the harm?" asked Frank.
"Where's the, where's the, well. I suppose if that's all you do, then not much. What do you mean you saved mankind?"
Frank sniggered a little, "How much do you know of advanced physics Colin?"
Romer leaned over and topped up Colin's glass, "Y' will be needin' this now, it really does take away the taste of the blarney."
"In 2117 I finally proved Einstein to be a complete wazzock. For nigh on two hundred years science had laboured under the impression that time travel was utterly impossible. It took a true visionary genius, me, to see the truth. Romer what are you smirking about now?"
"Nothin', I was only thinkin' that the difference between geniushood, and wazzockdom, is just a little time, that's all. Sorry Frank."
"Colin, even you must have heard of the experiment, from just before your time. Where they flew clocks around the world, finding they had slowed when compared to a stationary one. From which, everyone, wrongly assumed, that, the faster you travel, then the slower time runs. According to this theory, which, admittedly, Albert, the relatively stupid, had predicted. Time travel only becomes possible at speeds approaching, or exceeding the speed of light. The effect being increased the faster you travel.
"The scientific world applauded, then carried on researching along the same lines. No one thought to look at the obvious. It isn't simply a question of how fast, but also how slow."
"Can I go home now?" Asked Colin.
Frank ignored him, "Eventually, where was I? Oh yeah. I discovered that time moves through the universe at a constant universal rate, like light. That was proved by the clocks, the experiment worked like a charm, but everyone jumped to the wrong conclusion. I saw the true relationship, that because the clocks were moving, time, travelling at its constant rate, struggled to keep up, only minutely, but measurably.
"A stationary clock keeps as perfect a time as its mechanism allows. Obviously, because time is flowing around it at a normal rate. While for a moving clock time passes more slowly. It was like a bombshell hitting when I saw the possibilities. If I could discover a way of making a mass move, but keep it perfectly still, then time would pass around it more quickly, and, the faster I kept it standing still, the quicker would be the rate of time flux around it."
Colin took a long drink of whiskey, "Well, yes, I think I see where you are coming from. How the heck can you make something stand still if it's moving though?"
"I know, that was the hardest part. The theory came to me while I was stuck in traffic. On the M6, just outside Preston. I realised that motion depends on kinetic energy, the more energy the mass has, then, the greater becomes that mass. Einstein got that part absolutely right."
"When are y' goin' to tell him about the dinosaurs Frank?"
"Romer, if you are that bored, why not make yourself something to eat, as in go, and get stuffed. That was the major problem I had to overcome, how to introduce kinetic energy into a permanently stationary mass.
"I really started the struggle then. Sometimes I thought I was stretching materials engineering to its limits. I constantly rechecked my maths, and the answer came to me in a moment of true inspiration. By applying contra rotating kinetic energy fields, within a contained, non vectored system. I could instil an indirect resonance within the fixed mass. I had finally cracked it." Frank beckoned at Colin to follow him toward a small curtain covering a patch of wall, "Behold, my time machine."
Frank threw back the curtain with a triumphant flourish. Colin stared wide -
eyed at the apparatus and said, "So, it's a food mixer."
"No. Colin, that is a time machine."
"But, it has Phillips written all over it."
Frank, a little annoyed by Colin's lack of awe at his invention, snapped, "It is not Phillip's, it is mine. Besides, how many food mixers have a rigidly fixed mass at the centre absolutely perpendicular to the rotational kinetic energy source. Go on, tell me that, go on. You can't can you?"
"Do you mean that big ball bearing, glued into the egg cup, under the
beaters?" Colin sighed
Curtains do not usually slam shut, these did. "That was just the prototype. I knew I was on the right lines though. Every time I switched the time machine on, nothing happened."
Whiskey sprayed from Colin's mouth as he guffawed, "Yes, I can see that as being totally conclusive evidence."
Frank's face lit up with admiration, "You understand then? I never thought to meet a mind equal to my own. It is so obvious when you think about it."
"Err, umm, Frank you discovered it, I am fascinated to know how you found out, I will not spoil your story."
Frank gave Colin a sideways glance, "I thought you had seen the effect yourself, I noted it one day, when I was making a few adjustments. I got my sleeve caught in the rotational kinetic energy fields. Then I knew."
"What, it was knocked into you?" asked Colin
"You have not got a clue have you? No, you numbskull, my watch disappeared."
Colin shook his empty tumbler under Romer's nose, "Go on, Romer, top me up. Frank, I am not a physicist, but I would not be surprised if a rotating food mixer chewed a watch to bits."
"If that had been the observed effect, then, neither would I." Sighed Frank. "Only as soon as the watch entered the time field generator, it disappeared. I haven't a clue where to. All I saw was a big blue flash, and, there it was, gone.
"My watch was missing when I got here." Colin said
Frank was doing a little dance in excitement, "Now you know why, electricity will not travel through time, not even if it is stored in a battery. That's why I always wear a Rolex self winder now."
"Run with the mob Frank," Romer interrupted, and flashed his Breitling, Colt chronometer under Colin's nose.
"Yes, and tell Colin about the first time you went shopping. Go on, if I have to mention the dinosaurs then why should you be as white as a detergent advert?"
"'Tis true. Old Frank here, had explained a few things, like he is now. I'd already made up my mind about jumpin', an', after lookin' round, picked a watch. Now, like a fool, I let me imagination run away with me. I had decided on a Breitlin', an' went for an Emergency, with the inbuilt radio homin' beacon. The only trouble is that y' beacon is electrical."
Frank butted in, "Romer, for a wandering minstrel, and story teller, you have either a piss poor, or very convenient, memory."
"Go on, rub it in. Mr what, me make mistakes? Who Moi? I fancied wearin' somethin' that the Gripen pilots wore. The Griffin is a revered, sacred, symbol, of me tribe back home, so -."
" What's a Gripen?" Asked Colin.
"Tis a fighter, flown by the Swedish Air Force."
"I didn't know Sweden had an Air Force."
Frank chortled, "Not many people do, seeing as most of the pilots spend all their time looking for Romer's lost, bleeping, watch."
"Aaah, 'tis not lost, it just don't know where it is. Now, make sure he tells y' about the dinosaurs Colin."
Colin glanced quizzically at Frank who said, "I am getting there, bear with me. Electricity will not pass through time. As soon as I achieved stillillity, within the fixed mass, and it began to time travel, the effect stopped, because of the absence of power to the mixer. I mean energy transference sub-assembly. Once I'd realised I needed a self contained, electrical, non battery powered, energy source, I could make some real progress. Look at Mark two, and be amazed."
Colin, was so amazed, he leaned on Romer for support. "Frank, it's a food mixer, sellotaped to the back of an exercise bike."
Frank's brow began to look a little sweaty. "You are not so clever, you missed the dynamo on the front wheel. Anyway, this one worked, and I was able to travel, back, and forward, to any time I chose. People could laugh at me as much as they wanted now. I had proved them wrong."
Colin allowed Frank a moment of reverent silence before saying, "So, all I have to do is, jump onto this, pedal like I am in the lead of the Tour De France, and I will be back in my own time?"
"Yes Colin, in theory."
"What the hell do you mean, in theory Frank? How did you get me here, and how am I going to get back, if it isn't on that?"
"It does not work any more, somebody changed the rules."
"Here y' go Colin have another, Romer topped up Colin's glass. "We're nearly at the dinosaurs. Come on Frank, y' old fossil, let's hear it."
Frank shook his head slowly, "I should have stopped thinking there and then. My brain should have been extracted and pickled for posterity."
"See Colin, the difference between y' wazzocks, and your geniuseseses, is just a little time. I wonder how long it would have been, before y' man noticed he was brainless?"
Frank ignored Romer. Frank had a gleam in his eyes suggesting green fields and happy children playing. Now they were gone, leaving only bitter-sweet, and fading, memories. "I could move forward, and back, as far, and as fast, as I wanted. So long as I always remained in the same place. I realised that the super mass, dragging time around it, could also affect motion. If the system were altered slightly. To my shame I built the Mark three. It's in there; I can't bear to look."
Colin observed Frank's nod of permission, and opened the curtains himself. "Oh wonderful, it's an exercise bike, with a bigger food mixer on the back. Only now, you have it bolted to a board, with castors on the bottom."
"Yes Colin, castors. Forward, and backward, motion. I was free to wander, whenever, and wherever, I chose. I picked the Cretaceous period first. I suppose, really, I am just a big kid, and had a child's fascination with dinosaurs."
Colin asked, "That's when they died out isn't it?"
Romer tapped Colin's shoulder and smiled, "Don't interrupt, that's rude, let y' man tell his story."
"I thought I would see the end of the dinosaurs, you know, the actual moment when the comet struck in Mexico. I made a few time travel trips, narrowing the dates down, until, one day, the earth was in turmoil. I had only to go back a few hours before that, and I would witness the catastrophe. Everything was ready, I set the machine, making sure the brakes were working. It went so smoothly. All that remained was to travel from my laboratory, in Worthing, to Mexico. That too occurred without a hitch.
"I remember it as though it really were yesterday. I was cruising along, dodging the Pterosaurs, and saw a herd of Triceratops. It was a beautiful day. It's funny, but I was thinking what a wonderful day it was, and how sad too. Those majestic creatures, so far below, had no idea what the future held for them. Anyway, up ahead, there was a clear patch to land on, I decided to head down, and take a few photos.
"I hit the brakes, hard. Bad idea, I should have thought a little more. All that mass, all that energy. Albert must be, or will be, or whatever, laughing his socks off. He was right about that too. When my forward motion stopped, the super mass reverted to its original state. The motion within, was released as other forms of energy, such as heat, light, and sound."
Romer sniggered, "Frank, would you mind explainin' that again, a bit more simply, just for me own benefit."
"Yes Romer, I came, I saw, I stopped, I exploded. It wasn't a comet crashing that caused the extinction, just my slight oversight. That was when the rules changed. Someone was not happy. I don't know who, or what. I do know they were not happy. They were, most definitely, not happy."
Frank wiped a tear from his eye. "Now you know why the machines no longer work."
"So, I am trapped here for all eternity?"
"No, I said we will get you back, and we will, no problem."
"Colin, when a blinding light appears before you, and a voice from within booms 'You again! This is the second time isn't it? Oh, sorry, I mistook you for someone else. Anyway, we are putting a stop to this sort of nonsense once and for all. Things are going to change from now on.' Would you listen? I did.”
“Frank, you said you exploded. So how come you’re not a smelly, icky, sticky mess?” Colin asked, immediately regretting his curiosity.
“By the time I actually stopped I was where Barcelona would be, but was a few seconds later. So I got the train back to Worthing, with a ticket I found in my pocket.”
After a long, intense, studious, silence. Three severe face contortions, the sort Doctors have looking at X ray images, and a sigh deeper than the Grand Canyon, Colin replied, “Oh.”
"Yes, Oh! Time travel, is easier than ever before. We write down when we want to go, and leave the note by a window. One trip, backwards, and forwards, a day. We can stay as long as we want. You would have gone straight back, if Romer had not dropped his shopping on my head. That's another rule you see, punctuality. Whoever, or whatever, I upset with the dinosaurs, has other things to do besides moving people through time. If we are a single millisecond late, the trip is off. There is a restriction on moving somewhere else, it can be done, but you have to wait for some committee's approval. The only other thing is a reference from another jumper, that keeps the numbers down I guess. Romer looks after me, I look after him, so we will both look after you."
"I need a cup of tea. Where's the kitchen in this asylum?"
"Good boy Colin, that's the spirit. Lets have a nice brew up, while Romer tells you all about Goat Skinner Campbell."
"Y' see Colin, it's all in a name."
Frank interrupted Romer, "I'm not squatting in a draughty hall listening to you droning on. Let's go into the sitting room."
Romer's and Frank's sly winks, to each other, reinforced Colin’s need to keep a firm grip on the Bushmill's bottle. They walked across the hall, to a door, which, luckily for Colin, had a chair beside it. When the door opened, Colin sat down and swigged greedily. Using the glass would have been too slow. He looked up at two smiling faces, which, unfortunately, remained in perfect focus.
After he remembered his upbringing, Colin filled the glass, then emptied it with a gulp. He coughed as the alcohol caught his throat. Colin took another glance into the gaping maw of insanity, that Frank and Romer called part of their home. Colin shook his head, refilled his glass, drank it's contents, and, afterward, felt safe in having another quick peek into the sitting room. Colin hoped his imagination would find it hard to play too many tricks in rapid succession. Everything he had glimpsed remained obstinately in view, Frank's and Romer's grins grew wider, so, after taking a deep breath, Colin steeled himself for reality.
The skeleton, of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, prowled in the room's centre, as though guarding the entrance. The engraved plate, at its base, read, 'Alas poor Ferdinand, I knew him Romer.' Underneath this, written in bright red, paint, was scrawled, 'Frank, the only man to ever blow a dinosaur.' Colin gasped, his eyes were being drawn upward in wonder, to the full size replica of a humpback whale hanging from the ceiling. He was beginning to cope with the concept, when Frank nudged him, "The one behind is a blue, after that is Moby Dick, I know the colour is scientifically wrong, but I needed a contrasting shade. Welcome to my little den. Yes, I know the dragon, at the back, is a bit ostentatious, so, if it’s easier, pretend the rest are impossible too. Oh, and they're fibreglass, if you were wondering."
Colin was almost grateful for the answer. Although Frank sounded like he was giving a well rehearsed speech. Colin wondered how many others had followed them into the cavernous room. Frank touched a switch on the wall, and the place was flooded with light. "I got them when Wembley Stadium closed, I know they're used, but still do a decent job."
"How?" Colin gasped.
"I found that if I drew a diagram of exactly where I wanted stuff, then, when it travelled back through time, it was placed there."
"I know it has travelled through space too, that's why it takes a little while. At least I am here to see the full effect."
"That's only for electricity itself, batteries won't travel, but there is no problem with machinery. We've got a generator hooked up to a geo thermal vent. It's over there. No. Sorry, its over, well it's somewhere around."
"S, S, Somewhere?" Colin shrieked.
"Yes, sorry, but we had the builders in a while ago, so, I sort of lost track of things. Why, did you want to see it right now?"
Romer's voice was almost lost in the distance. "Are you two comin' through here or not? I'm lettin' all the heat out."
"Then this isn't it, is it?" Colin sighed
"I did say 'Welcome to my little den,' didn't I? The sitting room is over there. Mind your feet around the water feature though, the tiles get slippery."
Colin negotiated the Olympic sized pool side, without any difficulty, but caught his shoe in the tennis court net, when he tried to get a good look at Moby Dick. Once he was upright again, he saw Frank silhouetted against a faint patch of light. Frank stood on one leg and began to squawk, "Thar she blows, me hearties. Thar be Moby Dick." He began to beckon wildly, like Captain Ahab had, when lashed to his nemesis. "This," thought Colin, "explained the boating lake." His mind took another short nap when Colin glimpsed the go-cart track.
A few moments later, Colin was looking out over the sea, the white topped waves headed landward toward him. The window, he gazed through, was seventy feet long, with an occasional etching of leaping dolphins engraved into it.
"Clever isn't it? We painted the vertical blinds to blend with the rock, it's more, or less, invisible from outside. I can see you are impressed." Frank chortled. "It's the only room in the cottage with natural light, that's why we spend so much time in here. Pull up a chair to the fire."
Colin remembered a mental post it note his brain had super glued to his consciousness a while ago. It had become bemused, so bemused, understatement was all it could cope with. "Actually it's very nice, I like what you have done here Frank."
Colin's mind had tried to take it all in, and failed. He physically felt his brain abandon millions of years of natural selection, and retreat backward. Colin's head housed a small bivalve mollusc, for a while. Molluscs are, on the whole, quite happy, and, insulated away from its problems, Colin's mind could relax. Molluscs, don't really do anything, apart from sift through gallons of sea water, eating whatever drifts by, as long as it isn't too big. Colin did the same, he stood inanely, watching the moonlight shadow the rolling waves. Eventually his brain recovered a little, the bivalve began to slowly crawl back up the ancestral tree, returning Colin to his rational, human, form.
"Seen," interrupted Frank, "have you ever tried paddling a coracle? They're difficult enough on a slow river."
"What about?" Colin spluttered.
"The anti personnel radar looks after that." Frank replied smugly.
"Do I know, what you are going to say, before you say it?"
"No. It isn't impossible, it's time travel. Now you've got your answer, to when Romer asks, where's Frank? While you're both troughing down the last of the bacon tomorrow."
"A Cappuccino machine." Romer giggled.
Frank raised an eyebrow quizzically, then said, "Romer, what are you talking about.", he almost missed hearing Colin's last question, which was.
"Is there nothing you two haven't got?"
Colin slumped into a large armchair, it slowly moulded itself around him, and he felt at ease with the pair again. The Bushmill's bottle passed around them all, after Frank found two glasses hidden under a sideboard.
"Right, where was I? Yeah, 'tis all in a name," Colin noticed the gentle lilt in Romer's voice. Not quite an Irish, or Welsh, accent, but his voice was gentle, although emphatic.
"He's off," muttered Frank.
"Frank gave me mine. Y' see Colin. I used to wander around the villages tellin' a few yarns, an' playin' some harp. I thought I was seein' the world, until Frankie boy, here, took over me education. It's a good life, an' you're safe too. No one bothers a wanderin' minstrel, 'tis a heinous crime."
Colin was entranced, and asked, "Is that part of some unwritten code of honour among thieves?"
"Nah," Frank chortled, "it's because they never have anything worth taking."
Romer gazed longingly through the window, "Frank taught me to read and write, before he let me loose. I had a good laugh at some of your history books too, but that's another tale. Anyway, he had a few too many one night an' decided me given name was too much of a mouthful, so, we agreed on Romer."
"I see," Colin said, "it's his weird sense of humour, you walked around everywhere, so, he thought of calling you Romer."
"Well, sort of, we agreed on Romer as suitin'. Me given name would never have gone down too well in your time. It worked two ways as well, that night y' man became Frank."
"So, that isn't his real name then?" Asked Colin.
"No. But y' see, by then, I'd learned me letters, an' pretty good I was too. I was Romer 'cause that's what I did. He was Frank 'cause he is anythin' but."
"Yeah, I can see where you're coming from with that."
"Bloody stupid if you ask me." Frank mumbled.
"Top me up, Frank. I've a tale for tellin', an' me throat is dust." Romer sipped the whiskey, rolling it around his mouth before swallowing. "Aye, 'tis a sad tale, though there is honour, an' bravery, wound in it too. Funny though, the hero isn't a man, an' the tale still isn't finished. Aye, 'tis sad enough to wring a tear from a dragon's eye. 'Tis a tale of evil and treachery..."
"Romer," snapped Frank, "have you ever thought of being a sports commentator? Get on with it."
"I'm only settin' the scene for Colin. Where was I, oh yeah, takin' a swig wasn't I. Frank I'm empty, would you mind?" That's it. This boys, is the tale of y' Goat Skinner Campbell.
"Twas me weddin' day. A day that should have been full o' happiness an' joy, then, foul sorcery took me true love away."
"What, she was murdered?" Asked Colin excitedly.
"Colin," sighed Romer, "D' y' know what is the worst thing you can do to a wanderin' story teller? What's the best way to kick someone who only wants to entertain y' a little?"
"I dunno, killing their wife seems pretty spiteful."
"It is, but there is somethin' far worse."
"Interruptin' them. 'Twas me wedding day. I was betrothed to the daughter of Mac Linn, and Mave, y' Princess Tyddanwu. Her hair was black, an', if her head shook, was as though a flock of ravens took to their wings. Her eyes were blue, shinin' like sapphires. Her lips, ruby red, full an' invitin'. She was me jewel, but I lost her. Tyddanwu could have picked anyone, but she was drawn to me, a simple talesman. I made her laugh, y'see. There was no need for any of the usual royal high an' mightiness between us, we were happy. Funnily enough, even Mave took kindly to me. Oh, I had the threats of being skinned alive if I ever hurt her, an', if Tyddanwu cried, just once, I'd be lashed a time for each tear that fell. Mave saw us both together one time, an' knew then. If she had said no, Tyddanwu would have just upped an' left somewhere, so that was that. We were betrothed, with Mave's blessin'.
"What no one knew, was that Mac Linn had been fixin' to appease some of the tribes in the north. They'd sort of discovered a whim for takin' over everythin', an' banded together under the Goat Skinner. He was a giant of a brute, it wasn't his strength that earned his fearsome reputation, 'twas his party trick. He'd skin a goat blindfolded, an' usin' only his teeth. More than that though, while his heart might have been black. At his side ran Satan himself, in the body of a hound. 'Twas a dog's shape, but it had the heart, an' strength, of a demon. Mac Linn arranged for Tyddanwu, an' the Goat Skinner to be married. Quiet like, he knew, Campbell knew, I presume the Goat Skinner told his hound, but that was everyone who was let into the secret.
"Now, when Campbell heard of the betrothal, 'tween Tyddanwu an' me self. How can I say this? Well, he was a bit annoyed. I did get to talk to one of me trade, who worked Campbell's camp for a while. He said, 'Aye, great was his anger. His eyes flashed brighter than the ribbons of lightning during a great tempest. Loud was his cursin', louder than the roar of a wind driven sea crashin' onto the rocky shore. No one would dare counsel him, 'twould be like settin' sail into the teeth of a raging hurricane.' Turns out that this bard was one of y' Goat Skinner's favourites, because he liked storms an' winds, so y' man just kept up with the same, day in, day out.
"What I would have liked this guy to have seen, an' then set to words, was what happened when Mave found out. If y' goat man was miffed, our Mave was seethin'. Mac Linn had bruises for two weeks, an' that was just for starters. Somehow, Mave managed to stop the Goat Skinner from invadin', and massacrin' the tribe.
"Well, I know Mave, an' there is no way she was having her palace turned upside down, not just after she had her mural painted. So, I've got me suspicions, about what happened at the parley, between her an' the Goat Skinner. All I really know is from the windy bard. He said Mave, and y' Goat Skinner, wandered off, alone, for a while. Now Campbell wanted to bring his hound along, but Mave said 'No'. An' Campbell laughed, goin' on about the dog having no master but him. Mave shouted, 'Sit.' An' the mutt wouldn't move a muscle till they got back. Even the Goat Skinner couldn't get him to budge an inch. Hell's teeth were bared at anyone who went near, then Mave held out her hand to the brute, an' he sat there and licked it. When Mave left Campbell's camp, the dog tried to follow her, but she would have none of it, so he stayed with the Goat Skinner.
"Right, me weddin'. 'Tis still pretty painful, but, I'll try."
"Any excuse," Frank muttered, and filled Romer's glass to the brim.
"Cheers Frank, y' old not too bad at all. Well, me an' Tyddanwu were stood in front of everyone. The head druid had just wrapped a bundle of oak leaves around our wrists, an' went off on one of his talkin' to the spirits of the forests, prayin' for their blessing an' abundance trances. The only one not asleep was him. Anyway, when he'd finished ramblin' on, he looks at me, an' asks. 'Why do you wish to be bound to this woman?'
"Now, I had me reply all ready. 'Twas to be of undyin', an' true love. How me an' Tyddanwu were picked by all his spooks an' fairies to be together. I'd cobbled a fine speech up, an', believe me, I meant every word. Only, when I started, 'twas then that the curse kicked in, an' I said. 'Ave yer been listenin' or what? You must 'ave cloth ears if you've missed everythin' so far. Look, she's a princess, an' drop - dead gorgeous too. That's why I wanna marry 'er. I reckon you've been at them potions again you 'ave.' Now you could have heard a pin drop after, except all I could hear was Tyddanwu's sobs. She ripped the oak leaves from her wrist, then ran out of the room.
"Mac Linn went after her. Mave was too busy holdin' her Sunday best, jewelled, goin' out killin', sword to me throat. I told her what I meant to say, an' the druid, Tyddanwu's uncle, heard every word. He asked me to repeat it. I couldn't. When I tried to speak to him I said, 'You'd make a good goldfish Y' would. Y' must have got amniocentesis, that stops yer rememberin' fings don't it? It's them mushrooms an' stuff. You've been eatin' them, instead of offering them to yer pixies innit? That's what yer problem is innit?'
"By now, I should have been tied to two oxen, an' pulled, slowly, apart. You can't say things like that to the head druid an' expect to live. 'Twas Mave who saw through it all though. I could speak plain, an' decorous, to her. She hasn't a drop of royal blood in her veins, though she is still a queen. True, she clawed her way there, but she deserves it. The head druid was Mac Linn's brother, royalty. Tyddanwu, royalty too. Mave explained everythin' to her, an' she came back to my side. She threw her arms around me then kissed me in forgiveness. What did I do?"
"May I?" Asked Frank.
"Aww. Go on, I suppose it'll make up for the dinosaurs." Romer sighed, softly.
"Well, it was something like, 'Blewie what you been eating? There's enough garlic on yer breff to kill a wasps' nest. An' yer putting weight on too. I ain't carrying you over no freshold. An' anuvver fing, I ain't 'avin' yer muvver visitin'. Just once a year, an' that's when I'm out too. Old witch that she is. She'll only be frightenin' the kids so they won't be fit for the mines. Days off cost money y'know, an' I want me beer." Frank giggled, a bit more than real friendship called for. Then he put his arm around Romer's shoulder.
"At least then, everyone knew it was a curse. No one would ever dare to say that about Mave." Romer sobbed. "Tyddanwu, an' I, can't even talk to each other anymore. She's waitin' to see if I can find a cure, but I don't want her to waste a precious life on a hopeless dream. I even lost me job as Mac Linn's story teller, still make a small livin' from the villagers, but that's getting a bit too risky."
Colin started to formulate the micro-economic model of Mac Linn's realm. "Are the farmers going through a downturn at the moment? Most civilisations seem to spend more on entertainment when times are bad. It's as though they need the escape. I would have said you were in a pretty secure position myself."
Romer shook his head, "No. I mean too risky, as in I might get a blade in me ribs. There's a lot of royal blood floatin' about, an' every time I come across it, I start one of me little performances. Frank thought of hirin' me out, as a sort of snobbishness checker."
Frank giggled, and said, "The world isn't ready for the concept yet, I'll bear it in mind though."
Romer looked at Frank and replied, "There's plenty of room to keep it safe, seein' as y' head's empty. Anyway, boys, I haven't finished, so let's have some hush. Mave had invited Campbell to the weddin'. Just to show there were no hard feelin's left between them. I'm sure there were, on Campbell's behalf, but I won't speak ill of the dead. Things started gettin' a bit heated when he starts rantin'. He decided that him, an' Tyddanwu, might as well get spliced, seein' as I was now indisposed. From what the windy bard told me I don't think he really meant it, he was just fishin' for another parley with Mave, an' a chance to get rid of his hard feelin's.
"Now, when you get loads of royalty together under one roof, an' there is a disagreement, one of two things follows. Either they get really annoyed, ignore the food, declare a war, an' begin killin' each other. Or, which is what happened, they all get drunk an' friendly, then start makin' laws for each tribe, and kingdom, to respect, an' follow. They call it a precedent or somethin'.
"This was a good one, an' they figured it would take at least a week to sort out. A week of drinkin', an' eatin', at Mac Linn's expense seemed a reasonable idea. Mave, had already decided what Tyddanwu was doing, an', precedent, or no precedent, she was not havin' y' Goat Skinner as a son in law.
"Mave, bein' Mave, well she had to let Mac Linn know what she was plannin' though. She arranged a meetin' with Campbell, but told Mac Linn, just to rub salt into his wounds a little. Anyways, Mac Linn, an' thirty of his best archers, followed them into the woods. Campbell ended up like a pin cushion, Mave had to keep her mouth shut. I think that was when she really fell out with Mac Linn. He'd won, an' anyone, with any sense at all, just don't do that to Mave.
"Mave had to fall in with his story of a band of robbers attackin' the Goat Skinner. If she had told the truth, Mac Linn would have been in disgrace, an' his royal seat up for grabs by anyone strong enough to challenge him. Now, most folks would have welcomed that, but Mave would get a new husband too, without bein' properly asked, an' introduced. Y' would only do that to Mave if y' really were sure y' wanted to wake up dead. Besides, she knew the common people would have suffered. She never forgets where she came from, our Mave, so, she just bit her tongue.
"Unfortunately, the law makers had lost their precedent. Campbell was dead an' that settled the matter. They still had a good old shindig when they held the funeral feast. Mave made sure it was a total belter, just to show there were no hard feelin's.
Even that started to go pear shaped. There was no one to bury. Y'see when they brought Campbell's body back to his camp, an' his hound saw it, the dog went berserk. He stood over his dead master defendin' him. Six men died trying to get him away, so they could bury Campbell. Mac Linn called up his archers to do the job safely, an' that should have been that.
"Only, y' stupid bard, of Campbell's, realised he needed another patron. Now, Colin, the way you do this is by gettin' a name for yoursel'. Y' need an ode, that folks will remember originated from y' self, an' there y' go, y' made. Anyway, this blowhard starts rantin' on about the dog's bravery an' such, an' that it would be the work of a coward to kill him this way. Only a true warrior would be able to slay the dog yatter, yatter, yatter.
"Mave settled it herself. She wandered over to the dog, patted him on the head an' said, 'Sit.' Which is where he is today, watchin' over the maggoty remains of Goat Skinner Campbell. To top off a really wonderful week, I was sacked. Like I said. On account of the curse, an' y' blessed bard got me old job in the palace, until I am cured which I won’t be.
"So, y' see, Colin, Frank was right for once. Yes, there are wolves here, but most walk on two legs. That howl you heard was Campbell's hound. He's still guardin' his master. For how much longer no one knows. Time was, when half an hour's sleep, a night, was all anybody got. He's been quieter since, maybe he's on his last legs."
Romer sat silently, studying the parquet floor, while Frank guided his glass to the bottle's neck. After a few moments Romer lifted the tumbler to his mouth to down the contents.
"Frank, y' sod, 'tis empty."
"I am working on it Romer, while time machines are easy enough, self filling bottles take a little thought. Besides, what about the branding, Cornucopia is hardly a name people associate with liquor is it? There's a bigger problem to solve first, and that's where Colin is sleeping tonight."
Colin was happy where he sat, and the couch Frank lounged on was larger than a double bed. Romer answered for him, "Yeah, Frank, I told y' we should have thought of that, when we had the builders in. A guest room would have been handy."
Frank snorted, "I knew it'd be my fault in the end. I must be psychic. How did I know it would be my fault?"
Colin looked at Frank, ducking as the bottle flew slowly toward him, when Colin asked, "Might it be, because it usually is?"