Parfitt’s Island – a chronicle in four parts: Part Four.

Author’s note:  this episode contains some eroticism and political incorrectness, so it probably isn’t for everyone, but I did warn you about that, didn’t I?  All dun in fun (or done in fone).  I hope you enjoy.

In Julian Parfitt’s ‘Oval Office’, an agreement with the UK Government was finalised with almost indecent haste.  After everybody had expressed their admiration for everybody else, A.J. Poulson, on the ‘phone from the Ministry, wrapped the deal up.

“I’ll have the papers prepared.  If your legal people are happy we’ll be signed and sealed in a few days.  You keep your sovereignty, we pay your rate for the gas, and we rent the pipeline from the Republic of Aga.  Toodle-pip!”  He rang off.

“That was amazingly easy!”  Julian enthused.  “Willoughby, you’re a genius!”

Willoughby blushed.  “Now, Julian!  Come on.  Let’s get in that exercise I promised!”

Skaeflint’ae Beach was at its best that summer forenoon.  Very early in his explorations Willoughby had discovered the cove with its honeycomb of caves and tall cliffs, hidden away from the gas wells on the other side of the headland.  The little apron of sand was large enough to tempt bathers and private enough to be exclusive.  In their first days on the island – in those times Rowena remembered so wistfully – she and Julian had bathed uninhibitedly here.

Today it was Willoughby who accompanied Julian to the beach.  Rowena had to stay behind – a consultant and an Iranian cook had arrived on the early tide to help prepare for the Iranian delegation due that afternoon.  They had set up most of their equipment at the harbour, ready to transport to the house, which they began to do at around eleven am. They were nice people, and they brought with them some knowledge of a surprising nature.

“Your clocks;” said the consultant.  “You do realize they’re two hours adrift?”

“Are they?”  Rowena was at first disbelieving, then astounded.  “My watch, too.  How could that be?”

“I guess too long away from the mainland?”  the cook suggested.  “It is of no importance – we can finish our work in very little time.”

“Julian!”  Rowena exclaimed.  “He won’t know!  Can you find your own way around?  I must warn him!”

Even as she set off up the path to Ben Adderhochie, Rowena recognised the futility of her task.  The walk to Skaeflint’ae was at least forty minutes, and the Iranians would be with them within the hour.  However, as she hurried, a few dark corners began to open in her mind; a few vital tumblers began to click into place.  As the sinister import of these deliberations took shape, Rowena began to increase her pace.  She had not missed the faun-like conspiracy in her husband’s look that morning, or Willoughby’s devious smile…..

“Isn’t this truly beautiful?”  Cried Willoughby, standing at the water margin.  “Doesn’t it just fill your heart, Julian?”

Julian, staring at Willoughby’s back, admitted that it did.  As they had clambered down the steeper section of the cliff path, Willoughby had removed his shirt to expose that back and every rippling muscle in it.

“Let’s swim!”  The rest of Willoughby’s clothes seemed to magic from him, so all of a sudden Julian was plunged into his dream of the previous night:  these were not the tropics, but Willoughby’s virile nudity was all it promised to be, running towards the deeper sea.  Laughing at the ice-chill of the waves, Willoughby turned to offer a view that certainly filled Julian’s heart, and did much to stimulate other organs too:  “Come on, my little water-baby; get in here!” 

Julian tried a modest compromise, removing his shirt and trousers.  Willoughby was hysterical:  “Oh, what?  Underpants!  Get them off you, man!”

So Julian did.  The sea was so bollock-freezingly cold it precluded all innocent play.  Willoughby did not mind this – he saw it merely as the setting of a stage.   Swiftly back upon the beach both men laughed and stamped and shivered while Julian made the point that, in this wet condition, they had no hope of regaining their clothes.

“I’m going to catch pneumonia!”

“Lie down on the sand,”  commanded Willoughby.  “It’s warm in the sun.”

Side by side in the more yielding stuff above the tide-line they stretched themselves out to dry.  Gradually Julian’s shivering stopped, but he did not cease to complain of the cold.  Not, that is, until he felt Willoughby’s arm across his chest – then he began to experience a warmth which wasn’t quite rational.

“Not a bad body, you know, Julian,” said Willoughby; “for a City gent, hmm?”

Julian should have resisted, but he found himself quite liking that irrational warmth.  There was still time to step back, then; to turn away – before Willoughby slithered closer to him, so they were flank to flank, and certainly before Willoughby’s hands began to explore him in areas where even Rowena was reluctant to go, unless offered a bribe of fine vintage Bollinger.

“I’m afraid I’m not very…”  He heard himself stuttering.  “I’m not hung like a…well, not like you.”

“Like a donkey?”  Willoughby laughed.  “Don’t worry, I’ve heard it said.  But I think you’re rather sweet, dear Julian.  And size isn’t so important, is it?”

To be fair to Julian, he did tense up a little at this point:  he did recognise the Rubicon he was crossing, that this was an aspect of sexuality which had always made him feel uncomfortable in the past.  But he did not feel uncomfortable – not at all.  In fact, Willoughby’s attention was making him feel very comfortable indeed.

He would have been less relaxed if his ears had picked up the faint chug of a diesel motor, or if he had been looking out to sea at this particular moment; for a yacht was passing the open mouth of the cove with its complement of three Iranian diplomats lined up, like three wise men on a Christmas card,  upon its deck.  Unlike the three wise men, though, they each had binoculars.  Alas, he was not looking, and he did not see.  He did not see even when, five minutes later, the same yacht and the same three diplomats passed by again, travelling in the opposite direction.  This time only one diplomat was looking through binoculars – the other two had cameras.

“I know what we need.”  Willoughby murmured in Julian’s ear.  “I’ll be right back, love, Okay?”

“Oh, don’t go!”  Julian was nervously affected by the prospect of any interval in his further education, inasmuch as he feared a premature conclusion, exacerbated by the sight of Willoughby’s taut buttocks stalking away from him up the beach, to disappear into one of the caves. Fortunately, Willoughby’s return was almost immediate.  He held a packet of white powder in one hand while he twirled a drinking straw in the other.

“A little stash I set up yesterday, especially for us,”  he explained, as he plunged into the pockets of his discarded trousers to produce a small mirror.  Using that magnificent torso to shield them from any breeze, he nicked the corner of the packet, allowing a thin stream of powder to settle in a line upon the mirror.  “Here we are, darling boy.  Something else you haven’t tried.”

Now there was truly no turning back. The Rubicon was a distant memory; Julian was well into Italy and his feet had dried.  The white powder filled his world with little clicking sounds and flashing lights and unable to withstand any further delay he thrust himself awkwardly at Willoughby, who chuckled his indulgence:  “No, sweety – that works with women, not with us.”

Then he showed Julian exactly what to do, and Julian followed his instructions with alacrity, and Willoughby said a rather curious thing. 

 He said:  “All right boys – in for the close-up.  Not all at once, now!”

‘Close-up’?  Julian relished this strange terminology, knowing there would be many new words to learn.  It was a whole new world, one he had denied himself for so, so long.  As he let the waves of fulfilment roll over him he ruffled Willoughby’s hair and opened his eyes to ask its meaning.  He did not have to ask; nor did he need to ask about the clicks, or the flashing lights, because they were still happening.  They were coming from the ring of photographers standing around them.

“Julian old chap!”  Said Willoughby, disengaging himself.  “Let me introduce you to the gentlemen of the Press.”

The misery of the next ten minutes would remain with Julian all his life.  His struggle to get through the ranks of paparazzi to recover his clothes, the break into an undignified run with his trousers still down around his knees, the raucous cheer when he fell flat on his face in the sand.  Then there was the second raucous cheer when, halfway up the cliff path he met Rowena coming down – or, more correctly, ran onto her fist.

If the gentlemen of the fourth estate had lacked quotes to spice up their articles Rowena gave them plenty.  But Rowena was never a woman to be taken, or quoted, lightly – she also gave weight.  The one redeeming act of that whole mortifying afternoon was when she kicked Willoughby off the cliff.  The man who wrestled with crocodiles was no match for Rowena scorned, and Rowena was never one to leave an advantage without pressing it home.  She pursued Willoughby to where he had fallen, clutching a number of compound fractures, and jumped on him until four sturdy press men restrained her.  By that time she had ensured that Willoughby would trouble no-one of either sex for a very long time.

#

“He invited them in early that morning,” Julian explained miserably, after he and Rowena had negotiated an uneasy truce and they were browsing the websites of the national dailies in their kitchen the following day.  “They were hiding in the caves all the time we were there.  He set me up.  The coke, the whole thing.”

Dismally, they scanned pages full of pictures with little black squares all over them.  Rowena featured as much as Julian, for the camera Willoughby had set up on the grandfather clock had done its job well.

“I got a phone call from the Iranians;” She said.  “They don’t want your alliance.”

Julian nodded. “You should have heard Prince Fuisal.  Apparently what I was doing in those photographs is punishable by death in Al Flaberri.  Daddy’s told him never to speak to me again.  The tankers all sailed early this morning – there’s going to be no pipeline and no deal.  We’re just waiting for the landing craft.”

Rowena rested her chin on her hands:  “Or maybe not.”  She said. “No, maybe not.”

Julian gave her a quizzical look.  “Unless you know something I don’t…”

“Exactly.  Let me explain: last night while you were licking your wounds, so to speak, I made a few calls of my own.  Then, this morning while you were watching the tankers sail away, I called A.J.  It took me a long time to get through, and even longer before he stopped laughing.  Then I told him he had to negotiate with me now, and he did stop laughing.  The deal’s back on.”

“I don’t understand.”  Julian admitted, staring blankly at his wife.

“You don’t. Do you?  Oil is oil, my dear:  gas is gas.  That, and the opportunity to get one over on the British are incentives too great for the King of Al Flaberri to turn down.  And fortunately, the sweet old King has a more liberal attitude to dealing with women than his stuffy little squirt of a son.  We had a lovely chat – he’s going to come and visit me next summer; isn’t that nice?”

Rowena’s husband’s expression was changing rapidly from bewilderment to sheer open-mouthed admiration:  “You’ve struck a deal with the King!  You’re a genius!”

“It has been said.”

“And with reason!  But, wait, what about the Iranians?”

“I was never too keen on them.  We’re exchanging diplomats with Saudi Arabia instead.  Lots more ‘planes!”

“Diplomats!  But we haven’t got an embassy!”  Julian protested.

“I thought the woodshed, with a few alterations of course.  I did explain and the chappy’s quite prepared to rough it, as long as he has a garage for his two Ferraris and we promise to build a road for him to drive them on.  I mentioned the grouse moors, of course.”

“Oh, now why didn’t I think of that?  A sheik in the woodshed – an essential talking point for parties!  And who, pray, have you in mind as our ambassador?  I’m sure you’ve got somebody!”

“Yes!”  Rowena said brightly; “I have!  I believe a certain A.J. Poulson is going to apply for the job.  He seems to think his career at the Home Office is over.”

Julian was completely overawed.  “You bloody little miracle worker!”  He cried:  “It was a day of days when I married you, my love!”

“Ah.”  Rowena said heavily.  “There’s something I ought to tell you, Julian, my sweet.  Let me see, how does it go?….Yes.  I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee.  There!  I can say that because I’ve changed the constitution.  And we’re Moslems, remember?”

Julian’s expression changed profoundly for a second time.  “You see;” Rowena said; “the King would only agree to revive our contract if you were completely out of the picture.  His family would never accept any association with – what was the charming term they have for it in their language? – I forget exactly, but I remember telling him you didn’t wear that type of shirt.  Anyway, I’ve staged a coup!”

“He’s made you take over the Presidency.”  Said Julian, staring in mystification at his ex-wife.  He shook his head in despair:  “I’m going for a walk.”  He made to rise from his chair.

“I’m awfully afraid you can’t.”  Rowena apologised.

“Why?”

“Well that’s the other part.  You’re under house arrest.”  She gave Julian one of her gentle, consoling smiles.

“What?”  Julian growled.  

Rowena repeated her words, in response to which Julian added a few thoughts of his own, largely in words that are unprintable, inducing Rowena to tut.  “Language dear!  You know, you’re dreadfully sexy when you’re angry.”

“You’re mad!”  Julian spat the words through gritted teeth.

“No, no; I’m perfectly calm.  You, however, are getting redder and redder.  It’s all completely civilised.  You know the portacabin the drilling crew used?  I’m having it moved this morning to the top of Ben Adderhochie:  there’s an oil heater inside so you’ll be quite warm – it’s a perfectly acceptable place to live until I can arrange to have you exiled.  I might come and visit from time to time, like I used to at your flat before we were married; won’t that be fun?  Or have your tastes changed?  Would you prefer someone more masculine?”

Julian exploded.  “Exiled?  I won’t do it!  You can’t make me do it!  All I have to do is call security, and we’ll see who gets the charming hilltop bungalow, you scheming, devious, blousy bitch!”

“Thank you.  I learned from the best, my darling.  Now, if by security you mean your half-dozen alcoholic Glaswegians they’ve sworn allegiance to the New Republic, because I’m paying them now – they’re waiting for you outside.  They’ll escort you to your new home.  I should go straight away, if I were you; we’re quite finished here.”

There was a moment Rowena genuinely feared; the critical few seconds when Julian was close to putting his thumbs to her windpipe and squeezing.  But his shoulders slumped and he stood up wearily.  At the door, he turned:  “One thing I don’t understand.  I wasn’t the only one Willoughby caught.  There are just as many photos of you with your knickers off – how come His Royal Majesty is prepared to overlook those?”

“Heterosexual love isn’t illegal in Al Flaberri.”  Said Rowena with an indulgent smile.  “In fact, they positively encourage it.  The old King was very impressed with the pictures – in fact, he’s asked if I have any more.  You recall the ones you took on our honeymoon?  You wouldn’t happen to know where they are, would you?”

The End

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Parfitt’s Island – a chronicle in four parts: Part Three.

There was little about Rowena’s island house these days to remind her of its crofting roots:  in the space of a few months she had installed central heating, a kitchen the mere contemplation of which would have made her blush not so long ago, triple glazing, and many other features of the cossetted life.  All-in-all, by the time the extensions and the indoor swimming pool were completed, about two containers’ worth of exorbitantly priced luxury goods would grace the Parfitt residence, now well on its way to mansion status.

Much of this profligacy could be attributed to boredom.  While Julian was busy with affairs of State, there was little for the First (and Only) Lady to do, apart from her toenails.  This afternoon, stretched out on a sunbed next to her life-sized reproduction of the statue of David on the south patio and taking advantage of some rare afternoon sun, Rowena was reading the same book for a third time.  Half-way between small print and sleep, she scarcely noticed the force of nature approaching from the harbour.

Then she focussed.

Striding up the steep path, his thighs tensed and thrusting against the gradient, all six foot six of Willoughby was a Greek god come to earth, an angel descended from paradise.  Now, in the warmer interior of the island where his coat was a little too protective a bloom of sweat glistened on his golden skin – and, oh, lord, that hair!

Rowena surreptitiously nipped her skirt up over her thighs a few more inches and sat up so certain features of her v-necked t-shirt would be shown to their best advantage.  She took a few very deep breaths.

“Hi.”  She wavered, in not-very-convincing First Lady style.  “Who are you?”

‘And’ she wanted to add (with a disparaging glance at David), ‘is that bulge in your jeans for real?’ 

“Hello.  You must be Rowena – they said you would be beautiful, and they were so right.  I’m Willoughby.”

Ah, and his voice was so dark, and chocolaty and warm!  Rowena knew she couldn’t get up without falling over.

“Surely, you can’t be….”

“The ‘man from the Ministry’?  Yes, sweetest Rowena, I’m afraid I am.  Now, is your husband around?”  The question was so subtly framed it might have meant anything, but the conspiratorial half-smile which adorned it left no doubt in Rowena’s mind.  Unfortunately, though, Julian was around.  He was just inside the door behind her – and emerging from it.

“Are you Lightfoot?”  He asked, with genuine doubt in his voice.

“Call me Willoughby.”  Said Willoughby.

“Come inside.  Darling, could you fix some drinks for us?  Willoughby, then – what will you have?”

Julian’s study had become his Oval Office.  They sat in deep leather chairs.

“I’m sorry about the strip search.”  Julian said, with a smirk.  “We have to be so careful.”

“Not at all,” Willoughby made a dismissive gesture.  “We had fun.”

Rowena did not stay for their discussion.  She served some drinks, then resumed her sunbathing for a little while.  With her head hidden behind her book she could dream her dreams undisturbed, and those she dreamed of Willoughby would not have been publishable.

“Truth is, Julian,”  Willoughby was saying;  “We want to calm this whole thing down, you know; find some mutual ground?  If you’re agreeable, I wouldn’t mind staying around for a few days, sort of as a buffer between you and the Ministry.  I’d really like to do that.  I mean,” He treated Julian to a mischievous half-smile.  “I – personally – would like to do that.  The thing is, you sweet man, would you like it too?”

In the early hours, the very early hours, of the following morning, Willoughby Lightfoot’s stalwart shape might have been seen leaving the Parfitt house – would have been, if Julian’s security guards were not by then in drunken slumber, a sleep deepened by the pills which Willoughby had offered them to enhance their enjoyment of the previous afternoon.  The goat in the yard watched Willoughby’s approach with suspicion, snickering anxiously.

In the time before the rest of the household awoke, Lightfoot made a comprehensive exploration of Julian’s Island; though not in a way any tourist or casual sightseer would recognise.  No, Willoughby’s needs were specific – he sought, and found, specific things.

By the time he returned, Rowena was downstairs making breakfast.

Lightfoot’s muscular body framed against the light in the back doorway.  “What a wonderful place to walk in the morning!”  He declared, unbuttoning his shirt.  “Would you like me to take off my shoes?”

Rowena nodded, aware of what was happening to her face.  “Shall I take them for you?”  

As Willoughby removed his muddy footwear, Rowena knelt before him, letting him see the long curve of her back, the dark mystery beneath the neck of her dressing gown.  As she stood, of course, the casually tied cord of her gown parted and it fell open.  Blushing deeply, she looked up at him, fingering nervously at the hem of the shortest nightshirt she possessed and hoping it was just short enough.

Willoughby looked down at her:  “You are so, so lovely.”  He said.

Rowena looked up at Willoughby:  “Oh lord – you absolutely have to roger me – now!”

Did the earth move?  Well, not immediately, even though a train of events were set in motion which would prompt it to at least consider a tremor or two.

Willoughby’s presents, once unwrapped, were every bit as generous as they promised.  Rowena unwrapped them very quickly indeed.  His jeans almost ripped from him, Willoughby found himself pinned against the back door with Rowena’s arms around his neck, legs around his waist.

“Julian….”  He managed to pant between hammer blows; “He isn’t up yet?”

It was an anxious enquiry.  Rowena shook her head.  “Oh-my-god!  Oh-my-god!  Not until ten.”

“Excellent.”  Willoughby cupped the ample cheeks of Rowena’s backside, one in each hand, in search of a better purchase; hoping to control the rampant battering which threatened to throw them both out into the back yard.  Rowena, however, took this support as an opportunity to lean away from him – her idea probably was to invite his attention to her eager breasts, but the result was quite different.  Rowena was neither as light nor as nimble as once she had been.

She lost her grip, panicked: clawed for Willoughby’s shirt and missed.  The centre of gravity shifted, drastically.  Suddenly off-balance, with jeans around his ankles, Willoughby found himself tottering for dear life just to stay upright as he and Rowena, locked in passion, careered across the kitchen.  Desperately trying to avoid a crash onto the hard flagstone floor, he steered towards the softer landing of the kitchen table.  This, at least, was successful.  They hit the top of the table together, bringing forth a cry of ecstasy from Rowena and a cry of pain from Willoughby as his masculinity hit the table edge.   In Rowena’s design for her luxury kitchen, as a sort of homage to tradition, she had retained three traditional features, two of which were the old flagstone floor and the sturdy kitchen table.  Now, the grip of wooden table legs on flagstones is adequate for most purposes, but prone to defeat if hit horizontally at speed by a combined weight of around two hundred and eighty pounds.  The table, therefore, offered little resistance:  protesting with hideous noise it scraped the rest of the way across the floor towards Rowena’s third concession to tradition –  the welsh dresser.

Arrayed upon the dresser’s shelves, dining plates, soup plates, tea plates, odd ornamental statuary, a tea pot and a very good Spode figurine waited to receive them with a conclusion as inevitable as it was loud.  The table rammed the dresser with a crash, the shelves above lurched dangerously, shedding their contents as a hound shakes off fleas.  Rowena screamed, flinging herself to the rescue of an avalanche of descending crockery.

No sound speaks more volubly of devastation than that of a china plate breaking upon stone:  no devastation is more entire than a floor covered with shards of white dinner service.  Rowena made a dive to catch the Spode figurine, only to have it slip from her grasp.  Not one piece survived.

Rowena was lying on her back on the floor in the midst of the carnage with her nightshirt around her neck:  Willoughby was still doubled over the edge of the table.  There came a sound of running feet from the stairs.

“My husband!” Cried Rowena.  “Hide!”

Willoughby groaned, well aware that the lingering evidence of his enthusiasm would incriminate him in a way that had no place in his strategy.  The only possible concealment on offer was behind the side of the dresser furthest from the door.  Hazarding injury from a carpet of shattered china he made his way there, pressing his back to the wall.   The door opened to admit an anxious Julian.

“My stars, what happened?”

“I fell against the table.”  Rowena explained lamely, trying to sound as shocked and disorientated as possible.  “I fell.”

To reinforce this impression, she took a tea-towel from the table and began waving it ineffectually at the mess, as if this would somehow magic the damage away.  She shrugged helplessly.

“I need to sit down.  Help me through to the front room.”  Casting about her for somewhere to put the cloth, she hooked it over the only projection available.

As he supported his wife through the hallway, Julian paused, trying to recreate an image in his mind.  “Just a moment;” He said.  “What did you hang the tea towel on?”

He propped Rowena against the stairs, turned back to the kitchen.

“Oh!”  Cried Rowena, fainting to the floor.

“Darling!”  Cried Julian solicitously.

As the door had closed behind Rowena and Julian, Willoughby was at last able to reach down and remove the larger splinters of porcelain from his foot.  He bandaged the wound with the tea-towel.

Much later, Willoughby and Julian were sitting in the Oval Office, sipping drinks.  The morning had been spent deep in negotiation, mainly concerning Julian’s proposal of a pipeline.  They had both spent some time on a telephone conference line to A.J., who seemed disposed to complete a deal.

“I’m impressed, Lightfoot.”  Julian complimented his guest:  “I hadn’t expected to find the wheels quite so well oiled.”

“Well,”  said Willoughby in his most mellifluous voice:  “It isn’t often I get to work with someone of your abilities, Julian.  I think what you’ve achieved here is remarkable: quite remarkable.”

“Thank you.  That’s praise indeed.  Do you think we might get this neatly parcelled by tomorrow?”

“Our proposals have to go to the Minister, and he has to get them sanctioned – but I know everyone wants this to be kept quiet:  so I don’t see why not.  Any particular reason for the urgency?”

“You may or may not know, but we have an alliance with Iran?  A delegation is due to visit us tomorrow afternoon.”  Julian smiled.  “It would be nice to have everything tied up by then.”

“Really?  Julian, you are a naughty chap, aren’t you?”  Willoughby’s eyes teased.  “What time are they arriving?”

“On the tide.  Two o’clock, as I believe.”

“Superb!”  said Willoughby.  He reached forward, stroking the back of Julian’s hand with a single forefinger.  “You’re a brilliant fellow, you know?”  He shook his head sadly.  “Such a waste – such a waste.”

There are times when you know a situation – a meeting, a look, a touch – should make you feel acutely uncomfortable:  they should, but they don’t.  Then what do you do?  Julian found himself in just this dilemma.  “What do you mean, ‘a waste’?”  He asked as Willoughby got to his feet.

Willoughby looked down at him with that peculiar half-smile of his, turning to leave the room.  He made no reply, but as he left, he allowed his hand to draw softly across Julian’s cheek and neck.  It was an unmistakable gesture.

That afternoon Willoughby, harbouring a slight limp, went for another walk.  Considering the small size of the Island Republic of Aga, walking offered few possibilities, so it was strange how little of him was seen.  He returned late.

It was a night of discoveries.  The first, and possibly the least earth-shattering of these, was Willoughby’s – he discovered there were only five clocks in the house, and (he could move very quietly when needed) Julian took his watch off at night.  Rowena didn’t.

Meanwhile Julian was discovering – although he might not acknowledge it in the morning – a new aspect of his sexuality.  His night was spent in dreams which all featured Willoughby:  Willoughby caressing his cheeks, running his hands through that long fair hair, Willoughby running, naked, along a tropical shore:  dreams in fact, very close to those of his wife, though Rowena’s dreams interfered with her sleep.

She discovered Willoughby in the front room of the house, paying unusual attention to their grandfather clock.

“I couldn’t sleep.”  He admitted.

“Oh,” She sympathised.  “Why?”

“Thinking of you.”  Willoughby took her hands, gave her one of his best embarrassed smiles.  “I was dreaming of you – you were naked, running along a tropical shore…”

She came to him.  “Darling, I couldn’t sleep either.”

“Couldn’t you?”

“Oh, Willoughby!”

“Oh, Rowena!”

This time he was careful – very careful.  Lifting her nightshirt from her, he carried her unclothed form to the settee and laid her carefully upon it.  Then he lay carefully on top of her.

“Wait!”  He said.  “The light.  Put the light on.”

“Must we, darling?”

“I want to see you, my love.  I want to see your face.”  She was moved to protest further, but he placed a warding finger to her lips.  “For me?”

Obediently, Rowena turned on the table lamp above her head.  “Now,” She whispered sweetly, taking the focus of her desires in her hand; “Shall we finish what we started?”

“Absolutely!  Just move another six inches this way.”

“Why?”

“More comfortable, my sweet.  Oh, and let’s have that watch off, yes?  It keeps getting tangled in my hair.”

Willoughby made one final check that the camera he had concealed on the top of the grandfather clock had them fully in frame, then he began, with consummate skill, to administer the rogering Rowena so desperately desired.

Finally, rather late in life, Rowena discovered sex – real sex.

And that was enough discoveries for one night.

Breakfast was late the next morning.  A  dispassionate observer, had there been one in place, as it were, might have noticed how each of the diners avoided the other’s gaze, as though there were some unacknowledged secret between them.  Julian said little through the first part of the meal, staring fixedly at the table, now restored to its rightful place.  Rowena, mindful of Mahadis’s fate, avoided Willoughby’s quite open admiration of her, even if beneath the table her knees kept parting involuntarily.

Rowena it was who broke the awkward silence.

“I’m a bit worried about the goat.”

“Yes?”  Julian grunted.  “Now you’re going to tell us why.”

“She just stands with her back end pressed against the shed.  She’s so aggressive I can’t get near enough to milk her and she won’t move.”

“I prefer the cow’s milk anyway.”  Julian said, closing the matter.

“What do you guys do for exercise?”  Willoughby asked brightly.

“Well, we walk a lot.”

“No, I mean proper exercise!”  Boomed Willoughby, drawing a look of open-mouthed admiration from Rowena, who imagined Willoughby doing proper exercise.  “Julian, you’re a fit chap.  You work out, don’t you?”

“No.”  Julian’s powers of articulation were peculiarly limited this morning.  “I should, I suppose….”

“Look,” Willoughby said.  “I’ve found the ideal place.  Let’s wrap things up early, then we’ll have a few hours before your Iranian chappies roll up.  I promise you’ll feel marvellous.  Marvellous!”

Julian demurred:  “I don’t think I’ll have time.”

Willoughby reached across the table, placing his hand over Julian’s and squeezing it.  “You will, Julian, I promise you. You’ll feel marvellous.”

Julian met Willoughby’s gaze, unable to escape the mischief in his eyes.

Rowena saw it too.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Continuum – Episode Twenty-Eight: Caverns old and Caverns Deep

Warning:  this episode has some erotic content.

In the previous episode:

Despite the Domo’s attempt to exclude her, Alanee is summoned to a meeting of High Council, where she predicts the burning of Balkinvel and converts many of the Councillors who did not believe in her.

Triumphant, she returns to her chambers to celebrate, and spends the night there with Sala…

Alanee has risen early.  To avoid disturbing Sala, who sleeps sweetly and deeply, she has extracted her fake book from its hiding place and paged Altor the Convenor.  They meet in the corridor outside her Chambers, from where, the book concealed beneath her courtier’s robes, she is guided to that elevator which last night transported her to the High Council.  This time, however, the elevator is programmed for a different destination:  it plunges deep; deeper, Alanee feels, into the soul of The City than she has ever been.  She remembers when Dag first brought her to The City through a tunnel less deep in the rock than this.  Counting the seconds, she endures Valtor’s stream of effusive flattery as they descend.  The gardens, perhaps even the mighty Balna River, will be many feet above her now.  She is in the bowels of the mountain, confined, perhaps trapped, beyond sight or hearing of the outer world.

She need only emerge from the elevator to see how limited is her means of escape.  She steps into a small foyer with the usual couches that typify ante-rooms or waiting areas in The City.  Other than the elevator by which she has arrived there is only one door – and such a door!  She had expected grandeur, perhaps – timbers made mighty by age, ornate iron hinges, carved devils and hobgoblins in ancient oak.  Not so.

The door before her is completely circular and fashioned from steel.  Its central capstan is clamped in place by chromed stanchions thick enough to deter the most ardent assault for a month.  The wall into which it is set is also steel, undecorated but for two staves which rest in brackets to either side of the door.  These, or rather their illuminated heads, provide what little light the foyer has –imbuing it with a severe, mournful atmosphere.

Altor turns a mechanism at the locking point of the stanchions through a ritual of numbers before spinning the capstan.  With a grudging hiss, the door releases, and by the humming effort of an electric motor somewhere, yawns reluctantly open.

“Lady, I may not pass through here.  I am a poor Convenor, I lack your greatness or worth.  You must proceed alone.  I will await you.”

Alanee peers through the thickness of the steel aperture the door has left.  She can see little beyond, but a narrow stair descending into gloom.  “I’ll need time to study.  I may be here all day!”

If Altor is at all discomfited by this, he shows no sign of it.  “Then I shall wait all day.”

Alanee can be equally stubborn.  “I don’t need you to stay.  You’re the Convenor – you may be required elsewhere.  Can’t I find my own way back?”

Altor’s face is set.  He has clearly been instructed to wait.

Is there something in the demeanour of this obsequious man that should toll a bell of warning?  Has he had other instructions too?  She will learn nothing more from him, however, so with a shrug that says there is no more to be done, Alanee steps through the aperture.

The way is almost – but not quite – dark.  This flight of steps is lit by torches at intervals along the walls.  At each footfall an echo returns, speaking to her of great mass and weight.    Here, deep in the bedrock, she is sure even the thoughts of Hasuga would be hard put to reach.

‘Did you think I could not hear you?’  The words flash inside her mind, and this time she greets them warmly, because she feels lonely and afraid.

‘Yes.’  Her mind replies:  ‘I should have realised, shouldn’t I?”

‘I am always near.’

A glow spreads through her, a sense of protection and – almost – friendship.  If he were physically near she might even be moved to kiss that grotesque head in sheer gratitude.  ‘Don’t go away, then.  This was your idea.’

Steps winding downward, on and on; Alanee feeling sure she is becoming closer to something, some indefinable thing that stirs inside her: in truth a descent probably no more than thirty feet or so before it ends.  Here; another open space, another door.

This time there are no seats to regale the weary climber.  The walls are rough-hewn from the very mountain itself.  There is no colour here other than grey, yet the lighting is brighter:  several stars of pinpoint light sparkle from above her head.

He sits in the corner, the man in the hempen smock she recognises because she has seen him before, in the wooden room that squats doorless within Cassix’s chambers, the room that will only open with mirrors.  And he, hunched in the earnestness of prayer, is just as she remembers.

He speaks:  “Lady Alanee?”  His voice is of dry leaves trodden.

“Yes Sire.”  She has no thought to address him by other than a regal title, though she has no notion how he might aspire, meanly dressed as he is, to any noble birth.  His skin is as crimped as rough linen and he is of the parchment wherewith the books he guards are made.  He is Karkus, as old, and as wise, as they.

“Pass, Lady.”

“Thank you, Sire Karkus, I will pass.”  Hasuga, how do I know his name?

Because you are who you are.  Yours is the knowledge of all things.

This time a simple door of planks is all that must swing open to admit her:  beyond, an archway, and beyond the arch a hall – a hall so unexpected by comparison with its ante-room that it takes Alanee’s breath away.

A perfectly circular chamber paved in white marble, it is lit by crystal white radiance from a high ceiling.  Around the continuous white wall are arrayed books; thousands upon thousands of volumes neatly shelved ten layers high.  At the very centre of this great library, upon a plinth of black granite, a tome larger than all the others lies open – its rich vellum spread flat by the weariness of use, its illuminated script greyed by age.  Alanee recognises this though she has never seen the original until now: it is the Book of Lore.

Here she might pause; stay for a moment to read truths so very few of the chosen ones have seen: yet she does not go to the Book of Lore.  Instead she moves toward a glazed case at the far side of this splendid repository, led straight towards it by the book that cries like a secret child beneath her robe.  She passes over the myriad of titles that stand protected by the glass, some in languages she does not understand and some she does:  though still a mystery to her because she has never read a book for its sake – ‘Catcher in the Rye’, ‘To Have and Have Not’, ‘Faustus’, ‘Endymion’, ‘A Jew of Malta’, Ulysses’.

 Alanee is drawn only to a single, untitled volume.  There, central upon a central shelf, the exact facsimile, the likeness.  Its door of defensive glass should be locked – is locked – yet it yields to her as if her touch is expected; without effort, without complaint.  She takes the one, puts the other, from its concealment in her robe, in its place.  All the while behind her, in the doorway, the ancient guardian watches, but does nothing.  When she turns towards him, a volume old as time within her grasp, his parched lips crack in a smile.

And when she takes the book in her hand, what happens then?  What vision consumes her?  It is as if the mysterious lock has no meaning, as if all the text of the work she grips so tightly is in her head without so much as turning a page, every word the instigation of a dream, a new story, a separate plot.  Passing before her are peoples she has never met, tribes cast out, cruel persecutors, gentle victims.  There are women faithless and faithful, engaged in their own pursuit of dreams, men generous and devious, wise and foolish, builders and slayers, workers and idolaters, wealthy and poor.

She does not mark her own progress, or see how she mounts the stairs once more; reaches the mighty door that has kept these truths so deeply buried for all the years; passes through.  She feels the eagerness of Hasuga with her in the text and he is reading as fast as or faster than she.  She feels the words bleeding out of her, to be re-joined by the millions already in his giant mind.  She feels….

“Lady Alanee!”

The elevator door stands open.  But it is not Valtor the Convenor who awaits her. It is High Councillor Portis.  She comes to herself, finding she holds the book openly in her hand.

Portis asks:  “What do you intend doing with that?”  His suspicions are confirmed, his fears realised.  “That book should never leave its case, still less the Inner Library.  You have scarcely risen to prominence, it seems, before you choose to abuse your good fortune.  A grave mistake, my Lady.”  His summoner is in his palm, the buttons already being pressed.  “Guards?”

Ever since she accepted Hasuga’s challenge the possibility of discovery has been uppermost in Alanee’s mind.  Her script is well rehearsed. 

“Sire, the error is yours,” She speaks clearly.  “Sire Hasuga himself gave me his permission to borrow this.”

Portis colours.  “That is a palpable lie!  Sire Hasuga has no knowledge of the book.  How can he?”

“How can he?”  Alanee attempts a laugh, though it sounds more reminiscent of a bray.   “He is all-seeing, Sire.  He knows of all your precious books!  And…”  She picks out her consonants like cuts of sharp steel, “he sees you now.  He hears your every word.”

‘Hasuga!  Help me!’

“Guards.” Portis repeats quietly.  “You are required at the Council elevator.  Lady Alanee is to be placed under arrest.”

He beckons.  Where else should she go?  At least when the elevator returns to the higher levels she will be closer to Hasuga, nearer to his power.  So, heart pounding, she meekly follows the High Councillor into the chamber of the elevator.  She is inside.  The doors close.

Hasuga, oh, Hasuga!  Where are you?

Is this a trap?  Could Hasuga have deceived her?  Suddenly she feels cold, very, very cold.   

“I am curious, I admit.”  Portis murmurs, indicating the book; “What can you want with that?  I mean, to risk so much. You do know what you have done?”

She conjures a desperate reply, “I thought to take it back to my Chambers to study it, Sire.  I didn’t intend any wrong.”

“But the book is locked, woman!  It has been unopened for as long as anyone has memory.”

“I am meant to have the gift of sight.  What if this book should contain the solution to the Continuum?  What if I can unlock it?”

“Something you will never have the opportunity to discover. Theft from the sacred library is a capital offence, Lady.  A high price for your presumption, is it not?”

Fearful now, Alanee has to swallow back a rising gorge to meet Portis’s stare. “Sire, it is just a book.”

What does she read in Portis’s face?  What does that unopened book reveal?  Is there a flicker of doubt there; a hint at hesitation?

“And you should have examined it where we are each allowed to read, those of us who are honoured to have that high privilege.  There is no excuse, Lady.”

“I could not open it in there.  Hasuga…”

Sire Hasuga.  Sire Hasuga, Lady!”

“Sire Hasuga then:  he guided me to it.  I am to glean the knowledge he wants from the book, so together we can unravel the mystery of the Continuum.  But I can only open it within Cassix’s rooms.   Sire, you have been inside there?  You remember the mirrors?  The mirrors can open things that are sealed, like that big wooden thing without any doors; they can show me inside there, as I am sure they can show me inside this book.”

Together with Sire Hasuga?”  Portis’s voice does not disguise his incredulity or his own lurking doubts.  “Your arrogance, Alanee, defies belief!  To assume such a thing in your private thoughts is blasphemy; but to utter it aloud, before a High Councillor!”  He pauses then.  Alanee wonders why the elevator has not moved and Portis, whose acuity she could never question, reads her thoughts.

“Curiously, you might think, there are no cameras here.  Above us, in the city, they dog our every step. But within the library, and this elevator space, solely reserved as it is for members of the High Council, there are none.”

“Sire?”

“We are not seen, here, Alanee.”  Portis seats himself in one of the velvet upholstered chairs, leaning back into the rich cushions.  “We are not heard here.”

Alanee stares at him.  “So, you’re saying…”

“I’m saying that our conversation has been confidential.  I am suggesting it might remain so.”

“Might, Sire?”

“How have you covered the theft of the book?”

“With a facsimile; a blank that looks exactly the same.”

Portis allows himself a smile.  “Cunning!  Therefore there is every chance the volume will not be missed?”

“Every chance, Sire.  But the guards have been summoned, have they not?”

“Not.”  Rising to his feet, Portis waves his summoner:  “This is switched off.”

Alanee’s heart leaps with hope.  “Then you believe me!”

“I will not say whether I believe you or not.  But I am the only one who knows you stole that book.”

“What about the old man, the librarian?”

Portis studies her quizzically.  “There was no one else in the library, Alanee: we do not have a ‘librarian’.”

At this reply Alanee at last asks herself why she felt no disquiet when she realised the old man had witnessed her substitution of the book:  she had accepted his presence as though he existed on a different level.  She begins to see a pattern, a circle.  Karkus, a spirit from a distant past:  (how can she be so sure it was he?) is part of that circle.  He wanted her to take the book.

“Sire Karkus?”  Portis’s interjects, and she realises she was reasoning aloud.  “What do you know of Sire Karkus?”

“He was present, Sire.  I took him to be the Librarian.  Maybe in a sense that’s what he is?”

“Dead for more than two thousand years is what he is, Lady.” 

“In one frame of time, maybe.  In another?  A ghost, then, if it suits you.  He was there.”  And she adds helpfully:  “Probably still is.”

“Ghosts! Frames of time! Librarians!”  Portis snorts:  “You have a gift, young lady, I will concede that  But a gift for imagination rather than second sight, I think!”

Alanee challenges.  “I imagine, then, that a part of you does doubt, a little?”

“My thoughts are my own business.  You are a thief.  That is my view; but….”  He weighs his words:  “I believe you may not intend to be entirely dishonest.  Therefore I am to be persuaded.”

Her stomach sinks.

“You have a bargaining chip,”  Portis attempts a smile, achieves a leer.  “You are an extremely lovely woman, Alanee.”

“So?”  She says heavily. 

“You are so young.  You cannot apprehend how desperately we who are grown past our prime still want a share in such beauty.  How we watch you, need you, as you pass us by, while you ignore us, pretend we do not exist?  Our bodies may alter Alanee, but our needs do not.  Do you see where this is going?”

“Oh, I do.”  She does.  There is a price to be paid…..

“You said once – what was your wonderfully apposite choice of phrase? Ah yes; if I wanted to ‘stare at your body’ I would have to ask. Well, I’m asking now.”

She cannot prevent the colour rising in her cheeks.  She says slowly:  “And is that all you are asking?”

All?”  Portis repeats bitterly.  “No, Alanee, that is not all.”

Tears inside her; mad, affronted tears she will not shed:  not for him.  “And if I do what you ask?”

“Then no guards will be waiting.  I will merely go into the Library for study of my own.  You will keep your Book to do with it as you will.  Now;” He rises to his feet, “Come here to me.”

His eyes have a hunger she cannot avoid: yet still she hesitates, hoping against hope there is some higher sense of honour in the man.  “Do you not think, Sire, that a gift only has value if it is willingly given?”

“No, Alanee, I do not.  Come here.”

“A minute, Sire.  Allow me this one minute, I beg you?”  She turns away, gazes up to the roof of the compartment for salvation.  There is none there, no Hasuga with a thunderbolt of retribution, only Portis’s graphically buxom nude pouting seductively down at her from its place on the wall.

  Hasuga, help me? 

With her back to Portis she uses the minute he has granted her, steels herself.  Taking a deep breath, she releases the brooch at her shoulder, shuddering to hear his gasp of gratification as her robe drops away.  Now she turns so he may feast his eyes on her and with only the book to conceal her womanhood, she walks toward him.

Portis cannot stay the convulsive shaking in his hand as he reaches out for her, and Alanee has learned enough of men to know that control of the situation has passed to her at that moment.  She must be in command, or she is done.  She has arts, skills she can use.  He must be hers, in her spell for just long enough, she hopes, that he will not notice how the elevator has begun to move.

Is there some perverse pleasure in this: no pleasure of loving, or giving, but the not unpleasing sensation of power?  Portis it was, who controlled this scene; who wished it, dictated the terms:  but who controls it now?  Like a puppet, she can make him twitch or dance, hold or give forth, at the behest of a touch or a word.  Profound though her inner self-loathing is, she has never felt (do you hear this, Hasuga?) more powerful than now.

‘I hear it.’

‘Where did you go?’

‘Nowhere.  I am always with you.  Portis cannot match you – I told you that, remember?  You do not need me for this.’

Portis’s fingers would slip like fat worms, but this she will not allow.

“Not yet, Sire, not yet.”  Instead she takes his hand and guides it, counting the seconds inside her head.  “Come closer to me; let me tease you, just a little.  See?  We almost touch, yet not?  Does this excite you, Sire?”

“Yes, oh yes!”

He is breathing, sweating heavily and she is counting – still counting seconds.

“Oh, Sire!  No!”  His touch is more aggressive now, his desire expressing itself in porcine grunts.  He has her at a disadvantage.  She has let herself be cornered.  His lips are pressing roughly, biting, hurting her.  She tries to thrust him away. “No Sire!  NO!  Leave me alone, Sire!  Get your hands – off – me.  NO!  NO PLEASE!  NO!”

Before Portis has noticed his change of fortunes the elevator door is open.  Lady Ellar stands before it, open-mouthed:  “Sire Portis!”

“Keep him away from me!”  In purple fury, Alanee snatches up her robe to cover the book, and with both gathered to shield her she runs naked from the scene. 

Ellar is too shocked.  She does not try to stop her.  Alanee’s summoner, with whose urgent fingers Ellar’s pager button was activated in those thoughtful seconds before she shed her robe, lies forgotten upon the elevator floor.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Photo credit: Art Tower, from Pixabay