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Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Rump’s Tail

Category: Issue 13

Many came that day, even from as far as Gopping: thanks to the gossipers, the piss-prophets and the sayers of sooths.  Annual baths were taken early, fusty bodies musk drowned, finery hosed and the oft-treacherous crossing betide; to this place, where we reside: ‘Ways Bottom. 

What was the reason for this excitement?  Haven’t heard the story? I know that look…okay, I’ll drag you out of your misery- my wedding day of course!  Me: Lucinda Myrtle Crump and my betrothed?  You must think me a queynte ….he was none other than his Most Honourable Highness (once removed) Prince Henry Victor Swallop Of The Marshes. A match ordained in the heap, so the tittle-tattlers sneered. They couldn’t foresee what was to happen, could they?

For those that used their own legs, the crossing was difficult enough. Imagine then the hardships the rest of the plebs had to face: the freaks, fools, cripples, lame; those that heard voices as well as the deaf, dumb, blind; those with pox, those with lice and those that begun healthy enough only to collapse exhausted into the nearest ditch.  Of course this hotch-potch possession didn’t include the mute that finished the journey jabbering in tongues…. scratch that, what I meant was jabbering with tongues as his mucky mouth suddenly housed more than just his own!  After a severe bout of sleeping-sickness, the cock stirred him in the trough and as the village was devoid he believed the apocalypse had ridden in. So, with nothing better to do he headed towards the safest sanctuary: the Green Dragon Tup.  Following a couple of flagons of strongest mead – his tongue swelled and split into two, like a lizard’s.  He bolted outside shouting and screaming, trying to get the attention of the nearest Quack.  Unsurprisingly, he was ignored, after all, he was just one savant amongst many.

Looking back, I suspect that many on the jaunt believed they were on one of those pilgrimages the Christians were so fond of: heading halfway across the land, risking life and limb just to see the marinated knuckle of a worthy martyr.  Idiots!  Travel all that way to clap eyes or wipe greasy palms upon a cattle’s shinbone and convince themselves they had a safe passage unto heaven – fools!  Don’t they know they can purchase a Lamentation from the nearest parson?  Signed by Prester John’s own hand no less. Don’t worry if you haven’t the Groats, all you need is a pair of strong lips and a willing throat…time to pucker up boys and girls, Saint Fellate is-a-calling!

Not of course, is this just Christian madness.  There are tales of the Olive Skinned Ones who burrow holes, throw themselves prostrate to the sand make strange guttural grunts while their women beat their rumps with reeds. What about the Wispy Beards….standing all night staring at the moon, shaking their heads from side to side, muttering sweet nothings unto the rock?  Lunatics! Don’t get me started on the Sun People who eat the dung of small babies or those from the Mountains that say they can fly and converse with trees.  It’s all nonsense– fantasies created by those that need their hair cut, air their privates and get some fresh air once in a while.  Who wants them? After all, aren’t we’re drowning in lakes of piss and vinegar as it is?

Once declared, the marriage between Henry and I became the Talk of the Territories.  To us, it was destiny scribed in the heavens, but to the rest it was a celestial farce. The fact that I, daughter of Thomas Aloysius Crump – he of the hanged monkey affair - and Henry, grandson of Bluebottle Swallop had found tenderness had become an offensive amusement.

The fishwives were spiteful, swearing with truth I was with bastard-child – or to be precise, they scorned I had a ‘bun in the oven’.  The insults never ending, mostly behind my back but when they had the courage (usually after drinking a quart of the Devil’s Wee-Wee) straight to my blushing face- how I despised them for that.

There’s no point in getting upset.  Of course I liked my buns as the next bride and couldn’t everyone do with losing a little ballast? – but I wasn’t sprogging, even if I so wanted.  I was passing fourteen summers and if the Lord of Flies didn’t release the serpent inside my Eden Bush, then soon the crones would have another insult to chuck at me: Barren Spinster Crump.  That was something I could live without.

What did they know though?  Henry and I were smitten.  Which might be surprising….the reason?  I had never actually seen what he looked like.  But how, if we were betrothed?  Simple- Henry didn’t like light.  I didn’t understand at first, but one night under the stars, he explained in his gruff tones that he was afflicted: when the sun caressed his skin his flesh yellowed and peeled away, revealing the tender crimsonness beneath. 

Later, I did slap myself once or twice for not seeing the truth, I suppose I always did think his deep scarlet eyes a little strange as well as the thick black coarse hair which covered his body (that what I saw anyway). Henry was very muscular, tending to give him the awkward gait like something that wasn’t used to walking on hind legs.  But I was entranced and that was all that mattered.

Because of this curse, we didn’t venture outside once day had broken, but on those rare hours when we dared, he would cover himself from head to toe in a distinctive purple lint, claiming it repelled the sun.  On his face he wore an unusually shaped masque fashioned from that same cloth they wrap foul smelling cheese – perched on his visage in a manner making his mouth seem a snout and mittens on his hands woven from the insides of pig entrails.  These were the only materials, he claimed, that would protect his elongated nails from cracking in the weather.

I loved Henry with all my heart.  He was kind, gentle, considerate, affectionate–had such a tongue (even if it was rough around the edges) which would send my body into uncontrollable spasms.  How he loved to lick my neck, massaging it gently with his teeth and nose (wet – like a dog’s).  I knew I was blessed to have met him.

But, I will admit there was something I did find a little distasteful:  the way he made his living.  Though he was a prince (once removed), he wanted to prove he was one of the people and thus did the trade no-one else dared do – no matter how highly paid it was (which it wasn’t, as it happens).  Both back breaking and soul destroying at the best of times (especially since the Yellow Scurvy killed half the kingdom).  Until Henry, we were content enough to lob the corpses of our families or loved ones out the door, happy to leave them rotting in the gutters.

Henry found this impertinent to a fault and would ride his ass-led cart every night, scraping up the putrefied remains with his bare hands and transport them to the pits; there, he would mutter magic words and cover them with rocks.  That was Henry and that’s why I adored him.  Even now remembering his kindness, a happy feeling spreads throughout my body (which I swear isn’t wind). 

Actually, this was how we chanced upon each other: his humanity and the passing of the Loller, Johannes Quinter, to be exact.  I had been asked to witness any last will or confession the hypocrite might murmur and believing he was near to passing, we gathered around his bed hoping his death throes weren’t going to last much longer, but that night God wasn’t charitable and introduced Johannes to a slow and painful expiration.  After all the piss and shit his body ejected, it wasn’t a surprise when eventually he did perish (following a rather long, loud and fetid fart it must be noted) – we guessed God was vexed with Johannes.

No-one wanted to touch the body, didn’t want to be soiled by the foulness of the Lollard.  With all hands onboard, we picked up the bed and tossed it out of the window.  Henry was there waiting, ready to receive the offering, but catching a fair amount more: a glimpse of each other for one and once our eyes had spied the other – we were enchanted.  I’m not saying there weren’t problems, but as the next seven full and watery moons passed our courtship blossomed.  Much to the amusement of the locals, as well as to the chagrin of Bluebottle Swallop.


Let’s take a breather for a short word on Old Bluebottle. Whatever has been written or said about him, it is true he had led an astonishing life, even if that’s only half the story.  Mind-boggling! With all the things he had done, all the sights he had seen, all the battles he had fought, he still breathed at the ancient age of thirty-three.  Some doubters claimed he was nothing but a liar, a story teller, a maker of myths.  They were only jealous, couldn’t be half the things he had: an adventurer, traveller, inventor, sage, alchemist.  The list could be endless.  He had visited lands where people have no heads; where trees were made of gold and huts so tall they scraped the sky; he had imagined something named a CathodeRayeTube and debated at length about a coffer called as a VizualDisplayeUnit.

It was his adventurous ways that brought him into conflict with my family, even if we weren’t aware of it from the outset.  Returning from one of his voyages he was accompanied by an eccentric fellow he claimed to be his offspring. This was curious as Bluebottle had only been gone several harvests, yet this beast was fully grown.  Many suspected witchcraft, foul play or other devilish rapture.  And when this chap hitched up with Molly Cutpurse, Henry was born six weeks later.  Something certainly didn’t add up yet one thing was definite, Bluebottle took an instant dislike to my kin once he’d heard the rumpus between my long departed father and the spying monkey. For some reason his hatred focused on me, telling anyone that would listen that he despised my guts, compared me to a ferocious imp he had battled called a hi-pop-tamus, which I took as insult.  But it didn’t matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t destroy Henry and my affection for one another.  It was through gritted teeth, when eventually Bluebottle relented and permitted Henry to take me as his wife. Thus when the moon was fat (September 13th), Henry got down on one knee and swore to make an honest woman of me.  I accepted and the feast was set – All Hallows Eve!  I had been forewarned.


But that was then and that was yesterday when Gloriana was to be. Was, I say and we’ll get there presently.  For now, let us say as I kneeled at the altar of our Lord, I knew it was the happiest day of my life. A girl could never be so mistaken.

For we were all unaware that with the throng, something else was in the village. A darkness so evil, a swirling black cloud of foulness. Found there, at the rear of the walking caravan. Seemingly going unnoticed amongst the melee until it had hitched up its skirts betwixt the hanging tree and church door, deposing the minstrel Leonardo of Capri in its wake.  Announcing itself in a hellish scream, a tremendous clap of thunder, a strike of lightning, people watching on agog fearful the sky was going to fall on their heads.  But what was it?

Eventually when jaws clamped shut, no-one could fathom the blight that had befallen them: a flea-bitten nag dragged a wooden carriage through the mud.  A carriage in need of much repair, the word Cirque scrawled upon its side (in what looked like blood but tasted more like excrement).  But once the nag came to a standstill and people started to wonder what all the fuss had been about, co-incidentally Sister Immaculate fell from a tree, hitting the ground with such force it knocked the bejesus out of her.  She sat up, her mouth foaming and started screaming obscenities to some heathen lord.  Whilst it was well known the Good Sister was touched, this was certainly not the occasion to start doubting the parentage of her god or to speak of where exactly she desired the Devil to insert his pitched peeney.  She would forever be derided as an opportunist.

Weary from their journey, but not wanting to turn their backs on the Cirque, many just dropped where they stood, lit fires and started to feast.  A sight such as the Sister was a welcome distraction from the cirque so they clapped in unison with her shrieks, her protestations, egging her on when she ripped at her robes and revealed a deep tanned all-over skin, suggesting that in times of crises her habit came off a little too eagerly.  Rotten vegetables headed in her direction however, when it was noticed she had removed the hair under her arms and between her legs, a definite no-no in these parts.  Someone remarked that if she’d spent equal time cutting the hair from beneath her nose and chin she would have found a suitable husband who might have saved her from the nunnery; sending many into uncontrollable fits of laughter.  Laughter though that was honeyed in nervous anticipation.

Eventually, even Immaculate fell silent, when in a rush to wash her modesty with a bucket full of horse-piss, the cripple Guido Boneyface was knocked from his sow, landing in a steaming pile of freshly laid dung.  No-one deserved that.  Even as a joke.  Especially when the dung was examined and discovered to be from some unknown animal.  It was later observed that Jacob Cockweather (he with the bulbous warts) had sneaked away exactly at that point with an inane grin, britches halfway up his thighs and stains upon his sweaty palms.  It was all getting too much.

As the fires died and the chatter fell to a whisper, the storm still raged above the cirque, not though that the on-lookers were bothered, tiredness had beaten them and eyes begun to close.  A strange aroma floated above their heads, which no-one could identify.  Where it came from, was anyone’s guess but many supposed it emanated from the rear of the circus-carriage.  And what the inhabitants of that carriage were up to was also anyone’s speculation, no-one had appeared, nor was there any suggestion that anyone was about too.

But, after a couple of hours (when most had given up the ghost), a covering was thrown back and several hooded beings stepped from the carriage, weaving their way through the crowd, waking people from their slumber.  One carried a marionette (with a similar looking hood) which rode the bodies as a wave, singing a lullaby in a language no-one rightly understood.  Those that were affiliated with the afflicted sister thought it was witch-hymn but even they were unsure.  Quite a cacophony of sound was shrieked from the troupe players.  Bird eaters, cat tamers, dung sculptors, children with large appendages, old crones with tiny heads.  All of them singing this eerie mantra. 

It continued for a while, but then as the storm raged to its zenith, a God Almighty crash of lightning lit the dawn sky and the rains begun to fall.  The throng rose as one, desperately searching for cover but stopping suddenly and looking on bemused when something new emerged from the rear of the carriage.  The importance was evident when the acolytes of the cirque threw themselves to the mud in reverence berating their own chests.  This could mean only one thing: the Master of this Dramatis Personae.

A red tunic covered the length of his body.  In his hand: a golden sceptre and on his blackened painted head, a silver crown with a large purple jewel at its centre.  He bent down to kiss the ground beneath him and uttered something of which was guessed to be a foreign obscenity.

Patiently he walked past the villagers, studying their faces, their every move. How their eyes followed him, every motion of his head.  He was searching for something.  Often he would stop, arch his lacquered eyebrows and his lips part as if to speak, but then, thinking better of it carry on making his way through the crowd. 

After what seemed an eternity of looking here, there and everywhere, he raised his arms in the air, bellowing at the top his voice in a shrill like screech: “I’ve come for my child!  Where is he?!”  If he was expecting an answer immediately then he went disappointed. All he received was head shaking and middle fingers extended in ironic salutes.  Strangers weren’t liked around these parts and anyway, no-one knew what the hell he was on about.

Except of course for me. I rushed from the altar, for I had heard this language before.  Henry had uttered it, or words like it, when he grew vicious.  Perhaps these people were relatives of his on their way to join our festivities.  Somehow though, I doubted it.  They didn’t look like kith or kin.

As this rumpus was unfolding, from the far end of the village, my betrothed was heading carefree towards the church.  In his horse and cart (natch!), he wasn’t embarrassed about who or what he was (old Bluebottle being carried in one of his inventions – made in metal and powered by something he had monikered a Com-busting En-Jin).  They both wore matching blue jerkins.  The usual coverings still adorned Henry’s hands and face, though for extra vanity he had added coloured lace to the lint.

Because of the high volume of people, they had to dismount and walk the final few steps to the church.  But like the parting of the red sea, as they approached, the crowd split down the middle and begun to circle the Master and the Swallops.

Bluebottle knew instantly something was amiss. No sooner had he clapped eyes on the crowned creature and saw the sceptre in his hand, he made an unearthly growl, grabbed his chest and crumpled.  Henry wasn’t frightened though – after all, why should he be? 

“What is this?”  The Master asked.  Henry stepped closer, ecstatic that someone knew his tongue and begun to remove the cloth that covered his face.  The strange circus folk still on their knees, rocking backwards and forwards uttering their devilish dirge.

My stomach rumbling, I bolted into the circle.  That stench had returned, was unbearable - already several onlookers had succumbed to palsy sickness.  Most of the vomit flowing towards the prostrate Bluebottle.
“Don’t do it, I beg you!”  I screamed, just in time to see the cloth come away from Henry’s face.

Those that were still with us let out an undignified sigh.  I didn’t know what to do so did as they: stood there and gawped. Henry turned towards me.  My eyes fell to the floor, I couldn’t face him.  What exactly was I about to marry?  What creature of Mesopotamia was this? It was obvious he had lied about his affliction.

Sister Immaculate seized her second opportunity to disturb proceedings and was now completely naked.  She beat at her breasts and pulled at her womanhood. Madness had now fully taken her and she caressed the Swallop’s ass as if it was her lover.

But when Henry began to disrobe, even she crossed herself and climbed into the cirque-carriage for safety.
“It is true.”  The Master begun.  “You are your father’s son.”

I was agog. Henry wasn’t human after all.  He was a familiar of some kind.  A large dog or maybe a bear.  Complete with snout.  In his nakedness, I noticed his rump was bright red with blue stripes.  A short stubby tail swung there threateningly.  I had seen drawings of that damn spying monkey and there were many similarities.

He shrugged.  “What’s the big deal?  I’m an animal.”  He came towards me with open arms.  The crowd, in unison, turned to see my reaction. They had come from far and wide, they still wanted a spectacle. I didn’t know which way to turn, he didn’t look that bad actually, whether man or beast.  I could only imagine what fun we could have with that tail!

But I never got the chance, for just as his hairy whiskers came within an inch of my neck and as his jaws opened wide, revealing a huge set of sharp fangs, Sister Immaculate bolted from the back of the carriage screaming plot and treason.  She was covered in something, something fine and powdery.  She went to say something else but there was a massive boom and the sun fell from the sky crashing us all to the ground.

It took sometime for the survivors to get to their feet: those lucky few of, covered in blood, vomit and other shit.  Someone who had been taking a leak behind a tree and who was now as deaf as a mule screamed Greek Fire. What knowledge he had of that who knew.  Bodies lay everywhere, most with limbs of one kind or another missing.  There was no sign of the Master and his circus.  Disappeared in a puff of smoke, so it seemed.

On the church steps lay the remains of Henry.  I took a slow stroll towards what was left.  His pelt would make a thick winter coat, so at least I got something out of the day.  I laughed to myself how ironic life was, all this carnage and no-one to bury the bodies.  Young Guido approached, he had escaped most of the explosion, just a little soot on his cloak, a slight tingeing to the hair.  I suppose he had his boyish charms.  I let him hold my hand.

Somewhere in the distance, Leonardo picked up his broken lute and begun strumming a verse he had scribed for such an event: “I’ve been this way before and I’m sure to be this way again”.  Poignant somehow, I’m sure.

The door to the Green Dragon was open.  I went to drag Guido inside when he grabbed me close and whispered into my ear: “Liberty tugs justice by the nose, but freedom, why that drags a rump by its tail!”  He chuckled to himself and headed through the door.  I picked at the remains of the dress I was wearing.  I guess Guido was right, in his own way.  I smirked and followed him inside, I was dying for a drink.  Cheers!

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