They drifted sloppily down the River Thyme, passing plenty of trees in a scented breeze, but no fields of waving corn. There weren’t many girls with peroxide curls, trying their best to become fishmongers from the bounties of the river. Oh bounteous river, river full of fish! They sat with ankles and toes dipping in the water to tempt the Salmon – have you seen the Salmon swimming up the River Thyme? – hoping to entice the tantalisingly succulent anadromous piscine’s with the seductive taste of athletes foot.
Ask the Garra Rufa fish if he enjoys it too!
For some reason it works – mmm!
Sushi on the menu tonight?
Others, of course, preferred the Frog on the Thyme, a delightful species that had evolved extra-long legs to help it escape from prey, which inevitably made it more attractive to Frenchmen. The only other example of such ineptitude in adaptation was the four legged Chicken, found occasionally in the open lands around Setebos; sadly nobody knows what they taste like as they’re impossible to catch. It is one of Ken’s dreams to catch one and make Ken Tucky’s fried chicken. What a hopeless dream!
The gentle plains of Setebos gave way to gorges which were gorgeous, with rocky hillsides favoured by Orcs, Goblins and Hermits called Herman. Not that the Orcs caused any problems at this moment, since they had converted whole heartedly to Capitalism and free market economies; these days the Orcs sat on rocky promontories just to get away from the tedium of the Office, Accountancy and Financial Advising. Occasionally they would bring a client for lunch if they were unable to cover their bills; not all the old ways were forgotten or missed!
This region was known as the Emelyn Hues; a winding whinging windy way, wailing with withering worries, a place in which gales grasped ankles and tipped the unwary deep into chasms, never to be seen again. Where Eagles dare not; where everyone has to sit down for a piss; where even muckles don’t make a mickle. A bleak, barren, desolate land, highly recommended by government Ministers for underground fuel extraction; though it does make Barwa City look interesting. It was as if the Gods had decided to have a bit of a laugh in the tales from the topographic foundations, creating what could best be described as nothing more than a well sculpted pile of Coprolite; a dung heap to make Odin smile. It was the kind of land that would be favoured by elderly gentlemen with cagoules and trousers tucked in their socks, carrying neat little rucksacks containing flasks of coffee and cheese and chutney sandwiches, whilst waxing lyricalabout the restorative powers of Kendal Mint Cake and a certain Bar on Mars.
It was a surprisingly pleasant trip, despite the dullness of the features. Not that the Bargee had dull features; no he was like most Dwarfs – ugly as a sack of shite with a painted on face. Yet he had tales to tell! Who could believe that moving a barge up and down a river day after day could be so enthralling? He told of days when the tide came in then went out, going first inland and then some hours later heading back out into the sea. There were thrilling times when the tide was on the turn, but he would not tell Lord Grenville. At such times he felt like the wife whose husband had just admitted to being bisexual and so was unsure of which way to spin. Then there the glorious days when sea birds came from the Sea, only to return disappointed upon realising the Land was the end of the Sea. He kept them spellbound by explaining how difficult it was to put on Dwarf Boots after drinking sixteen pints of Smells Like Scat; he even made suggestive comments about Dwarf breeding sessions after the annual bath, and how mistakes sometimes happened, as the Mister Dwarf’s sometimes had bigger tits than the Misses Dwarfs.
“It can get to be a real pain in the arse,” he shared.
Eventually the hills fell away; predictable really, due to erosion. As the land flattened out again the river widened until they entered the enormous pool at the Mouth of the River Thyme and the gateway to the Mere Sea. The Bargee knew he had to steer carefully towards the right hand shore or he would inevitably become trapped in the rip tide that roared through the centre of the Pool and be cast out to the Mere Sea. Captain O’Nighon was an experienced hand; two experienced legs and arms, an experienced head, and a torso that had experienced more than its fair share of Tastes Like Scat. So it was that he guided them safely to the Princes Landing Stage in dear old Hlither Poler Town.
Now begad and begorrah but Hlither Poler is indeed one of the strange things on Uranus. It is in essence the home of the Sankyu Fairies and a commercial hub for the enduring hinterland. It is a place from which Goods and Not Goods are imported and exported, weighed, taxed, sold, squandered; where inbreeding is so frequent that often triplets look like twins; and where information is bought and sold as easily as a stockbroker’s integrity.
Our radical five said goodbye to the marvellous Mr O’Nighon, promising to say hello on their return. (Not unless you return as a turd excreted from a Zombies Jacksy, thought the bargee, knowing more about Witchland than he cared to let on). They wandered lonely, as a crowd, trying to look nonchalant through streets broad and narrow, until without so much as a bye your leave, they admitted to being lost.
Tom felt it was time to give some advice.
“I’ve been here before you know,” he began.
“We all get that feeling from Time to Time. If it is a short term phenomena it is known as déjà vu. In some religious cults it is a basic tenet of belief – reincarnation. That is why some of them don’t care if they die, as they know they will be coming back again,” explained Wayne, sounding very much like an audio book.
“Reincarnation?” queried Ken. “Is that when you are reborn as a bright red flower?”
He gave a mischievous chortle while flinching slightly just in case the big bosomed Fairy took a fence.
“As I was saying, I have been here before to Hlither Poler; but in a parallel Universe and on a different Planet,” continued Ireful Tom of Bedlam.
“You’re always on another planet,” muttered Magdalene.
“… The people are tremendous though they speak with an accent exceedingly rare, meet under a statue exceedingly bare; and should you be in need of a Cathedral they have one to spare!” persisted the Slightly Irate Tom of Bedlam, trying his best to ignore the sleight from his partner in Time.
Magdalene just smiled as it was only a slight sleight.
“What is a Cathedral?” asked Ken.
“It’s a fucking big room built in honour of some mythical being,” explained Tom. “Outrageously elite prigs steal money from poor people in order to build the big fuck off room and have their name put inside somewhere. Then they make the poor feel guilty and so they have to visit once a week to say thanks to the mythical being for allowing them to be so poor. Then they give more money so the men who pretend the mythical being exists can have enough dosh for chicken legs, candyfloss, fizzy drinks and wine.”
“Sounds very dodgy to me,” said Hanny.
Ken and Wayne nodded uncertainly.
“Hoh! hello chaps! Need some help?” came a voice. “Har you lost? Whenceforth hiz your hintended perambulations and peregrinations?”
Before them stood a fairly well dressed Pixy, covered as normal in bright coloured apparel; bright blue his jacket was and his boots were yellow; red were the corduroy pants, green was his waistcoat; his shirt was sky blue pink with a finny haddy turnover.
“Good day to you kind sir,” began Mad Tom.
“Hoh by Jove and that; a Nancy boy!” scoffed the stranger.
“Well excuse me hold bean,” said Tom in a massive Space-Time shift. “Hit Hiz the hintention hov this company gathered here to hascertain the whereabouts of the famous Sankyu Fairies. Henny chance of ha heads hup hold chap?”
“Ah hi see you have ha grasp of the local banter,” exclaimed the stranger.
He pondered for a while.
“Methinks the haforementioned collection of young ladies, who some might suggest have rather dubious reputations when it comes to moral standing, har quite possibly partaking hov the local brews hat ha hostel known generally haround these parts has The Big House!” continued their new pal.
“Excuse me Tom,” intervened Ken. “What language are you speaking?”
“Well in this City they call it ‘Gauss’. It is a very attractive dialect once you get to know it. The origin is obscure though some believe it was the name of a dish served up in this part of our world,” explained Slightly Peeved Tom. “It is a type of thick soup or stew made from a stone, preferably Haematite or Magnetite.”
“How can you make soup from a stone?” asked Ken.
“Ho hit hiz very easy,” said the local chap. “Ho hi, very heazy. Put the stone in water and bring to the boil. Then when boiling hadd a few vegetables hand hif possible hadd some meat. Leave to stew then consume. Ho hi!”
“What habout the stone? Do you eat that?” asked Ken.
“Ho no! You save that for starting the next soup!”
“Why Haemetite?” asked Wayne.
“It’s very hattractive which is why they are called Gaussers!” laughed Tom. “It is statistically significant at the two point five level that these folks are not the only ones to eat this stuff on Uranus.”
“Still again I ask – why Gauss?” asked Ken.
“Well they speak with an accent exceedingly rare; so again statistically, considering the Normal Distribution curve, it makes them the bell ends!” explained Tom.
“Blow me down!” said the stranger. “His hit your hinevitable haffectation that you hindulge hin rendering hall hov my dialogue into minor tittle tattle for your collection hov hoiks to follow?”
“What did he say?” questioned Wayne.
“Hi was merely hexplaining to your herstwhile companion that hi ham fatigued hat the prospect of my hexplanations requiring translation!” said the stranger.
“No, you lost me,” said Ken.
“Well hisn’t that just ha charming surprise,” continued their new found cunning linguist.
“I’m not sure I will pick it up, actually,” said Magdalene.
“Perhaps we could get him to speak through the normal idioms of Uranus,” suggested Hanny.
“Listen my sweet; Hi ham working my damnedest to hascertain your requirements haz we perambulate these pleasant byways hand highways hov Hlither Poler! Hit hiz far from being my fault that you harr huneducated hin the ways hov the City. You country bumpkins really hort to be making ha better show hov things! Hodds Bodkins!” said the stranger.
“What is this silly bugger’s name?” asked Hanny.
“Excuse me hold chap. Would you be so kind has to provide huss with your moniker?” asked Tom.
The stranger smiled in delight, as the light was much brighter here and they could forget all their troubles, forget all their cares and go downtown.
“Matthew, though hall hov my chums refer to me has Matt,” said Matthew, now that he was no longer a stranger.
“Hazmat? Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Ken.
“It depends on how it is contained,” explained Magdalene.
At this point Wayne accidently floated an air biscuit.
“How´s that for a Hazmat!” he laughed.
“More like a Biohazard!” chortled Ken.
They stopped even smirking as Hanny looked at them with hate in her eyes.
Tom introduced the random ragged collection of Questers, explaining Hanny’s desire to meet her cousin, the Sankyu Fairy Mutch (‘you’re welcome’), though at this point omitted to mention the need to eradicate a particular pest from the planet; not everybody wants to wipe things from Uranus.
“Han hinteresting hevocation hov derring-do within this hassemblage,” said Matt. “So hiv perchance we could return to my original query; har you hout hov sorts with the City hat this particular hinstance hin time?”
“Har you lost old chap?”
“Well if this was a small inlet filled with ordure, we would probably be missing an oar!” laughed Ken, for which he received an almighty clout from Hanny.
Matthew considered the statement.
“Hi would suggest that hiv you har seeking the favours hov the less salubrious ladies hov the night then pay ha visit to Hupper Parley Mint Street,” he said.
This of course was a reference to one of the other less salubrious sections of the city, an area that had once seen more genteel days but was now the home of the Nairdo-Wails, distant cousins of the Prince of Wails. In the dim and distant past, so dim that if failed all of its exams, Parley Mint Street was a thriving hub of the money making Mint industry. All types of Mint were traded in this area, from Spearmint to Penny Royal to Pineapple Mint to Pepper Mint to Water Mint to Dickey Mint; the Fairy Kings loved it so much they even cultivated a hybrid of Ginger mint and Bergamot which is now known as The Royal Mint.
So on Parley Mint Street people just talked Mint.
Eventually the bottom fell out of the Mint market, after a period of hyperinflation in Mint prices. A few people got out on time and were well minted; the majority of investors fell flat on their minty faces.
Almost as bad as buying Tulips.
Or too many apartments in faraway places.
So the area fell somewhat into disrepute; buildings that once sprouted Mint on every door now looked like decaying dinosaur turds. Still, one Elves poison is another Elves meat, and so, the oar makers moved into many of the buildings as the rents were cheap. Soon there were oars on every corner, getting in the way of pedestrians and attracting the attention of the sailors that came to Hlither Poler.
“Sailors like hoars?” asked Ken.
Hanny slapped him for being so naïve.
“He said ‘oar’,” explained Tom.
“So working class,” muttered Matty. “Hi knew exactly what he meant, so thought hit would be ha rather splendid jest to point him to the henvirons hov the hoar makers. Quite ha wild caper hi thought, ho hi” he added sulkily.
Ken rubbed his stinging cheek.
“I was attempting to talk metaphorically,” said the wayward Elf. “There really wasn’t any need to slap me.”
Hanny knew she had to keep these guys in check and a little corporal punishment would be good for them. She considered sergeant punishment too. If only she knew it, she could have earned a fortune this way with Fat Bankers, Senior Clergymen, Generals, Admirals and Politicians in London.
“Look,” said Tom, “we need to find the base hov the Sankyu Fairies haz we would like to undertake ha Sea journey with Hanny’s cousin. Can you direct huss to them?”
“One can manage this haffair far more efficiently than that! Hi will get my sister Gwladys to promenade you to the haforementioned destination. Jolly hold sis is partially hin the employ hov the prior mentioned swashbuckling tartlets; not that she needs the work – she does hit to keep busy. You know they hactually require her services to wash their hunderwear! Houtstanding! Hov course hi thought hi would hoffer my services halong the same lines but they weren’t hinterested. Hactually chaps hit’s ha role hi believe hi would rather have henjoyed!”
“Me too!” said Ken.
“Wurlitzer!” said Wayne.
So it was that our five Questers were escorted through streets broad and narrow by the Streets – Matthew who was very broad and Gwladys who was very narrow. Eventually they found themselves down by the riverside; down by the riverside; down by the riverside.
And down by the riverside was the home of the fearsomely awesome troublesome Sankyu Fairies! Hanny was thrilled to finally be in the neighbourhood of her cousin. She looked at the collection of ships and boats, surrounded by strapping Fairy girls; for thus it was found that the most breath-taking of warriors were female, for they have no compassion for men gone astray, and only women bleed. The travellers marvelled at the formidable swords and daggers, whose handles were adorned with all types of wondrous precious gemstones; also the frightening red uniform designed to send terror into the hearts of Pirates, fabricated as it was to leave the ladies arms and legs bare to move lithesomely as they viciously aided foes to part company with their heads. Of course the boots were standard issue; long, black twenty four lace-hole.
Fairies wear boots, you have to believe me.
The gateway to the boatyard carried the Sankyu Fairy motto – Peer Ahead – a reminder that vigilance was always needed by vigilantes. In fact a good motto for everyone and everything – looking back just means you get to see where you’ve been but have no idea where you are going. All the places I’ve been make it hard to begin to enjoy life again on the inside, but I mean to. Never drive a car backwards as you just return to where you started instead of getting Fish and Chips on the M62 in Yorkshire; and that will make all the difference. If you don’t know where you’re going then you can be certain you will get there.
The yard was full of the fighting vessels known as Fairy Boats, alarming looking contraptions bristling with fighting armaments, oozing scary buxom babes, adorned with fluttering flags, emblazoned with scary images and ready to go to war. Not that there was much chance of war anymore since the green skinned tribes had taken to Financial Affairs. Perhaps the Witches could be persuaded, though they invariably travelled by broomstick, eschewing other forms of transport as ‘old fashioned’; they have a point too!
Dancing about from stem to stern were fighting Fairies; singing and crying battle ballads of death and destruction.
“One hinevitably hopes that this company hiz more than happy to have harrived hat their destination; that being the case my sister and hi will take har leave hov you and wish you ha merry journey, hand success in your forthcoming Quest,” said Matthew, bowing in a somewhat stiffened manner, then departing with his nose in the air.
“Ho hi, thanks guys,” said Tom. “I’ll be seeing you!”
“Pompous twat,” said Hanny, though it was unclear to whom she was referring.