Court Leopold loves his life. He’s happily single and tours the country as one half of the indie band Courtesan. On the eve of his twenty-fifth birthday, his mother gives him a gold fief ring and says there’s a horse and a birthright to claim. Court expects to fit this duty between gigs, but once he meets Artemisia and his keeper, the hob maid Tansy Thrift, all bets are off. Is Court’s perfect life gone forever?
Court was used to groupies. He always put the word into quotes in his mind, because it sounded so nineteen sixties. He supposed fans might be a better term, or maybe acolytes. Whatever they were, he was used to seeing them. He recognised them from venue to venue.
He amused himself by assigning them code names. There was Orange Indian Skirt, Earnest Bearded Bloke, Guitar Man, The Eager Elf and Pisky-in-a-Blanket. There were ten or so that turned up often enough to be dubbed supergroupies. He sometimes had a drink with them after a gig. They deserved acknowledgment for their devotion, and they were interesting people. They didn’t presume.
He signed autographs for rookie fans, but he never signed twice for the same person. If My Friends wanted autographs, they could come to the next gig and get one each. If Orange Indian Skirt showed up wearing shades and purple plus-fours she’d be out of luck. He’d recognise her anywhere. As for scanning the autograph and selling it online, Court made certain that wasn’t going to happen. He embedded a little deflection charm to ensure each new autograph stayed in that person’s possession. It could be willed to someone else, but only after the original fan had died. As far as he knew, that hadn’t happened yet.
Court knew most people would find his desire for control obsessive and excessive and probably patronising. Therefore, he didn’t tell anyone. All he said, in the friendliest voice possible, was, this is for you only, and it’s the only one you’ll ever have, oui?
He wasn’t French, but sometimes he pretended he was.
One of his most devoted supergroupies was the one he called Marie Antoinette because she wore a kind of milkmaid get-up with paniers. She was a thirty-something brunette under the powder, and the first time he spotted her he’d been tempted to go over and sniff her hair in case she was courtfolk, like him. He’d observed her a dozen times since then, and concluded she was at least mostly human. Her first name was Louise, and she was almost certainly related to The Musketeer and The Cavalier, who wore carefully cultivated moustaches and lots of lace. The three were perfectly groomed, and he thought they were either actors or re-enactors.
Did other musos attract superfans who wore such eclectic costumes?
“Man, it’s ‘cos you call yourselves Courtesan,” his roadie Gemma told him patiently.
“What’s that to do with the price of escargots?”
Gemma did her best impression of a Cockney sparrow. “Stands to reason, innit? Bound to get the Brazils and their chinas.”
“Must you, ma cherie?” Court raised a lazy eyebrow and ruffled Gemma’s hair.
“Wotcher, china.” Gemma giggled and slapped his hand away.
Court loved Gemma. He was absolutely not her type. Gem was a waif of a woman with light hair and hazel eyes. She had the constitution of an ox, and she could sling sets around with one hand and drink strong men under the table. She liked little, dark, wiry, intellectual men with designer stubble. Since Court was tall and fair and languid when not on-stage, she only fancied him after too many White Russians, and not a lot then.
“I could make you want me,” Court said.
And Gemma grinned and said, “In yer dreams, me old china. Go and get dressed up for yer public and don’t go padding them tights. Jaysus, I’m glad this tour’s nearly done. I’ll go to ground in me bedsit and sleep for a week.”
“Your accent’s slipping, cherie.”
“Up yours with bells on, fake Frenchman. Where are you really from, anyhow?”
“You’ll tell me the truth one day.”
Telling the truth was easy when he didn’t need to be believed. He was from Fairyland, which he thought of as over there. He’d left at fourteen and had been back only once, three years before, when a strange feeling of danger came over him.
It’s as if I’m in danger of losing something.
He might have said that if there had been anyone to listen. He’d been on his first tour with Courtesan and they’d still been learning how to function as a foursome comprising two singer-musicians, two sisters, two singles and a married couple. He took the vintage van to the rockslides gateway, parked by the mango tree and climbed the path to Big Crystal Creek. When he stepped through the gateway into over there, he went to the falls pool and discovered his feeling had been right. He had lost something, and that something was time. He’d been gone eight years and little Kin, the waterfolk child he’d loved like a small sister, had turned into a slender ebony enchantress.
She favoured him with her old, delightful smile, surged out of the pool and kissed him with enthusiasm. “Play, master?”
“Kin, it’s me. Cork.” The old nickname came painfully as he stood back.
She glowed with wellbeing, and her skin was as much like satin as always.
“I know you’re Cork. No harm. I have enough years.”
He wanted to play with her. Waterfolk did that, with their bursts of happy pheromones. It wouldn’t feel right though. He gazed at her with creeping dismay that cooled his hard-on.
This does not compute. How can I tickle you now? What have you done with my little Kin?
He’d gone back through the gate in a hurry and written a song called Homegoing with a sob in the refrain. For you can’t go home again, it’ll never be the same, bow to the past and close the gate…you can never go home again.
He performed it once, with a country twang, sending himself up. Gemma looked at him funny, so he gave her a lazy grin and told himself and Lady Lyonesse to forget it. Gem was right. Lutes didn’t suit country twangs. He was ashamed of himself.
“Costume,” Gem said, snapping her fingers to get him back to the present.