Nevy was busy straightening Matachena’s wife’s back for her, trying to do it more gently than she had with Matachena himself. She was going bone by bone, so that in theory it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad. It still hurt Wewu-lelen-damówi a lot, and for longer. Because it was drawn out so much, the poor woman didn’t even have the luxury of fainting, at least not very often.
The Wizard had a liking for hunchbacks, midgets, pinheads, hare lips, and dwarfs. If it was grotesque or misshapen or ugly, preferably all three, he had it around. I think he invented some previously undiscovered deformities.
Both the butchers were hunchbacks. They died of natural causes – strokes – on arrival in the atrium. I tried to keep it painless, but slaughtering and butchering people, even people who had been turned into Winky Bears or Flying Monkeys, was beyond the pale. Likewise with the cook and his assistant; if butchering them was bad, I thought cooking them was worse. I shifted the bodies a few reality streams over to get them out of the way.
Matachena gave me a thumbs down on the dungeon master too; he and Palégos were of one mind when it came to enjoying themselves at other people’s expense. I’d expected him to show up bare-chested and wearing a black hood. Instead, he was a chunky Latin, maybe even Arab looking guy with a black beard. I was subtle with him. He suffered a sudden sharp pain, lower right side, but it was only a few seconds. He missed a step, looked worried for a moment, then ignored it when the pain vanished.
“The name’s A.J. Jones,” I told him. “I’m in charge now. You need to scrub out the dungeons.”
“Huh?” he said brilliantly, looking at Matachena for explanation. The major domo was sitting hunched over, under a blanket, so he didn’t notice he was no longer deformed.
Matachena shrugged, as though he didn’t know what was going on either. “Just do it,” he said, sounding patient.
The bully boy shrugged in return and went back to his lair, figuring Mister Wizard would sort things out and he’d soon have me hanging by my thumbs, or maybe by my testicles. I’d given him a ten second case of appendicitis when he walked in, popped it, and I had then sped up the process of his peritonitis. I expected him to be laid out permanently within seventy two hours. If not, he’d have lots of other problems by then.
We sent for the two animal keepers next. They were matched hunchbacks. We set them to rounding up the changeling bears and birds with the promise of being returned to factory specs when they were done. The two gardeners were very tall and very thin, with pinheads and monkey faces. Since they had physical work to do, that required a normally functioning body. I refused to believe that they had monkey faces or that they could function with pinheads; that caused them to revert to human features. They were okay the way they were, though they would have to shrink about a foot apiece to be normal. Even then they’d be pretty tall. We sent them and the two ironmongers with the animal keepers as assistants for now, to round up the “animals” and to bring them to the atrium.
The baker, the wash woman, and the two housekeepers were harmless, just gruesome. I left them for Nevy to stretch and straighten and otherwise repair. When she was done with them she sent them limping to the kitchen to make something to eat for our growing chorus of hungry naked people.
The two bath slaves were a Saxon boy and girl. They looked like they might be twins. They were the exception to the grotesquerie around us. They were maybe ten years old, with identically cut shocks of light blond hair, and they were both exceptionally pretty. Other than probably needing major psychotherapy down the line, they looked normal.
The masseuse and the six concubines were what in my reality stream would be categorized as bimbos: boobs verging on the enormous, tiny waists, big butts, over-long legs, and vacant kewpie doll faces. They ranged in age from maybe sixteen to twenty one, and they were all blondes or redheads. The Wizard wasn’t fond of the duskier native babes for his pleasure, nor even of the creamy-skinned Latin brunettes. Once the spells were off, they turned out to be normally built and moderately pretty young women, though none was a patch on my girl.
The two eunuchs were hog fat, and each had only one eye. The Wizard had taken an eye apiece (on opposite sides, naturally) for some peeking incident, Matachena explained. Both had been made into dwarfs. I refused to believe they could be that fat, or that they were dwarfs. I left Nevy to deal with restoring their eyes and height and testicles. Palégos lived in a human junkyard and he’d done the wrecking himself.
I’d killed a half dozen Flying Monkeys, out of a total in residence of twenty four. Of the eighteen remaining, a dozen were men and boys, a half dozen were women and girls. The ratio was reversed with the Winky Bears. All I had to do was not believe such things were possible and I was looking at normal people again. I even felt a bit of remorse about the ones I had killed. I’d have felt more remorse if they hadn’t started snapping my bones. They were split about half and half between natives and European-descended, with the European about half Latin and half Saxon or similar. All of them looked somewhere between hungry and starved.
By my rough count, we had added sixty one people to our number, not counting the little ones on the way. We had passed through villages with fewer people. Hamlets, anyway.
My lord sweetheart took the Wizard’s mansion with much less effort than I had expected. I suppose that makes sense, considering that the Wizard wasn’t there, that his entire household hated him, and that he was planning on killing and eating his major domo and his family.
The recovering slaves devoured every bit of non-cannibal food in the house. Wewu-lelen-damówi (my lord sweetheart simply renamed her Laetitia (Mirth) in Latin and English), Pinky, Cookie, and Japekow (renamedd Jake) assigned themselves as our personal attendants, happy to change ownership. After the feast the Wizard’s slaves stripped the house of anything they wanted to take with them, limited only by their ability to carry it. There were no weapons; Palégos relied on magic and on his widespread minions, like our Nannakussi had been, to enforce his will. We made a colorful parade as we walked down the hill, the Wizard’s slaves – ours now – clad in Palégos’ gaily colored robes, carrying cookware, blankets, sheets, wall hangings, cushions, plates, napkins, and whatever else they could lay hands on, much of which would eventually be discarded. Someone had even taken his lares and pentates. I made sure those were burned, and not in a cook fire.
The animal keepers started a herd of three hundred or so sheep and goats moving with us, and were driving a couple dozen swine after them. We would be eating for a few days at least. There were also a few cows and a dozen or so horses.
We made lots of stops on the way down the hill, since curing starvation by eating has an effect on the digestive tract. Someone seemed to be heading for the bushes every ten feet or so. My lord lover had all of us individually under his protection; he actively Disbelieved that the Wizard could see any of us. We had all disappeared from the man’s remote vision, even the sheep and goats and cows and horses.
“Want to see something I’ve never been able to do before, my sweet?” my lord lover asked me when we were all well away from the house.
“What’s that?” I asked. He had spoken in English, which we and Nannakussi understood and the others didn’t. Nannakussi heard him and he came to join us.
“I was always able to move between alternate reality streams, but I was never able to move large inanimate objects with me – nothing I couldn’t carry. Now that I can see the Power around us, watch this.”
He pointed to Palégos’ magnificent house. It was of classical design, a lovely thing, white and gleaming. Its beauty belied the horrors that had gone on within it. As I watched, it wasn’t there. It didn’t disappear, it just wasn’t there. I can’t even explain the difference between the two. But it was gone, leaving not even a hole in the ground. Where it had been there were now uninterrupted trees.
“Well,” my lover said, visibly gathering his thoughts, “that explains a few things.”
“Like what?” I asked. I knew the entire house and gardens had gone away, but I had no idea what he had done.
“I always wondered how I could step from one reality stream to another and never run into myself,” he explained. “Apparently the process just swaps the version of me in the target universe with me in the source universe.”
“You mean,” I asked, “that at your home in your realm there is a version of you wandering around speaking the wrong language with no home and no magic to rely on?”
“Maybe. But you Summoned me, so there’s probably a difference in the approach. Because the streams are so far apart, I suspect a local version of me doesn’t much resemble me even assuming there is one. There are vast cultural differences, and it’s doubtful my genetic mother ever met my genetic father, or even that their parents met, or their great-grandparents. My ancestry’s English and Greek on my mother’s side, Welsh and Scandinavian on my father’s. Think of the likelihood of them ever meeting here.”
“Would that mean I don’t exist in thy realm?” I asked, surprised. I had somehow imagined all the alternate universes holding the same people, just doing slightly different things.
“My guess would be not yet,” he told me.
I had a brief flash of a vision. Jack and I were lying on a blanket, on the beach at Sandy Isle, only its name was Fenwick Island. We were just across the street from our shop, though it was out of sight because of the buildings between. I could hear traffic noises, “cars” Jack called them. He was wearing shorts, something like he had worn when he arrived, which seemed like months ago. He was tanned the color of Nannakussi, making his eyes look very pale. I loved his build, I loved the sheer size of him. He actually made me feel dainty. My hair was gathered at the back of my head, but loose, in what he called a ponytail. I wore a skimpy two-piece swim suit, in two sizes because I am bigger up top than I am in the hips. He was looking at me with a smile that said we would be going home soon and I wouldn’t be wearing the indecently skimpy scraps of cloth that weren’t as skimpy as some others around us, and he wouldn’t be wearing his shorts.
That vision was replaced in an instant. I wore a comfortable dress of classic cut that fell to my ankles, of soft cream colored wool. We were at home, in our atrium. It was late afternoon. Sabina and Cookie and I had decorated mostly in hardy mountain plants and flowers, with a bit of statuary. Jack – “Iacus” to our neighbors and friends – and Matachena were playing chess. Laetitia was giving her husband strategic advice, even though she knew nothing of the game. Our little girl, Primula (Daisy), toddled to the edge of the fountain. Rather than falling in, as her nervous nanny Sabina fully expected, she knelt at the side, to watch the fish. We had stocked the fountain in blue gills, pumpkin seeds, and a couple smallmouth bass that Jack and Chulëntët had caught one evening. The blue gills were picking on the bass, as usual. We didn’t live on Bear Mountain, but at Bear Place, in the same spot where we also had a house in Jack’s realm, in Jim Thorpe. Primula was the result of that afternoon on Fenwick Island. We “wintered” in my realm every year when the shop was closed, though we sometimes traveled elsewhere or elsewhen for a week or two on our private getaways.
Then I was back where I had been, standing at a spot on Bear Mountain that smelled of sick people’s poop and stinky sheep.
I had never had that second vision before, never before seen our little Daisy. Poor Cookie had lost her baby in our future timeline. She had cried for a week, even though she had hated its father. She had been depressed until I worried for her mind. She had felt guilty because she was afraid that because she had hated the baby’s father, she had hated the baby too. She was afraid that was why it had died.
Or maybe she “would feel guilty;” my lord lover tells me time isn’t quite sequential, even when it branches. I’m forever messing up my tenses, especially in Latin. There aren’t enough tenses to go around: present, past, future, possible future, alternate future, future-seen-in-the-present, present-vision-of-a-future-vision-of-a-past-that-hasn’t-yet-occurred… I’m always confused when I have visions.
I gave Cookie a comforting hug, surprising her, before I kissed my lord lover. I made it a humdinger, square on the mouth, much more tongue even than usual. We both had to wipe our chins when it was over. “Te amo parum,” I told him. (“I couldn’t love you more.”)
“Et te, puellula,” he responded. He liked calling me “puellula” (“little girl” or “lass”) when we spoke Latin. He always lingered over the diminutive “lula.” Like I said, he made me feel dainty.
I held his hand as we walked the rest of the way. Mother was surprised at the size of the crowd we brought with us, as well as all the livestock. From my expression she was sure I had somehow contrived to lose my maidenhead and much of my power, before Palégos had been dealt with, despite all the people around us. Even if I had, which I hadn’t, what use was it at this point? I had called up my demon. He had claimed me. I was already his forever. Even if he disappeared back to his realm, I would follow, even though I didn’t know where it was. How many points can there possibly be on the surface of an expanding sphere of infinite size? I would find him eventually.