The banquet was in full swing. Buoyant with drink and excitement, Day and Togura danced to the skirl of the skavamareen. In the clinch, he brushed against her soft breasts, which flushed out against her light woollen chemise. Her sly little fingers dared his hard-fleshed buttons, then stopped because:
"Your father's watching us."
"I love you," said Togura.
"No, really, he's watching us," said Day. "He doesn't look happy."
"Kiss me. Kiss me quick!"
As the music ended, she pulled away from him. He pursued her through the crowded hall. He chased her out through the main doors, and then, giggling, she allowed him to catch her.
His mouth was warm and yielding. His embrace savoured the curves of her back and her buttocks. Moths danced around the doorway lanterns. The night was cool but he was hot, his lust shafting hard within his trews. He smelt her hair, her skin, her perfume.
"Really!" said Day, breaking away.
She poked him in the belly, provoking another burp. She poked him again, teasing him with cunning jabs which he was helpless to resist. As he flinched, she giggled.
Then kissed him.
"Your father was watching us," said Day, breaking the kiss. "He wasn't happy at all."
"He can shunk his cho and scavenge it," said Togura, using the local gutter argot.
"Togura Poulaan!" said Day severely.
From inside the banqueting hall came a rowdy burst of laughter which rose above the general hubbub. What had so amused the banquet guests? Togura, knowing his people well, guessed that probably someone had been debagged, or that a helpless drunk had vomited over someone of high importance.
The laughter died down and the music started up again. A drone joined the wail of the skavamareen while a sklunk back-thumped and a chanter whined.
"My lady," said Togura, with a formal bow. "Shall we dance?"
"Talatashee," she said, assenting.
They danced the vigorous kola-ka-skee, kicking their heels and whirling on the changes, inventing partners for the passages known as the romance and the flora - for the kola-ka-skee, of course, is a foursome.
While they were dancing, an old man tottered into the lamplight. They danced on, until, disturbed by his silent scrutiny, they broke apart and turned to face him. He was a tattered vagrant with a ravaged face and a dirty grey beard.
"It is night," said the old man in a thin, querulous voice.
"No," said Day smartly, "It's day."
"Do you mean to make fun of me, little smut?" said the old man.
"Talatashee," said Day.
"Talatashee? Now what's that, young lady? Yes or no?"
He was clearly a foreigner.
"Who are you, old man?" said Togura.
The old man, leaning on his shepherd's crook, was about to answer when the music escalated to a stormburst crescendo. A thrum began to gallop, a kloo honked harshly, a krymbol crashed and scattered, a skittling nook began to campaign against the skavamareen and a plea whistle hooted.
"What," said the old man, "is that appalling noise?"
"Music," said Day. "Don't you like it?"
The old man sniffed.
"The miscreants perpetrating that dismal cacophony should be fed to the dragon pits," he said.
Togura could not figure him out. His manner was bold, and had, indeed, a hint of lordliness about it. Yet he was clearly a tramp of one kind or another. He was wearing a roughwork patchwork skirt, which finished above his knees, and a battered short-cut weather cloak of the type favoured by fishermen. His boots were coming apart at the toes, exposing his feet.
"What are you doing on my father's estates, old man?" said Togura.
"Child, I had the misfortune to be shipwrecked here," replied the ancient.
"Shipwrecked?" said Togura.
"Don't laugh, gamos," said the old man, naming Day with the Galish word for a female horse, which was unpardonably vulgar.
"Why, you - "
"No, Tog," said Day, holding him back.
"Did you hear what he called you?" said Togura, burning with anger.
"She heard me, boy," said the old man, in his stilted, strangely accented Galish, so unlike the smooth-flowing local patois. "How about some hospitality for a shipwrecked mariner now?"
"If you find yourself afloat, then hard liquor's to answer, not the sea," said Togura. "In case you didn't notice before you started drinking yourself silly, you're up in the mountains, not down by the coast."
"I know that," said the old man steadily. "Now have pity on poor old Pitilkin and show him a bed for the night. I've sailed from Chi'ash-lan, and that's a hearty journey, my boy. Chi'ash-lan to Quartermain, that's a fair old step."
"You're not in Quartermain," said Togura. "You're in Sung."
"Ah!" said the old man, eyes bright with revelation. "That explains everything! The barbarities inflicted on the human ear in the name of music. The provincial manners of the local peasants. The - "
"Are you calling me - "
"Tog," said Day. "Don't argue, you're only encouraging him. He's a poor harmless old man. Why not have the servants show me to a garrow for the night? Alternatively - "
At that moment a rowdy party came barrelling out of the banquet hall - seven or eight reeling drunks laughing and jostling as they staggered out into the fresh night air. Amongst them was Cromarty, Togura's hefty half-brother, who was three years his senior.
"Why, hey!" said Cromarty. "It's Spunk Togura and little girl Day. Hitting the eiderdown tonight, chids? Getting in some of the old kerna tamerna?" His cronies guffawed and ribbed each other. Then Cromarty saw the stranger. "This is new, boys, hey hey? What ho! I say, grandad, past your bedtime, isn't it? Shall we put him to bed, boys? Hey what?"
"You can help me fix my ship if you would," said the ancient mariner. "If not, I'll do it by daylight once I've slept."
"A ship, hey. Boys, this we have to see. Snaffle the lantern, Lanks. Nids, you salvage the other." On Cromarty's orders, the two lanterns guarding the banqueting hall's entrance were snaffled and salvaged. "Come along, grandad," said Cromarty. "Show us your ship. Coming for a sail, Day? Come along now!"
Cromarty's bounders seized her.
"Let her go!" said Togura.
He waded into them, flailing wildly, but he was grossly outnumbered. The scungers grabbed him, and he was frog-marched into the night. As they swaggered along with lanterns swinging wildly, the drunks roared out the Kanover drinking song.
"Where now, grandad?" said Cromarty.
"This way," said the ancient mariner. "This way!"
Gaining a small knoll, the drunks dropped Togura face-first into the long rough grass. This, of course, was dew-damp and appeared to contain more than the usual quota of gorse.
"What ho!" said Cromarty. "The ship, hey?"
Getting to his feet, Togura saw, by lantern-light, a clutter of sticks which looked like a gargantuan parody of a crow's nest. Cromarty hefted one of the heavier sticks.
"Careful with that, boy," said the old man sharply. "That's the rudder."
"Rudder, hey? Then this is the jakes, suppose, suppose."
And Cromarty hauled out his penis and began to piss on the sticks. The old man swiped at his buttocks with his shepherd's crook. Cromarty, startled, lost control of his shlong, and pissed all over his pants.
"You klech!" shouted Cromarty, tucking away his shmuck. "You ornskwun vig of a hellock!"
And he gave the old man a push, sending him reeling back into one of the drunks, who dropped the lantern he was holding. It smashed, leaving them with a single light.
"That's enough, Cromarty!" said Togura. "You're disgracing the estate!"
"Why so," said Cromarty softly. "Our little Spunk Togura is riding the angers, hey? All up and on about the precious estate. It's my estate, little boy! I'm the one who inherits."
"Then behave yourself until you do," said Togura manfully. "Now pack your rabble out of here. Go!"
"Not so swell, my hearty," said Cromarty, unshipping a knife.
Togura was unarmed. He grabbed for a stick, but one of Cromarty's scungers stepped on it.
"Cut him, Crom!" said one.
"I will," said Cromarty, his face turning ugly. "Oh, certain, certain. It's ribbons for little Togura!"
"No fighting, children," said the old man, trying to intervene. "Pitilkin doesn't like fighting."
"Stand aside, grandad," said Cromarty, giving him a hearty push.
"Kill him, Crom!" yelled an eager admirer.
"I will," said Cromarty. "For sure."
"And he moved in on the attack. He slashed at Togura, who leapt backwards. Cromarty advanced. He was good with a blade. Even when drunk, he was good.
"Stop this!" screamed Day.
She tried to intervene, but was restrained. Cromarty's mobsters had their blood up. They were shouting:
"Into him, Crom!"
Suddenly the old man swung his shepherd's crook. The stout wooden staff smashed Cromarty's wrist. Quick as a flash, the old man demolished the surviving lantern. There were shouts, roars and cries of pain in the darkness. Togura hit the dirt and stayed down. Someone trampled over him, fleeing for shelter. He heard the vicious whistle of the old man's stick slicing through the air.
Then it was all over. Cromarty and his friends had fled. They could be heard swearing in the darkness; then, as their cries diminished in the distance, Togura became aware that music was still playing in the banquet hall. While he had been in danger of being sliced and diced, his father's guests had been amusing themselves all unawares of the drama taking place out in the night.
"Tog!" called Day, loudly, almost directly overhead.
"Here," said Togura, feeling for her in the darkness as he tried to get to his feet.
His blundering hand slid straight up her dress to the warmest part of her flesh. She screamed. He jerked his hand away as if it had been burnt.
"Tog," said Day, uncertainly. "Was that you?"
"What the feck and fuckle did you think it was, girl?" said the ancient mariner. "An octopus? Come on, children, pull yourselves together."
They did not answer, for they were now embracing.
"Tog, oh Tog," said Day, holding him close and tight. "I was so worried. Are you all right?"
"Fine," said Togura. "If only I'd had a blade! I would've cut him from spleen to kidney. I would've - "
"Leave your heroics for later," said the old man sharply. "If we can't work on the boat tonight, I want to sleep. Where's my bed for the night?"
"You've got a nerve!" said Togura, who bitterly resented the fact that it was this querulous old madman who had just saved his life or his beauty, or maybe both.
"Come on," said Day. "Don't be nasty. I'm sure we can find him a place to stay for the night."
"Oh, all right, then," said Togura. "Let's go."
They went back to the banquet hall, where they met Quail the rouster. He was bearing a lighted candle, which he was trying to shield with his hand. As they drew near, he recognised them.
"Master Togura!" said Quail. "Have you seen the doorway lanterns by any chance?"
"Why, has someone lifted them?" said Togura.
"Yes. Some of your young friends, perhaps? That little sod Cromarty was on the muck tonight."
"Is that so?" said Togura. "Well, a couple of lanterns isn't the end of the world. Tell me, man Quail, can you bed down this gentleman for the night?"
Quail peered at the ancient mariner.
"Are you sure we want to house this individual, Master Togura?"
"Pitilkin sleeps quietly," said the old man, his voice quavering. "No trouble, no trouble."
"Just for the night," said Togura.
"It won't do any harm," said Day.
"Well ... just for the night then," said Quail, doubtfully. "There's probably a spare garrow at the backstop, if the incest twins haven't bedded themselves down for the night. Otherwise, I'm afraid it'll be the stable."
"Thanks," said Togura, turning to go.
"Oh, and Master Togura - if you see Cromarty and his spry young brags, ask them about the lantern, will you?"
"We will," said Day. "Thanks for everything."
Togura took her hand and they walked off into the night together. His hopes were high, but they were soon to be disappointed: he did not lose his virginity that night.