Chapter 8 Mark
That afternoon, John took Mark into town to the bank. There he opened an account for him and paid in several thousand pounds, making the usual arrangements for money to be regularly transferred over to him. The bank was a little cautious, because Mark had no form of identification at all, but they knew John well, and since his credit was excellent, they accepted Mark on his word. Mark, who had protested so loud and long about his lack of money was overwhelmed and somewhat reluctant to accept such bountiful largesse. But John reassured him,
‘This is a kind of rite of passage, Mark; both Chris and Justin have received the same. I was reluctant to do it sooner, until I felt that you really wanted to belong to us, and demonstrated some sense of responsibility, but now I’m sure, and so I’m really delighted to share this with you.’
The next visit was to the solicitors. Mark had no papers of any sort, in any of his names, and it was going to be important to find some way to get him onto the books.
‘Which’ll mean you’ll have to pay taxes, lad, but we can also get you a passport, so that you can come sailing with us.’
The solicitor outlined just how difficult a problem they faced. If his birth was not registered, and there was no registration in the name Willow Moon-Blessing, then no papers could be made out for him. They would have to establish as much fact as they could about Mark’s background and proceed from there. Could they not try and search for Mark’s parents?
‘What?’ broke in Mark, ‘find the bloody commune? They make an art of not being found, they do. That’s how I ended up on the streets in the first place!’
There was no overnight change, of course. Mark no longer felt any nostalgia for his life as a rent boy, because he felt accepted and loved; he also had money at last, more than he had ever dreamed of having in his life before. But sex was not as easily given up, and Chris did not find it easy either. As the winter progressed, the two of them continued to visit their hut in the woods from time to time, and they still enjoyed fastening each other into tight steel bondage. John was not happy with the situation, because he felt that both Chris and Mark ought to be exercising more self-control; Mark perhaps could be excused, in light of his background, but Chris could always find a justification in his own mind for whatever he wanted. Despite his considerable academic intelligence, he had the knack of keeping two entirely contradictory principles in his brain and failing to see that they were contradictory until someone pointed it out to him, whereupon there would be storms of weeping and protestations of reform that set everyone’s teeth on edge and made them wish that they had never brought the subject up.
So John let Chris and Mark do what they wantednot that he could have stopped themand trusted that they would eventually grow out of it, once the immediate adolescent urges began to subside. Mark continued to pester John about getting baptizedhe had been coming to Mass with them in Arundel Cathedral or the Oratory every Sunday since that horrendous row which had finally cleared the airand John wondered whether it might help him get hold of himself a little more efficiently.
At Whitefriars, Pat, Conor and Seán had all settled in happily. Seán had learnt a hard lesson from his painful experience with Matthew Todd and confined his sexual activities to his own hand and an occasional romp with his brother. The romping, however, was becoming more and more infrequent, for Conor had become enamoured of Rosemary, known as Rosy, Fitzgerald, the daughter of another teacher at the school. He pursued her with all the ardour and enthusiasm typical of the boy, and it is regrettable that she did not return his advances at all. She was two years older than he, and herself enamoured of a lad in the village. Conor experienced his first heartbreak, all the more painful for the fact that he saw Rosy around the school grounds every day. He became listless, his hair lost its gloss and his eyes their sparkle. He lost his appetite and began to lose weight alarmingly.
Pat and Bernadette looked on, worried. They knew their son so well; he could never just shrug something off, but was obsessed with whatever was important in his life at any one time. They remembered how he had reacted to John’s precipitate departure, and wondered, fearing for his health, whether they should take him to the doctor again for anti-depressants. Seán was particularly concerned for his brother; he was able, by a combination of bribery and cajoling, to do what even their parents could not; he ensured that Conor kept just about functioning. Seán moved into his roomsexual play was out of the questionsand would wake him in the morning, make him get into the shower, prepare his breakfast, make him eat at least some of it, take him to his classes and collect him afterwards. In particular, he kept an eye out for Rosy, and would steer Conor in the other direction. Conor allowed Seán to do this, but nobody else; the bond between them was very strong indeed. But Seán was growing still more concerned, for Conor was showing no signs of being able to snap himself out of his gloom; rather it seemed to be taking control of him.
Chris came to dinner one evening; he was a frequent and welcome guest at the Henrys’ table, to the delight of the twins, and of Rory and Brendan, who would clamber all over him. He had come to love the Henrys almost as much as John did, and the cooking, which reminded him of John’s, was a welcome change from the school as well. On this occasion, Conor was withdrawn as usual, only eating while Seán watched over him like a hawk. He said little, and when the meal was over, announced that he was going up to bed.
‘This early, love?’ said Bernadette.
‘It’s only half past seven!’
But Conor just shrugged and went upstairs. Seán’s shoulders drooped. The strain of keeping up with his own life and work as well as keeping his brother going was beginning to tell on him.’
Chris grinned sympathetically. ‘You look as if you could do with a holiday.’
Seán looked at him strangely. ‘Perhaps that’s it, Chris.’ He turned to his parents. ‘Look, Chris is right; I think we’ve got to get Con out of here for a bit. The only thing that’s going to help him is a change of scenery. Why don’t we go down and stay with John for a while?’
‘We?’ said Bernadette. ‘Who’s we?’
‘Well, Con and me. You know he can’t function without me at the moment.’
‘But it’s the middle of term, Seánín. Can’t you wait until the end?’
Pat spoke up. ‘No, Seán’s right, love. It’s a question of priorities. Conor is getting worse, not better, and who knows how he will be by the end of term. I know how he feelsI remember when you dumped me and went out with that O’Reilly bloke for a whilehis heart’s broken, and John is probably the best person to mend it. At least a change of scenery might well do him a lot of good.’
‘But would John want to be dumped with the boys, particularly with Conor as he is at the moment?’
‘You don't even need to ask,’ Chris said. ‘He loves you all to bits, and Conor and Seán particuarly.’
Bernadette reluctantly gave her consent, and Pat went to telephone John.
It was all settled that Conor and Seán were to travel down to Sussex the following morning. But John had another suggestion.
‘Pat; Justin is off to Italy next week for a fortnight; why don’t Conor and Seán go with him; he could do with the company, I think; I can’t go as I’ve got things to take care of hereJustin’s nodding now, enthusiastically.’
‘The boys haven’t got passports; they’ve never been abroad. Come to think of it, I’ve never been abroad, either!’
‘Shame on you! But don’t worry; I’ll take them to London and get passports for them. Do you mind if they go?’
‘Do you trust Justin?’
‘More than I trust myself. They’ll be in perfect hands.’
‘Then it’s the very thing.’
When told of the plans, Seán was wildly excited; he still fantasized about Justin from time to time, and the thought of going on holiday with him was wonderful. Conor, when Seán ran upstairs to tell him, just shrugged; nothing excited him much at the moment. But Seán immediately began packing for them both, and when he had finished, he brushed his teeth, undressed and got into bed beside his brother, putting his arm around him, and fell immediately asleep.
A little later, when Chris had gone, Bernadette tiptoed into the room, looking affectionately at the sleeping boys for a moment, and then opened their bags, shaking her head at the way neatly ironed clothes had been rammed in any old way. She examined the contents of each case, then added all the essential things that Seán hadn’t thought of, like combs and toothbrushes and socks, though she left the higgeldy-piggeldy nature of the packing as it wasSeán would be furious if he thought she’d interfered.
‘Mum!’ Conor called gently from the bed.
‘Have I really got to go? I don’t want to.’
‘Oh sweetheart, just you saying that has convinced me you do really need to go. I wasn’t convinced before, but I am now. For you not to want to go and see John really says to me you’re in a bad way. No, darling, you must go, and within a week you’ll ring me and tell me I’m right.’
‘Okay.’ But Conor didn’t sound convinced. ‘Whatever you say. G’night.’
His voice was flat and emotionless. Bernadette, holding in her tears, kissed her first-born’s forehead.
‘Oidhe mhath, mho críadh.’ Good night, my dear.
A week later, Conor was on the phone to his mother.
‘You were right! I feel tons better. We’ve had a real blast!’
John, Justin, Mark, Conor and Seán had spent a wonderful week in the open air. The first job was to sort out passports for the two boys, and so they and John went up to London on the first day and spent a frustrating day hanging around in Petty France, but finally the job was done.
When they returned, they saw Sandy and Mark working in the garden companionably together. Conor’s jaw dropped. He nudged Seán and pointed at Mark, who was stripped to the waist, wearing striped convict trousers and boots, with heavy leg-irons between his ankles. John giggled when he saw their shock.
‘That’s Mark, the newest member of our family. He’s a wonderful guy, but definitely eccentric.’
Seán demanded a hike the next day, and so he, John and Conor went out onto the Downs, following the same route that John and Seán had followed almost a year ago. They even went for a swim, though it was really still too cold, and Conor began to get more animated, even occasionally joining in the conversation.
The following day, they all pulled the Saucy Mrs Trusspot out of the boat house, steered her down to the River Arun to the coast and then hoisted sail, spending three days continuously at sea. For Conor in particular, this was a dream come true; finally he had got to sail.
Sleeping was a bit of a squeeze, but Conor and Seán lay on the cabin floor in sleeping bags side by side. On the first night, Conor whispered to his brother
‘I haven’t thought about Rosy all day.’
Seán’s heart felt suddenly a whole lot lighter. He rolled across and kissed his brother’s cheek.
At breakfast the following day, Conor and Seán were fascinated to see that Mark’s hands, wrapped around a mug of hot tea, were fastened together with handcuffs. The others were so used to it, that they hardly even noticed it any more. Mark seemed completely comfortable with it, but Conor had to ask
‘Why the handcuffs, Mark?’
‘Well it wouldn’t be much of a sea voyage without someone clapped in irons, would it?’
Seán asked in a small voice ‘Can I try them on?’
There was a chorus of groans from John and Justin. Not another one!
John drove Justin, Conor and Seán (who was frantic with excitement) to the airport the following day, characteristically leaving two hours early, ‘just in case.’ As it turned out, it was a good thing to do, because Justin suddenly shouted
‘Oh my God; I nearly forgot Sister Edmund’s beer!’
With which cryptic comment, Justin insisted that John pull over and find a supermarket. When one was finally located, Justin sprinted in and filled a couple of baskets with Newcastle Brown Ale, marmalade, English bacon and sausages, tea, and several other things that he thought might please his friend.
Justin managed to secure window seats for Conor and Seán, and settled back to enjoy the flight. He was really happy to have company on this trip, and just watching the boys’ pleasure and excitement gave him great joy. He remembered the first time he had flown; the experience of being suddenly being forced back into your seat as the plane accelerated for take off, the sight of the earth shrinking away, and the fun of trying to work out where you were flying over.
After an hour or so, Conor gasped; ‘look; mountains, covered in snow!’
It was the Alps, and Seán squeaked with fright as the plane seemed to drop out of the air in a patch of turbulence. But the flight was over far too soon, and before long all three were in a taxi on their way to the centre of Florence, Justin chatting easily to the driver in his now-fluent Italian.
As they drew up, he turned to the boys and warned them,
‘Now remember, we’re staying in a Convent, so be on your best behaviour.’ He was still thinking as a school prefect.
The boys grinned back at him. ‘Yes mum.’
Sister Edmund was there to greet them at the door. She gave first Justin a huge hug and kiss on the cheek, and then did the same to the boys. When she saw her supermarket supplies Justin got another hug and kiss, then she took them to their rooms. Seeing that each of them got separate rooms, Seán looked a little anxiously at Conor, who hadn’t slept on his own for a couple of months. But Conor, seeing his brother’s anxiety, reassured him with a grin.
‘I’ll be fine.’
The idea of all the culture of Florence somewhat intimidated the boys; being very much outdoors young men, they were fully expecting to be bored, and perhaps with anyone other than Justin, they might well have been. But Justin’s epiphanic discovery of art was still new and fresh, and he himself such a vital and virile man that the boys caught his enthusiasm and joy, and soon shared it. They spent hours looking at the people of Florence, and finding their faces in the ancient frescoes; they soon came to recognize style, artist and epoch, and amazed themselves with how much they enjoyed it. Justin, in between photo shoots, and in the long intervals of hanging around while technicians set up their equipment, had occupied himself industriously in studying fine art and architecture, and had become quite an expert on the Italian Renaissance. He looked on the pictures and buildings with a new, expert eye, and they revealed to him depths and subtleties that had quite escaped him and Chris on their earlier visit.
Back at the convent, the older nuns mothered the handsome boys shamelessly, slipping them home-made sweets and cakes, and chattering to them in unintelligible Italian or broken English. The younger nuns, when classes were finished, clearly enjoyed the male company and the opportunity to practise their English.
And soon it was time to depart for Rome, the whole purpose of the trip being to attend the beatification ceremony of Mother Maria Maddalena Gonzella, whom Justin had met under extraordinary circumstances the previous summer. At five in the morning the coach arrived in the little narrow street outside the convent and sounded his horn repeatedly, to the vast irritation of the neighbours. Forty-five nuns and three young men piled on board; the atmosphere was not remotely reverent; the nuns were determined to enjoy their first trip for many years to the full; they shouted, waved at passers-by, sang, and played practical jokes on each other as though they were still young girls.
At the ceremony of beatification, Justin and the boys got seats near the front, among the several hundred thousand people who crammed St Peter’s Square. They also carried gifts up at the offertory in the Mass; Conor carried wine and Seán carried water, which they presented to the elderly Pope, now entirely wheelchair-bound, who transfixed them with his glittering eye and spoke to them in perfect Englishthough slurred, due to his illness. Justin carried up the rosary which Madre Maddalena had given him, and the Pope, who had been told about it, when he had taken it into his hands, kissed it, and placed it over Justin’s head, around his shoulders.
‘This is yours; Blessed Maddalena meant for you to have it. I will not take it from you.’ he said. ‘Use it to pray for me, and for the Church.’
‘I will, holy Father,’ said Justin.
John had decided that he would stay behind in England that summer with Mark until he was sorted out vis-á-vis the law; it would also give them some ‘quality time’ together. So once Chris had finished his A-levels and thus left school, he flew out to join Justin in Nice, relieving Conor (who to his delight had done four weeks of second-in-command under Justin) and so Justin and Chris crewed the Douglas Smith that summer on their own. They, too, appreciated the chance to rebuild their relationship, though Justin was absolutely adamant in refusing the sexual advances that Chris made. This made Chris think, and the time the two of them spent together simply talking, playing board games or cooking for their clients suddenly made him see Justin in an entirely different light. One evening in Rhodes harbour, when their clients (a rather fun lesbian couple who were making a sort of pilgrimage to Lesbos) had gone to a restuarant for a meal, the two of them sat on the deck sharing a bottle of wine between them and looking at the twinkling lights of the town. Chris put his arm around Justin’s shoulders and kissed his forehead.
‘Thank you, Jus,’ he said.
‘For you. Do you know that it’s only this summer that I’ve got to know you at all?’
‘What do you mean? We’ve known each other for years.’
‘Not really. When we were first at school, I worshipped you as a god; you were everything I wanted to be, and I fantasized about you all the time. It wasn’t you; it was an image, really. Then I got to hate you when you tried to make me lose weight, and then I fell utterly in love with you when you rescued me that time. That time it was all about sex; I could only see your beautiful body and every moment I was away from you, I longed to run my hands over your body and…… well, you know the rest. I think you lusted for me, too, at that time……’ Chris looked hopefully at Justin.
‘Yes, I did. I loved you, too. But the lust was really strong.’
‘Exactly. But then there was that horrible interlude with Cuffs. He wasn’t Mark then, it really was Cuffs; a different person. I was out of control, completely obsessed and almost owned by him; the chains and things were, I suppose, part of all that. I would willingly have become his slave. You simply didn’t figure any more, Jus, except as an irritant on the horizon.
‘And here we are. I know I have pushed you for sex since we have been here on the boat, and I’m really sorry now, and also grateful to you for saying no. Because actually for the first time I am getting to know Justin, and seeing what everyone else sees but what I have been too blinded by my lust to see, that you really are one of the loveliest people I have ever met. Not just in body, though you still give me the hots, but you are funny, charming, generous to a fault, brave, resourceful, strong, comforting…… oh, so much more. I keep kicking myself for never having seen it myself before, because the love and respect I feel for you now is so much better than the lust. And I keep congratulating myself that you are my brother and also my best friend. I’m not in love with you any more, but I love you, Justin, and that’s so much better.’
Justin was deeply moved by this, and his last reservations melted; he felt that he truly loved Chris too, and the two of them hugged and chastely kissed.
The following day, as the Douglas Smith was just coming in sight of Lesbos, a phone call came through for Chris from John. The radio reception was not good, but Chris was just able to hear the news that he had been awarded five A* grades in his A-level exams, the best possible result. Christ Church College of Oxford University had confirmed that Chris would have a place to study History there in the following October. As soon as the boat was anchored off the coast of Lesbos, Justin broke out the bottles of champagne he had reserved for this moment, and the two brothers and the two lesbians (with tears in their eyes as they looked on the rocky coastline) toasted Oxford, Sappho and true love.
Back in England, Mark and John had kept busy, too. They thoroughly overhauled the Saucy Mrs Truspott, and John began to teach Mark to sail and to cook.
‘It is, after all, the family business!’
Like his brothers, Mark took to sailing like the proverbial duck to water, and once Justin and the others had departed for Italy, the two young men spent weeks sailing up and down the southern English coast and around the Isle of Wight, which John had not done since his own days of learning, when his life had been so lonely in his Chichester flat. Mark was rapidly becoming as muscular and fit as his brothers, and his good looks were drawing attention from men and women wherever he went. And this completely new interest in his life was utterly absorbing. Finally, they took Jules and Sandy for a fortnight’s cruise around the coast of Devon and Cornwall and had a wonderful time.
Mark and John also spent time up in the various records offices in London, trying to find some information on Mark’s background. The first real lead, however, came from an unlikely source. Mark had been completely serious about wanting to get baptized, and had been regularly seeing Fr Smith for some time. It was going to be a long process, because, unlike Chris and Justin, the only religious background that Mark had was the sort of New Age beliefs of his hippy commune, and so the amount of ground to be covered was considerable. But in the course of one instruction session, Mark had happened to mention his search for his parents. Fr Smith told him that in London, both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church have permanent chaplaincies to travelling folk. The Catholics tended to work mainly with Irish travellers, the ‘Tinkers’ as they are sometimes unkindly known, whereas the Church of England kept contact with the Romany, or Gypsies, and, more loosely, the bands of hippy travellers that were still to be found. Mark rang the Anglican Chaplaincy from the Oratory, and went along straight away for a visit; he had told the charming lady Anglican chaplain what he could remember about his commune, and she had promised to keep her eyes open for him. It took a long time, but eventually she telephoned one day with a possible candidate; they had last been seen down in Wiltshire, in a field near Avebury not far from Stonehenge, where they had moved for the Solstice. Mark thanked her effusively, and after they had rung off, he ordered a huge bunch of flowers from Interflora and had them sent them to her.
The following day, John and Mark packed some small bags and got into the car; John drove, because until they could establish Mark’s identity, it was not possible to get any sort of a driving licence for him. They made it to Avebury in mid afternoon and set out to look for the camp. It wasn’t hard to find; there was a plume of smoke rising, and the piles of rubbish round about the huddle of caravans and tents looked as if they were almost designed to piss off as many locals as possible. A gaggle of half-naked children ran around, in and through the rubbish, chasing each other and rolling like puppies in their play. Mark looked at them wistfully.
‘That were me, just a few year ago. I remember it like it were yesterday.’ Already his speech was beginning to revert to the way Cuffs would talk.
A young man came towards them aggressively.
‘Who are you? What do you want ’ere? This is private.’
Mark had gone very still. He screwed up his eyes and said, uncertainly,
‘Oaky? Is it you? Aren’t you Oak Spring-Voice?’
The young man looked suspicious.
‘What if I am? What’s it to you?’
‘Oaky, it’s Willow. Willow Moon-Blessing.’
‘Fuck me! Will? Is it…? it IS! Willow! Earth and air, man, where have you been? Oh man, it’s so good to see you again! Come into the camp, both of you!’
Oak strode ahead of them to where a large bonfire was being lit by some dreamy-looking women; one of them was bare to the waist and was suckling a baby as she stuffed sticks into the fire. Her shoulders were strangely tattooed, and she straightened to look at the visitors.
Oak seized a pair of sticks and began to beat at a large skin drum that was suspended not far from the fire. The thudding and driving beat echoed throughout the small valley where the encampment lay, and slowly the travellers began to leave off their various tasks and assemble at the fire.
One woman was treated with especial respect. John saw Mark draw himself up; clearly he recognized her; a tall woman of late middle years with long grey hair and a sort of flowing robe. She came into the gathering, and asked Oak what the fuss was about. He spoke quietly in her ear, and she turned and looked at Mark. Her stern face softened as she recognized the young man who, as a boy had been separated from them all those years ago. She held up her hands for silence, and said simply
‘Praise to the Goddess! Willow Moon-Blessing is found!’
There was a collective intake of breath, and some curious looks from the younger members of the commune, but suddenly Mark was swept off his feet with hugs and kisses; even John was hugged and kissed, though he felt very much out of his depth and wondered whether he had caught something unpleasant.
Later that night, after a delicious meal cooked over the fire and rather too much home-made blackberry wine, Mark and John lay side by side in a tentthe ‘tent of honoured visitors’, they were toldand talked about their discovery. They had booked perfectly good hotel rooms not far away, but not to have accepted the commune’s hospitality would have caused offence and hurt, so they both huddled together under the filthy blankets and made the best of it.
‘I can’t believe how I’ve changed,’ said Mark. ‘I miss my nice clean bed, and my nice clean room, and my nice clean pillow. When I lived with this bunch before, this tent would have been the height of luxury to me. And things weren’t much better when I was on the game in London. You’ve been so good to me, John,’ and he held John’s hand in the darkness.
‘It makes me so content just to see you happy, Mark,’ said John. ‘There were times when I wondered whether it was ever going to happen. But I have a really good feeling about this; they really are nice people aren’t they, even if they are a bit wacky?’
‘Yeah, I reckon. But they really have no sense of responsibility. I still can’t believe they would let a kid wander off by himself, and lose him.’
‘Just listen to yourself, Mark. You’re right, you’ve really changed, my little brother.’
The following morning, John and Mark woke early as usual. Their running clothes were still back in the hotel, and they were not really wanting to get the only clothes they had with them all sweaty, so they forewent their run; there seemed nowhere that they might wash. No-one else was stirring, so they wandered back down into the village to find some coffee, then returned to the camp and provoked the fire into burning again.
A little after ten o’clock, the first traveller poked an eye out of his tent; it was Oak.
‘Oh good; you’ve got the fire going; it was my turn today.’ He crawled out of his tent naked and came across to the fire, where he squatted, warming himself. ‘Let’s get the water on, and then we can make breakfast.’
John noticed that he was well-built and tanned all over with life in the open air. Clearly it had been the years that Mark had spent on the streets that had made him unhealthy, not his commune upbringing. Both John and Mark also noticed that Oak’s whole body was smooth and hairless.
Oak, still naked and unconcerned, bustled around filling a small oil drum on the fire with water from a nearby spring, using a saucepan, and then took the same saucepan to where a couple of nanny goats were tethered. He began to milk one of them, then called to Mark.
‘Oy, Willow: I hope you haven’t forgotten how to do this. You milk Princess Di here, while I do Camilla, and we’ll be done twice as fast.’ Mark jumped up and took another none-too-clean saucepan, rinsed it in the brook flowing from the spring, and went to join Oak. John watched the two of them rebuild their friendship as they milked, squatting shoulder to shoulder.
There was an annoyed shout from one of the caravans. ‘Oak! How often have I told you not to prepare food naked! I don’t want your pathogens in the milk, thank you very much!’ It was the woman who had seemed to be in charge. Seeing Mark, her face softened. ‘Hello Willow; morning, John. I hope you slept all right. Listen, I want to talk to you both later, perhaps after you’ve had your breakfast.’ And she disappeared.
Breakfast was simple, but delicious. It was simply hot goat’s milk with honey (which John had to screw up his courage to try), home-made bread and butter and scrambled eggs. The rest of the commune slowly awoke, and cooked their own food on separate fires in their little families, and after John and Mark had used the camp latrine (ugh!), they went to find the leader in her van.
She was dressed in her robe again, and Mark surprised John by taking her hand in both of his and pressing it to his forehead. She extended her other hand and laid it on his head, singing something in a strange language. Then they all sat down on the floor, where rugs had been spread.
‘You’ve changed, boy,’ she said.
‘Yes, Crone; it’s been several years now.’
John started in suprise at the word ‘crone’. It seemed very disrespectful. The woman caught his expression, and looked amused.
‘Crone means wise old woman, John. It is a term of respect here.’
‘Wise I’m sure you are,’ said John gallantly. ‘But not old.’
She laughed at his confused gaucheness. John was rarely out of his depth, but he was floundering now; she enjoyed seeing his discomfort, and how Mark was clearly in command of the situation, perhaps for the first time in his life.
‘And that, John, is not a compliment in our context. Age is wisdom and respect. So if I am not old, I am neither wise nor respectable… Oh, I’m sorry; I love to tease, and you blush so beautifully. John, I’m nearly sixty, and I am reckoned the Crone of this clan, the Wise Woman, and that is what people call me. Now, it’s lovely to see you again, Willow, and lovely to meet you, John, but you’ve obviously come looking for us with something in mind, because it’s also obvious that you, Willow, have made for yourself a happy new life; I can see it in your clothes, your bearing and above all in the happiness of your eyes. I’m sorry that you haven’t found contentment here with us again, but everyone has to follow his fate, and I can see that you have chosen yours, all praise be to the Goddess. So what can I do for you, darling?’
‘Crone, because I have a new life, as you say, I need to find out who I am.’
‘You are who you are, child. I have always taught you that.’
‘Yes, you’re right. But there are certain legal things that prevent me being who I want to be. I need things like passports, driving licences, and unless I can establish who I am, I can’t be free to be who I am.’
‘Look, Crone, I need to know who my mother and father are.’
‘Your mother is the Earth Goddess, your father is the Sky God.’
John was unable to completely suppress a snort of annoyance.
The Crone shot him a black look. ‘You mean, Willow, that you want to know who had sex with whom in order to conceive you.’
‘Yes, exactly that.’
‘Then say what you mean! But, as it happens, I do keep a record of all births here in the Clan.’
‘Yes; don’t look so surprised. I have always known that I could not force everyone to make their lives with us here, and that if someone were to choose to leave for the unspiritual world, things could be very difficult without papersmy dear father was a senior civil servant in Whitehall, so I know something about all that.’
She rummaged around under blankets and rugs and found a metal box. Inside were a number of envelopes; the Crone flicked her way down through the layers until she found the envelope she was seeking.
‘Here we are; Willow Moon-Blessing, written on the outside.’ She handed it to him.
‘What is it?’
‘It is what unspiritual people call a birth certificate.’
Both Mark and John breathed a huge sigh of relief. Mark opened the envelope, which was not sealed. With trembling fingers he unfolded the sheet of paper that was within. He looked up in consternation.
‘But… but… it’s for someone called Hugo Wilson.’
‘Where’s my certificate?’
‘That is your certificate, Willow. They would never have let us register you as Willow Moon-Blessing; that is your sky name, and so it would not have been appropriate anyway. Hugo Wilson is your unspiritual, or, if you will, your ‘official’ name.’
‘And my parents?’
‘If you mean those who had sex, their names are there.’
‘Timothy Bowden and Marjorie Wilson. Who are they?’
‘Does it really matter to you?’
‘Well, Timothy Bowden died about two years ago, I’m afraid, and I am, or rather I was, Marjorie Wilson.’
‘You’re my mother?’
‘No, boy; I told you, the earth-Goddess is your mother. You are simply the last child that came out of my loins. Or the second last, I can’t remember whether you or Marigold were the older twin.’
‘Do I really mean that little to you; your own son?’
‘Every child in this clan is dear to me, you no less than the others. You are no more and no less than the others. Less in one way, because you and your twin went off and left us. and it’s clear you have made a new life now without us.’
‘Hang on, hang on, this is going far too fast. I’ve been looking for Marry and haven’t seen him here. Are you saying a) that he is my brother, no, my twin, and that b) you think he went off with me?’
‘Yes, when you didn’t return that day in Hereford, he went off to look for you and never returned either. It was a perfectly natural thing to assume that you were together. You two were always close.’
‘And none of you ever thought to come and look for us yourselves?’
‘Of course not; we respect the independence of all our clan members, the children no less than the adults. Just as we respect your decision to live with John now.’
John said quietly; ‘Many would say that was not respect but neglect, Crone.’
She snapped back ‘your judgments are of no interest to me.’
‘You spoke of your own father as “dear”; would you deny to your own son the same affection that you so valued from your father?’
‘The whole clan gave Willow its affection; so he had even more than I had.’
‘An affection so strong that it couldn’t be bothered when he went missing?’
‘We were bothered. We just respected his choice.’
‘But it was no choice, just a little boy getting lost! Surely even you can seen the difference.’
‘It wasn’t a little boy getting lost. Look at the birth certificate again, WillowI gather you can read now, much good may it do you! What date do you read there?
‘And what does that make you?’
‘Twenty! I don’t believe it!’
‘You were nearly fourteen when you left us, Willow; certainly of an age to make your mind up, you and your twin.’
‘Fourteen?’ Both John and Mark were flabbergasted.
‘Fourteen. Not that earthly age means much: I was already Crone to this clan when in my thirties. You were just a slow developer; the Goddess distributes her gifts unevenly; most of our children develop slowly.’
John thought that neglect probably had a lot to do with that, but he wisely kept quiet, though his temper was beginning to boil. Mark was clearly shocked at the revelation that his closest childhood friend was his twin, and had also got lost that day searching for himself. And that he was now twenty years old. That made him older even than Justin.
‘Marigold and I have not met from that day to this.’
‘No? Well, no doubt you will one day. Twins are too like to keep them apart for long; they make nearly all the same choices in life. In your case, though, you are fraternal, not identical twins, and not that alike in appearance. But in other ways you were so very much alike, and I dare say will continue to make similar choices just as you did on the day you left us.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Marigold wants to become a Christian, a Roman Catholic, and sought us out to find out about you, and also to find out whether he had ever been baptized. The very idea! Those stupid people used to burn witches like me in the seventeenth century.’
This was too much for John.
‘I have heard enough, Ms Kingston.’
‘Ms Kingston. You have grossly neglected this young man whom I love as my little brother, and his twin, whom we are now going to search for. Mark, or Willow as you call him, has had to live on the streets as a prostitute to survive, and has led the most horrendous life until today. This is your responsibility. And now you insult his and my faith, and not even accurately, whereas we have been respectful of yours. Thank you for the certificate. We are going now.’
There was a creaking sound from the strange woman, and John looked curiously at her; Mark, on the other hand, was smiling gently.
‘John, she’s teasing you!’
The creaking became clearer as laughter.
‘Oh John, I’m sorry. It’s always tempting to reinforce stereotypes, just for the fun of it. I was wanting to see whether you truly loved Willow; and I can see that you do. Not sexual love, but something much better; family love. Our clan is built on that sort of love, so I am delighted that he has found it at last, even if it is not with us. And I’m sorry about the Catholic stuff; I could see your rosary hanging out of your pocket; the joke was irresistible. And I know perfectly well that it was James the First and the puritan Church of England who burnt witches here, not the Catholics. I have a doctorate in early modern history, so I should know. Though your faith certainly treated witches badly elsewhere, though never, I understand, with the approval of Rome, who thought we were all mad or misguided old women. Though that was almost as bad, in my opinion!
The Crone continued: ‘But I'm not going to get drawn into irrelevancies like history. Lives are what matters, and I am very concerned that all our sky-children should lead happy and fulfilled lives. I mean it. Willow was never happy here, really, nor was Marigold. We all knew they would go their own way one day; it just happened sooner than we intended.’
Mark looked thoughtful, remembering the disorientation and distress of the day he left the clan. ‘It genuinely was an accident, Crone; Marry and I never did meet again.’
‘Then perhaps we did you a disservice, Willow, in not hunting for you. But it seems to have worked out for you in the long run.’
‘Did Marry really come here, or was that a joke, too?’
‘No, he really did come, about a month ago; he was still looking for you, first, but the enquiry about his baptism was genuine. And no, neither of you were in any way made into Christians as babies. Our way is the sky way, and that is enough.’
‘He’s looking for me? Wow. And where is Marry now?’
‘I really have no idea. I didn’t ask, as I haven’t, and won’t ask you about yourself. I don’t want to know. The world outside this clan is of no interest to me any more. That is all anyone needs to know. But I have the foresight, and I am certain that you will find each other.’
‘What is his real name?’
‘Okay, sorry, Crone, what is the name on his certificate?”
‘Matthew, I think. Matthew Wilson. But like you he has some other name now.’
‘And he doesn’t look like me?’
‘No; he is taller, dark, and better-built. Though perhaps not quite so handsome.’ The Crone smiled, ‘and he speaks with an educated accent, so I think he has been adopted and given a good education. It seems his act of generosity in looking for you did not go unrewarded. Such is the bounty of the Earth-Goddess, our mother.’
John and Mark spent a little longer with the clan, Mark renewing acquaintances with some of the folk that he remembered. Then, with relief, he and John found their way back to the hotel, where they took showers with more than the usual enthusiasm.
As they drove back to Arundel, they discussed everything they had learnt. Mark was distressed again to have acquired yet another name.
‘Who the fuck am I? Hugowhat a bloody handle!, Willow, Cuffs, Mark?’
‘You’re Mark Scott, you’re one of us. That’s who you have chosen to be, and that is what those who love you call you. What more do you need?’
‘Thanks John,’ said Mark. ‘You’re right, as always.’ And he leant across the car to hug and kiss him.
‘And the great thing about having the birth certificate……’
‘It means that if you want, you can change your name legally from Hugo Kingston to Mark Scott.’
‘I want it. We’ll do it!’
But when they got back to Arundel, a new factor had already taken over their lives.