Several weeks later and the evening air was filled with candle smoke and gentle piano music. The walls in Josiah’s house flickered with golden light and a gentle hum of conversation made for a convivial atmosphere. If you were there, the amazing smell of the most delicious food would have whetted your appetite and made you hungry for the meal that Cecily was even now completing. Unfortunately, the delicious smell came from next door, who were having a barbecue. So even though you are missing out on the lovely smell, you have avoided the torture of the terrible meal that the hapless Cecily was ineptly preparing so count yourself lucky.
It was quite the gathering in the normally sterile and solitary atmosphere of Josiah’s lounge. He had even been coaxed into being upright and the right way up for the evening. The guests were fewer in number than the initial run of invitations had anticipated but it was still an amazing turnout for the otherwise anonymous household. Of course, those who weren’t there were busy behind their curtains and taking notes. But the Hendersons were there, as was Mrs Train, a frail looking old lady who didn’t get out much. She had no idea who anyone was but was just happy to be there. At the moment, she was describing her verrucas in loud and vivid detail. Also there were the Smigeons. They hadn’t spoken to anyone in their twelve years on the street and, judging by their pursed lips and sips of sherry, they weren’t about to start now. Lastly, there was Vlarg, a mighty orc warrior. He’d been feeling socially awkward since the dinner party had begun. Now, violence-filled quests, he reasoned to himself, you knew where you were with them. On the other hand, genteel bourgeois socialising? That was awkward. His club twitched but, with a supreme effort, he observed social niceties.
Cecily had carefully planned the whole evening. They would begin with drinks, which Josiah was largely in charge of, which would be mixed with fun and vivacious chat. Cecily would pop in and out with nibbles from the kitchen. Then, they would eat, at which time Hardy would be introduced to the neighbourhood. That was the plan and everyone in the household had been drilled in their role until they had forgotten the existence of salad cream.
That was all very well on a plan, in theory and on the drawing board. In reality, the conversation had been stilted and Vlarg had been clearly put out at the lack of drinking horns. Mr Henderson had been fond of the nibbles, well, at least, he was interested in the cheese straws and had asked how strong they were. As it was, they were pretty crunchy but he had seemed to want them to be baked longer and to be even tougher. He spent the next couple of minutes testing it out, swishing it against the palm of his hand. An uneasy feeling grew within Josiah; he was fairly sure that it would prove tough for the gathering to accept Hardy.
Clocks had serenaded him through the small hours for many weeks now as he lay awake in the dark of the night. Troubled thoughts ran, hopped and sometimes even cartwheeled through his brain, waiting for him to doze off before whispering darkly into his ear. It was so bad, this insomnia, that he taken up reading in order to quell the fears. Each night, The Moon peered in at the spine of his current book, always to discover disappointment. It turned out that the insomnia was not bad enough to drive Josiah to his book. The Moon muttered savagely to itself and began work on a musical about an agoraphobic mountain.
Obviously, the main worry Josiah had was about the flourishing relationship between his beloved Cecily and a talking heron. He was worried about how the stripes got in toothpaste too but the main worry was Cecily. The time he had spent with Hardy had shown him that the wader was eloquent, witty and adored Cecily. However, most people wouldn’t wait to get to know the heron. They would judge and judge harshly.
After a few desperate nights, he had come to the acceptance of the relationship and had decided to help them the best he could. In his nocturnal reading, books by romantic female authors encouraged him to let the young couple follow their hearts and live their dreams. Each morning, he would awaken and spread rose petals around the house. He captured some birds and trained them to sing when the couple were in earshot and tied bows around the necks of fluffy, wide-eyed cats which he placed on soft cushions. It turned out Cecily was allergic to roses and the cats ate the birds. But still, it was the thought that counted. In order to atone for his mistake, he agreed to the dinner party and delivered the invitations by hand. It had been a traumatic experience; his ankles were savaged by many pampered small dogs and once by a rather aggressive middle-aged man in a maroon tank top.
Now, sitting at the soiree, he had reservations. Then he remembered that this was no time to be thinking about his campsite business. He closed the laptop down just as Cecily came in and announced the starter was ready. The party slid into various places around the table. Picture that fine scene, the faces awaiting delicious food, their eyes shining with excitement and the voices chattering. No! You’ve got the seating plan wrong! Try again… I’m waiting… I can wait for the rest of the chapter if that is what it takes... Better.... but why would Mrs Train be wearing an AC/DC t-shirt? Come on, try harder… Nearly, although I don’t think I mentioned a fully working Spinning Jenny being present in the corner… Well done, it wasn’t that hard, was it?
Once the starter was served, a dubious soup that appeared to consist largely of thin strands of pondweed and a slimy meat that was reminiscent of frog, the atmosphere worsened. Only Vlarg appeared to enjoy it.
Trying to hide her disappointment, Cecily collected the still full soup bowls and went to collect the main courses.
“It’s gone quite brown and crusty on top, the one near my big toe,” Mrs Train burbled to no-one in particular.
“Mr Vlarg, do you know anything about knots?” Mr Henderson asked, brightly.
His wife’s cheeks reddened.
“Colin!” she hissed.
Without the warning sound of footsteps, Cecily was suddenly back in the room.
“I had an ulterior motive for inviting you here tonight!” she announced, her voice shaking with emotion.
“Recently, someone very special has come into my life. A soul mate if you will. A gentle, good spirit and someone who cares for me so fully, so tenderly I can scarcely describe the feeling I get from being with him.” She paused and swallowed, obviously close to tears. “I’d like to present Hardy.”
She stepped aside and revealed the heron, tall and proud with a bow tie clinging to the long stringy neck.
There was a bemused and confused silence.
Then, with a guttural growl, Vlarg cried “Main course! Vlarg love heron!”
And, with that, he raised his club menacingly…