The sky was velvet over Xooberon, casting musky shadows over the land as the planet creaked with its own orbit and finally blocked out the sunlight. Naboo stood up, feeling his back ache as he did so, and looked down over the row of plants. Exotic for his home planet, yet simple pansies from Earth. It was strange. He never dreamed he'd end up back on his home planet, yet here he was, Naboo the Enigma, home at last and home to stay. Well, if he could call Xooberon home. It hadn't been, for the most part. Naboo sighed, and turned his face over to the small building that faced away from the garden. He'd never have imagined ending up here, either. The small, homely-looking cottage was just so unlike him. But, well, c'est la vie. Or whatever it was.
"Dad…Dad, are you home?"
He started a little at the distant call, but quickly a small smile forced its way into his lips. He raised a hand, and adjusted his turban before opening his mouth and calling: "I'm in the garden!" It only took a matter of seconds before the blur skidded on the gravel, rounded the corner and threw itself at Naboo's chest with a whoop of joy.
"Granddad!" the blur mumbled into the man's chest. Naboo smiled fondly as it raised his head. The boy was young, only around 7 (no, 608 on Xooberon, Naboo chided himself), with the same smooth mop of deep-black hair as his grandfather and sparkling silver eyes.
"Alright?" he murmured, monotone.
"Ecniv!" came another voice, and a taller figure rounded the corner. Naboo had to squint to make who it was out in the dark, but it didn't take long.
"Dad, I'm so sorry" said his daughter, irritated and glaring at the small child pointedly. "I told him not to bombard you as soon as we got here, but he won't listen"
"It's fine, Drawoh" Naboo said, reaching up a small arm to pat the woman on the shoulder. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Dad. How are you? I'm sorry we were so late!"
"It's fine. I been alright. You lot want to come in?"
Ecniv shifted, not used to being ignored, and pulled himself off Naboo's chest, dutifully following him as the old man pushed open the door in the back of the house. As cosy and comfortable the cottage looked on the outside, the inside was almost reminiscent of past days. Books of every shape, size and colour were strewn over every surface; half opened and spotted with stains. Then there just seemed to be random objects that had no purpose. On the stove, a pot was brewing ominously. Ecniv, on seeing it, broke out into a grin and reached out to see what was inside.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you" his grandfather chided, and the hand snatched back. "Anyone want a cup of tea? Or something stronger?"
"No thanks, Dad" Drawoh said quickly before her son could reply on her behalf, and herded him into a seat at the table, clearing away a few books in the process. "I think he's had enough excitement for one day"
"Granddad…?" the little boy suddenly ventured, and Naboo turned.
"Will you show me how to do a spell?"
"No" the adults chorused.
"Oh, please! Just a really tiny one; I'll be careful. It's for my summer history project"
"What history project involves magic spells?" said Naboo scornfully.
"I have to research a famous person from our planet and why they're famous" the boy squirmed in his chair. "And I wanted to do you. I thought whilst I'm staying here I could practise. It would be really cool if I could show I was related to you by, like, turning someone into a beanbag or something."
"Well…what about showing me how to conjure spirits, then?"
"Definitely not. I know grown men who failed to do that right; you think I'd let you?"
Dissatisfied but beaten, Ecniv slunk back into the chair. Naboo's daughter winked at him from across the room.
"You been alright, dad?"
"Pretty much" Naboo replied, fiddling with a plate of brownies – real ones; he'd stopped his drug habit long ago. "The King keeps trying to get me down to his place for poker night"
"You should go; might be good for you"
"Nah" the older Shaman muttered. "Enough lentils to last a lifetime"
"Well…" Drawoh said slowly, her mouth and eyebrows contorting into one of slight worry. "I don't know. I worry about you sometimes. You don't even keep in touch with the Board of Shaman anymore"
"I'm fine, Dray. If I never speak to those ballbags again it'll be too soon"
"Language, Dad! And I know you're alright, but it's always good to have company"
"I 'ave got company; I've got Bollo"
"Bollo's ancient, even by Xooberon standards. He can barely leave his hut without using his inhaler anymore"
"Shaman-familiar links; he'll live until I die. And anyway, I got you, and Ecniv, and I got my work. Everything I need"
"What you working on, Granddad?" Ecniv piped up with an all too-familiar grin. Naboo rolled his eyes, but smiled at his grandson.
"It's a secret" he said, and his dark eyes flickered to his daughter. "But let's just say it involves fiddling the Fountain of Youth ban a little bit"
"Oh, Dad!" Drawoh scowled disapprovingly whist her son giggled. Naboo raised his eyebrows: "What? I'm a celebrity; I can do what I want"
"This is hardly setting your grandson a good example"
"Oh, he won't be doing anything with you around to watch him" the Enigma quipped. "He'll always have a clean CV. The Crunch is overrated anyway"
Suddenly, Ecniv yawned, his mouth gaping to reveal his back teeth. Drawoh tutted affectionately. "You tired?"
"No!" the little boy protested. The woman glanced at her elderly father.
"We flew all the way from the capital" she explained. "And then we missed the turning because of that bloody one-way deal"
"Isn't that internal Tom-Tom working out for you?"
"I'm not a Shaman, Dad; it barely does anything for me"
Naboo shrugged, and turned back to the child. "Get some rest, 'Niv. It might be your holiday but I'm going to need some assistance tomorrow"
The boy sighed, and defiantly curled up on the armchair. "Granddad…" he ventured, looking up through metallic eyes. "Can you tell me a story?"
Naboo thought for a second. "Yeah, alright"
"Nothing inappropriate!" Drawoh called out from the dining table. "I remember Bollo telling him those Chinko stories when he was only 258; he couldn't sleep for ages"
"Ok, fine!" the Shaman said. He thought for a moment, racking his turbaned brain. "Have I told you that one about the time me and Barry hijacked Woodstock?"
"Ok…what about the time Rudi and Spider defeated the Bitamax Bandit?"
"You've told me about those guys' loads of times"
"Alright! Let me think…"
"Why don't you tell him about your times on Earth?" Drawoh helpfully interrupted. "Give him a few centuries and he'll be going there on his gap year"
"Nah; none of those are interesting-" Naboo quickly dismissed. His daughter shot him a look of incredulity.
"What? You always said those were your heydays"
"No" Naboo replied, a little more forcefully. Drawoh kept her mouth shut. Her father thought for a moment, and adjusted his blue turban, faded from age and wear.
"Yeah…" he said eventually, his voice softer. "Yeah, I think I've got one. You won't have heard it before, either"
Ecniv's face broke out into a childish grin, and he squirmed in anticipation, his lithe frame finding a comfortable niche in the armchair. Naboo sat down opposite his daughter, and his eyes misted over.
"Now, lemme think…" he muttered to himself, his old brain ticking over with the strain of improvisation. "Alright, 'ere we go. Once upon a time…there was a girl. But this wasn't no ordinary girl because this girl was a princess, and she was the princess of the richest and most powerful planet in the galaxy, er…Dalston – next door to their rival planet where that berk Sunflash lives, right. But anyway, this girl's name was…Vincenia! Vincenia Electrina Noir the third"
Ecniv sniffed contentedly. Drawoh leant towards her father, finding herself also rapt by the strange story she had never heard before.
"But she wasn't just the princess of Dalston; she was also the most beautiful princess from here to the fourth dimension. She was a little on the short side but she was thin and graceful and her hair was long and black and perfectly styled and her eyes were blue like…" He searched for a moment for a comparison. "Like those jerk-offs in the Desert of Nightmares. And she had everything she could ever want. She had thousands of people wanting to be her friend and all the men in the kingdom wanted to marry her" He smiled secretively to himself. "She was also a trendsetter, and all her designs were bestsellers in the Topshop boutiques"
"But there was one thing wrong. The princess was unhappy, and this was because she was lonely and insecure. She felt like everybody in the kingdom wanted to be her mate because…well, because she was a princess. So, one day, she got up earlier than she's ever got up before and left the palace, vowing never to return to her life of royalty and misery"
Ecniv's face had taken on an expression of sympathy, as small children are wont to do when they are engrossed in a tale. Encouraged, Naboo continued.
"Right, so, around the same time, a man came to live in the capital of Dalston, which was called, er…Bricklanedon. This man had come from the desolate towns of the planet's North to make his fortune as a musician. His name was Howard. He had tiny eyes like a magpie and a moustache, and he dressed in beige and brown colours that made him resemble a sticky toffee pudding. Because of his appearance and love of Jazz music, he was considered an outsider by all the stylish and beautiful people, he was often mocked and ridiculed, and had racist remarks made at him. However, because he was such a misfit in the Dalston society, he didn't know much about the royal family, and so had no idea who the princess was or that she was missing. So, the same day that the princess escaped the palace, Howard met a strange little man called Fossil who offered him a job looking after the animals of the kingdom. Even though it was considered a very undignified career, Howard took the job, hoping it would fund his Jazz escapades"
"Meanwhile, the Princess Vincenia had dyed her hair, and cast aside her beautiful outfits in exchange for a simple top and black drainpipes. She also decided to call herself plain Vince as it would attract less attention. The strange little animal-keeper, Fossil, found her wondering around and took a shine to her, even if he didn't recognise her, and offered her a job at his zoo. It was then that Vince and Howard met for the first time"
Drawoh watched her father as he spoke. He had become more confident with his storytelling now, as if it were one he had told thousands of times rather than one she knew he was making up on the spot. It was fascinating to watch him talk. His eyes were glazed, gazing into the distance as if remembering things from long ago, and his mouth seemed to be moving automatically.
"As soon as Vince and Howard met, there was a spark between them, like when you get high on Lucozade, and they instantly became best friends. The whole town was in uproar about the missing Princess, who they assumed had been kidnapped by a transsexual merman, but because the search party consisted of a ballbag and a carpet-sick jerk-off who didn't get on well, she was never found and it was assumed that she had eloped with Sir Lancelot of Dior or been eaten by the vengeful and plagiaristic Honey Monster. Vince and Howard were safe together in their little wooden hut in the animal farm without a care in the world. Even though they were so different, they fit together like two sides of a Euro. And they were both happy together, because Vince felt like she had found someone who didn't like her because she was a princess, and Howard felt like he had found someone who liked him even though he was a Jazzy freak"
"Because they were such good friends, they would talk late into the night. Howard told Vince everything about himself and how he wanted to be a musician. Vince told Howard a story of how she was raised in the woods by Bryan Ferry, because she was scared that Howard wouldn't like her if he knew who she really was. They had lots of crazy adventures together, and often found themselves saving each others lives. And even if they had a personality clash, it was all friendly and they knew they would be friends forever and ever. Eventually, they bought a flat together, and had even more weird adventures, like almost being killed by imaginary coconuts and stopping an evil cockney from gaining ultimate youth and power"
Naboo's tone suddenly softened, and became wistful.
"They knew they could always count on each other to be there whenever the other needed them. One day, as it is with close friends of the opposing gender, they both realised that they were in love with the other. However, because they didn't know the other loved them back, and they were scared of being put down because of it, neither of them ever confessed it, and so they carried on as they were before. But, somehow, things just weren't the same…"
The Shaman took a deep breath, and continued.
"Things got difficult after that. Howard was secretly angry that his Jazz career had never quite taken off. Then Vince met a friend from one of Camden's most elite ballrooms, The Velvet Onion, and she suddenly remembered her old life, and realised that she quite missed being a princess like she used to be. Neither of them blamed the other for their problems, but things got a bit strained between them. Then, one day, Vince decided to reveal to Howard that she was actually Princess Vincenia Electrina Noir the third, not just Vince Noir as he had believed. Howard was upset that she hadn't told him the truth. Then stuff started breaking. Both of them knew that even though they loved the other one that they couldn't stay together if the other didn't love them back…even though they did. And so Vince went back to the palace, and the kingdom was overjoyed to have her back, and Howard returned to being a misfit in Dalston"
Naboo's voice trailed off. Ecniv looked expectantly from his chair, and frowned when his Granddad didn't continue the story.
"Granddad?" he ventured wearily. Naboo snapped back into focus, and he smiled at his anxious grandson. "Is that the end of the story?"
"Um…" Naboo looked undecided for a moment. Then the clouds in his face cleared, and he winked. "No, of course not. I haven't got to the ending yet, 'ave I? You know fairytales always 'ave happy endings"
Ecniv beamed, and Naboo was struck by just how wide his grandson's smile was on his face, how smiling his eyes were.
"Er, yeah, so, right…" he began again. "One day, Vince…enia, she was touring around the kingdom with her family and her friends, ok? And she came across a strange little beast, a fox, who told her that it was dying. She took pity on the creature and let it into the royal carriage. But the fox was an evil being and it knocked out the princess and went about robbing all the precious items that the princess owned. Just as it was escaping the carriage however, Howard, who just happened to be walking past to buy some Twiglets, saw the fox and hit it over the head with his trumpet case. The fox ran away, and Howard took all the precious items and gave them back to the carriage"
"On seeing her love, who she had never forgotten, the princess was so thankful and overjoyed to see him that she kissed him. They both realised that they loved each other and had been total idiots for not getting it sooner. The king was so happy that Howard had saved his daughter's life twice that he gave them consent to get married, even though he didn't approve of Howard's Northern upbringing. So Howard and Vince got married and lived happily ever after…sort of"
Naboo stopped speaking, and looked down at the floor. Ecniv sent him a happy smile, his eyes drooping.
"You look tired, Niv" Naboo mumbled. "Go on, little man, have a sleepy"
Ecniv smiled contentedly, and curled up in the armchair. Within a few seconds, his breathing steadied, and he was still. The atmosphere in the little house on Xooberon was thick and heavy as grandfather watched grandson and daughter watched father – three generations watching each other.
"You miss them, don't you?"
Naboo turned, and his eyes met Drawoh's. "What?"
"I thought it was just a story at first" his daughter explained quietly. "But then you said all that stuff about the search party and I knew you were talking about Saboo and Tony Harrison. So they were real, weren't they? Howard and Vince"
Naboo nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, they were"
Drawoh leant towards him across the table. "And all that stuff you said. Was that all real as well?"
"Well, I had to use a bit of artistic licence. You said I couldn't tell anything inappropriate, remember"
Drawoh laughed through her nose. "Were they really that bad?"
"You should've heard 'em! They were complete titboxes, the pair of 'em. One time they actually unleashed an evil old nana demon on the world"
They laughed gently. Drawoh sighed, and looked at her dad, love in her purple eyes. "So what really happened?"
Naboo sighed, casting his mind back. "Well, the zoo bit was real. That was where I met them, actually, but the whole princess stuff is made-up. They just met, that was all. And then they moved in with me and worked in my shop when I was freelancing"
"What about the love story?" Drawoh asked softly. Naboo sighed.
"Yeah, that too. The ballbags. I kept trying to push 'em in the right direction but they were idiots. And then they just separated. Got further and further apart"
"And the bit with the fox?"
The shaman grimaced. "Well, that was partially real…but they never found each other again, I don't think. That's reality for you"
"That's so sad…" Drawoh whispered. "And you still miss them, don't you? That's why you refuse company, or why you never talk about Earth. Isn't it?"
Naboo was quiet. "Yeah…"
"Is that why your next project involves fiddling the Fountain ban?"
Her father did a double-take. "You're smarter than I thought, Drawoh"
The young woman smiled, looking uncannily like her Dad. "So, go on then. Tell us a story. A proper one, this time"
Naboo grinned at her. "Did I ever tell you about the time that Howard got involved in an underground boxing match with a kangaroo?"
"You know, Dad, I don't think you did…"