The negotiations were going well. Argus had not put his foot in his mouth, yet. Of course, when he was working, he was a different man...Avon described it as being 'normal', which, in his definition, could include varying degrees of insanity.
A clandestine rebel base would be built deep within the Forests of Bo. In return, the rebels would keep the planet out of the clutches of the Federation.
The time frame had been agreed upon, the final touches were being drafted and everything was going swimmingly...
"I did not agree to a parade." Icicles dripped from Avon's tongue, threatening to spear any unfortunate who might insist that he continue with this charade.
Prime Minister Furlough, his face couched in a conciliatory expression, and having decided that Heroes were eccentrics that needed to be humoured, like children, said, "It's not a parade...of course not. We would never subject you to such indignities. It is merely a formal requirement for the completion of any successful negotiations with global implications."
Not entirely convinced, but with no evidence the Prime Minister had fabricated the condition; Avon did not raise his next objection.
But he still wasn't quite ready to give up his campaign of being a nameless anti-hero rather than a paragon of virtue ('an even more detestable idea than hero' had been his side comment to Cally) cut in stone in the middle of the largest city square.
Although they found out later Furlough had said 'paraffin of virtue', which appeared to be wax figures of their beloved saints in the form of candles.
"I am no saint," had been Avon's discontented response, to which there had been a titter of laughter, quickly covered up before he could identify the culprit's dulcet tones, though he was sure it was Vila. "Nor will I be burned for unsavoury purposes."
The Prime Minister kept up a cheerful demeanour, even as he wondered what Avon thought they would be doing with the candles. He was sure he didn't want to know. "I assure you, Avon. We will not be making them for...uh...unsavoury purposes."
"Or any purpose," Avon's would-be steely eyes, hidden behind a pair of Old Calendar, aviator-style sunglasses, glared his insistence.
Sighing, Furlough said, "If that is your wish, though the ice-cream makers will be very disappointed."
"Ice-cream?" Avon decided that to pursue this line of conversation further would be a detriment to his sanity, something to be avoided at all costs. "Never mind."
He wanted to get back to his safe ship and his comfortable lab where no one (on pain of death) would suggest he was worthy of being immortalized in wax.
The good Prime Minister had been staring intently at Avon's face. "Would you mind a question?"
"Only if it is relevant," said Avon, twisting the teleport bracelet around his wrist, his finger intermittently poised over the comm button. It would only take a word...and he would be free. Now, if only he could persuade Cally...
"Oh, it is!" reassured the Prime Minister, an ingratiating smile on his face, somewhat like a used pursuit ship salesperson. "Where did you get those?" He formed the shape of the glasses with his hands, bringing them up to his eyes, perhaps wondering if it would increase his popularity to have a pair.
"What are you referring to?"
Cally was well aware of Avon's increasing frustration and annoyance. "It isn't a fashion accessory, Prime Minister. Avon had an accident. He no longer has sight."
The Prime Minister passed his hand in front of Avon's face. "You mean..."
The slight movement of air was enough for Avon to grab the audacious limb, snarling, "Do that again and you will lose a hand."
Confused looks passed between the crew.
"We are...unfamiliar with the term," said Argus.
"You mean...you've never heard of the blind swordsman?" Furlough did a few showy waves with his hand, going for a swashbuckling hero look but coming across like a deranged orchestra conductor holding a bugle.
"A blind swordsman?" Vila scratched his head. "Isn't that dangerous?"
Avon gritted his teeth. "How is this relevant?"
"Well…since you've never heard of him…" The Prime Minister was still studying Avon with deep interest, circling him. "This is a very good look for you. The leather and studs, it's very becoming. Heroic, roughly masculine, with just a dash of…"
Sester interjected, "Were you by any chance a fashion designer before you became the Prime Minister?"
"How did you know?" Furlough turned to him with amazement. "Oh, of course, you're Avon's people. You did thorough research before you arrived. You probably know things about me that I don't even know."
Avon said, "We'll let you know."
Argus mouthed silently, "Avon's people?" This was unfortunately lost on the blind man, though he could have sworn there was a brief wolfish smile curling Avon's lips. "Can we get back to business?"
"Oh, of course!" Furlough glanced at Avon with increased respect in his eyes, which most likely meant he was mentally envisioning himself with a matching black leather jacket with tastefully positioned studs. He bowed with sincere apology. "The procession will be arranged for this afternoon."
"Avon," said Argus. "It's up to you."
Avon wondered what possessed him to agree to do this. It must have been a moment of temporary insanity, especially without his wolf to be his eyes.
Sharp-Eyes, too large to fit on the same platform with the others, was trotting along beside the vehicle, keeping a wary eye on anyone who approached too closely.
Avon heard the cheers of the crowds, the teeming, bustling, loud, noises of people in an obscenely celebratory mood. Celebrating him of all things. They must be mad.
"Peanut Crackles! Av-" The call of the treats vendor was drowned out by the blares of trumpets, the clashing of cymbals and the banging of assorted drums. Avon covered his civilized ears and scowled.
The moving platform moved at a sedate pace. If it had been his choice, he would put it on full speed.
There was even chanting of highly inappropriate slogans with his name prominently featured.
"Give me an "A"! Give me a "V" Give me an "O"! --"
Could it get any worse?
“Avon, you could try smiling a bit,” said Vila who was sitting across from him, his face beaming. He and Corinne were waving enthusiastically to the friendly and boisterous crowds.
“Why?” Avon said morosely, a man with dark clouds perpetually over his head. If it hadn’t been for Cally’s encouragement, he would have refused to climb onto this vehicle, complete with a raised platform on which the crew was now prominently displayed for public viewing, as it moved at a sedate pace through whatever crowds he mercifully couldn’t see but could certainly hear.
No one dared tell him that the 'chair' he was sitting on was actually a padded throne with gold and silver accents.
“People will think you're not having a good time,” Vila whispered out of the side of his mouth as he gave a wink to group of schoolgirls who tittered.
Growling, Avon turned to Argus on his left. "This is a parade," he said, the accusation plain.
"It's not a parade," said Vila helpfully, staring wide-eyed at the half-dozen huge hairy elephant-like creatures that were being added behind them, their double-trunks trumpeting a fanfare, "it's a circus."
"I will not be paraded around like a tamed animal," Avon 'glared' daggers in every direction and stood up abruptly. "This is a travesty! I did not--" Their platform vehicle hit a sizeable bump in the road and he fell over, clutching for something to hang onto and falling into Cally's waiting arms.
An appreciative "ooh, Avon…" erupted from the crowds, and sighs of the romantics, all of whom seemed to be here today, echoed around them.
A few shouts went up. "Kiss her!" An enthusiastic chant was taken up. "Kiss her! Kiss her! The Hero gets the Girl!"
"Get me out of here! Now!" Avon shouted into his teleport bracelet but at that moment, a roar went up from the crowd and his voice was drowned out by the cheers of encouragement.
Cally had been caught up by the joyous good will of the crowds but she was acutely aware of Avon's anxiety and displeasure. No one bothered to tell the two of them that Avon was still in her arms and this was stirring all kinds of imaginations.
Leaning across, Vila shouted into Avon's ear. "You might as well give them what they want. I don't think they'll be satisfied until you do…unless you want me to kiss Cally."
"You?" Avon's sightless eyes bore uncomfortably into Vila.
"Yeah, a cold fish like you couldn't possibly…"
"Your anaemic attempts at reverse psychology will not work. I refuse to be a spectacle."
"Isn't it a little late to say that?" Vila pointed out.
Avon felt for his teleport bracelet and touched bare skin. "Vila! Where is my teleport bracelet?"
"It wasn't me," said Vila defensively.
Everyone stared at Avon's naked wrist with concern on their faces.
"Maybe it fell when you tripped," said Argus, his deep bass voice bringing some calm to an increasingly tense situation. "Look for it."
They all got off their chairs and began crawling around. "Not everyone!" Argus's voice boomed over the crowds. "Vila. You and Sester."
There was a burst of applause at the continued entertainment. To the audience it looked as if the crew was engaging in a game of musical chairs.
Avon still had not thought to remove himself from the confines of Cally's arms. The more practical minded would rationalize that with everyone moving around, it was safer staying where he was.
"Avon, kiss Cally already," said Argus, half in amusement and half as the suggestion of an order. "If you don't they might storm vehicle."
* I don't mind, * Cally projected encouragement into Avon's mind.
* I do. This should be private. *
* Just a quick peck on the cheek? * She held him closely, noticing he seemed to relax a bit.
He 'looked' up at her, a querying expression on his face. * Do you think I'm a cold fish? *
* That is the way you come across to everyone...except me. *
In the darkness of Avon's mind, feeling Cally's warm and comforting arms around him and her voice in his head, the shouts of the crowd were pushed back to the fringes of his mind. It felt as if it was only the two of them alone.
The privacy of their minds gave him strength and calm. He asked lightly, * Shall we prove them wrong? *
* Avon? * It was a lightning bolt of surprise. Cally wondered if there had been something in their drinks. She was feeling lightheaded and the sensation of being slightly drunk, and there was a strong desire to do something more serious than a peck on the cheek.
He bent upwards and their lips touched. A collective sigh of satisfaction and half-fulfilled wishes rippled through the crowds followed by a deafening cheer.