Geek God

One of the good things about where I work, in fact the only good thing about where I work, is the fact we still have a proper tea break. At 4pm, everyone who fancies it wanders over to the staff room and has a cup of tea (and maybe even cake, if it’s someone’s birthday). Some days, someone brings some entertainment, usually a stupid email to read out, or a saucy quiz, or something like that.

Today we have the best of both worlds: an email quiz.

‘It’s called the geek test, okay.’ That’s Mary talking. Mary is one of those people who like to be centre of attention. That’s Mary’s thing. I expect that’s why Mary is always bringing stuff like this along to tea break. ‘It’s kind of like the Purity Test, you know that thing that tells you how much of a slag you are, but this one sees if you are a geek or not.’

In the corner, Chris, the fat IT guy laughs – half to himself – and then says, ‘I bet I do pretty well.’

And then everyone laughs, because Chris is funny like that, and always sending up his blatant geekitude. That’s Chris’s thing.

Anyway, Mary starts reading out the questions on the geek test, and we all laugh and raise our hands if we are guilty of the various crimes of geekhood. No one actually keeps score, but it’s clear that Chris is raising his hand on everything, from ‘Have you ever been to a Star Trek convention?’ to ‘Can you program in machine code?’

The test is quite long and, by the time Mary’s onto the last page, there aren’t that many of us left in the staff room; just me and Chris and Mary, and also Caroline – my opposite in the Press Office – who has been smirking knowingly to herself for the entire test.

The last page is all about role playing games. ‘You know, like Dungeons and Dragons,’ Mary says, which makes Chris snort in loud derision.

It soon becomes clear that Chris is, again, going to be the victor here. I sit behind my teacup with an amused grin on my face as Chris cheerily admits to ‘Have you ever painted miniatures?’ and ‘Have you ever spent more than six hours in a gaming shop?’ And we all laugh at that last confession.

Then Mary says, ‘Okay, nearly onto the last few here. “Have you ever Larped?”’ Mary frowns. ‘Larped?’

Live Action Role Play,’ Chris offers, ‘it’s like, ahem, Dungeons and Dragons, but you run about outside and act it out for real.’

‘Gosh,’ says Mary, ‘well that’s a new one on me.’

Chris raises his hand and smirks. ‘Guilty.’

And that’s when we all notice that Caroline has her hand up in the air too. And that’s when we all suddenly stop being interested in the geek test, and start being interested in Caroline’s murky past, because Caroline is one of those people who you can depend on for a really good murky-past story. That’s Caroline’s thing.

But Caroline is having none of our clamouring questioning about what nice girl like her ended up doing a geeky thing like Live Action Pole Play, because ‘It’s a long story,’ and ‘Tea break was over a quarter of an hour ago.’ But we’ve got to know, and so Caroline suggests we meet in the pub over the road at 5.30.

Chris gets the first round in, making us swear that we won’t bully Caroline into starting the story before he gets back. So we manage to contain ourselves, but the very second the drinks clink down on our sticky table, we make her begin.

She grins a saucy grin for a moment before she opens her mouth.

‘Charlie Baker was fucking gorgeous. He had the body of an athlete, the face of a model and, as I was to discover, the brain of a geek,’ she says, clearly relishing the looks of absolute concentration on our faces.

Caroline takes a sip of her drink, and goes on. ‘Okay, so this was ten years ago, when I was at University in Sheffield. Charlie turned up in my psychology lectures in the second year. I knew he wasn’t a psychology student so I asked around, and it turned out he was a Computer Science student and was sitting in on the lectures because he was into some kind of artificial intelligence stuff, or something dull like that. And that single boring fact seemed to be all anyone knew about him. Well, that and the fact that he had a smile that could melt knickers at twenty paces – not that he appeared to use it much.

‘He always sat near the door for lectures and dashed straight off when they were done. I tried time and time again to sit next to him and get him in conversation, but he was having none of it. Always had to get back to the computer lab. Always so busy.

‘He was like an iceberg. Not the nine tenths under water thing, just, you know, the made of ice thing. And I’d basically all but resigned myself to admiring him from afar, when I suddenly got a lucky break.

‘I was in the dark basement corridor of the student’s union – a poky little rabbit warren, where all the clubs and societies have their little rooms – and I saw Charlie. He was right there – walking along the corridor in front of me. So I followed him, of course, straight down the rabbit hole. Or at least, down the corridor, and I saw him disappear into a room, the door of which proclaimed it was the home of the ‘Gaming Soc’.

‘Now, I didn’t quite have the guts to just follow him straight into the room. But luckily the student launderette was just across the hall. So I nipped in there instead, and staked it out.

‘Well, I was waiting there, among the whirring and the sudsy smells, for bloody ages. It started to get late. I started to get hungry. It began to look as if Charlie had escaped once again. But then the door of the Gaming Soc room opened.

‘But it wasn’t Charlie who came out of the room. It was Tom.

‘Now, I knew Tom – the year before he had been in the same corridor as me in halls. He was an uber-geek, little and nerdy with big thick spectacles and a strange twitchy manner. Basically, he was creepy, and I’d normally avoid the likes of him, perhaps even denying all knowledge of our previous connection. But at that moment I loved that connection with all my heart, because a connection to Tom – it seemed – was a connection to Charlie.

‘So, I feigned coming out of the launderette, acted all long-time-no-see and the next thing you know I was walking down one of the many hills of Sheffield with him, towards the area where he lived, and I was pretending I was heading. And, with very little prompting, Tom explained all about the various delights of the ‘Gaming Soc’. They played role playing games, i.e. Dungeons and Dragons sort of things, and these games could go on for hours and hours. That’s why Charlie had been in that room so long. Because Charlie, as Tom explained, was a huge fan of all things role-play.’

In the pub Caroline picks up her smeary glass. ‘Course,’ she says, ‘this put me off him a bit. He might have been God’s gift, but he was also a total geek.’

She sits back at this point at takes a little sip of her vodka tonic, but clearly not wanting to pause for too long in case she loses the floor.

‘Heh,’ says Chris, grabbing his chance, ‘this is such a sweet story, what will win out? Caroline’s prejudice or Caroline’s lust? It’s like Shakespeare.’

Caroline sighs. ‘Okay, well truth is, it didn’t put me off him that much, not really. I was just, well, just saying. He was a geek, but he was also just far too sexy a geek to be ignored. I wanted Charlie. And the only way to get to Charlie was clearly through this role play stuff. He didn’t seem to be interested in anything else. But how to find out about role play? There was no internet back then in 1994. Okay, there probably was, but I didn’t know how to use it.

‘I only had one source of information: Tom.’

‘Two days later I was grabbing lunch in the dingy Union Bar and there he was, my source of information, perched over a burger and chips. I wove my way through the studiers and the skivers and plonked my tray down on his table, sliding onto a stool and grabbing hold of the conversation straight away by demanding to know more about the world of role play.

I have to say that most of what he told me went in one ear and out the other – loads of stuff about orcs and dice and goblins. But then he started talking about this thing called live combat, or Live Action Role Play, and my ears pricked up then, because I saw the possibilities straight away.

‘So you go away for four days?’ I said, trying to sound as calm as possible. ‘Like on a mini holiday?’

‘Yeah. In fact we’re going to Wales over the Easter vacation. I can’t wait.’ Tom paused to pop a chip into his mouth.

The very idea of Wales in April filled me with a soggy dread, but, well, Charlie! So I pushed on. ‘So, er, do you let beginners come along on these things?’

Tom frowned at me as if he didn’t exactly understand the question. Then he screwed up his face so he looked even more weasel-like than ever and said, ‘What? Do you want to come?’

I nodded.

And then he kind of blushed, but he looked really happy. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘that’s excellent. We always need more girls. You would make an excellent she-orc.’

My heart sank a bit at this, somehow, I didn’t think seducing Charlie would be made any easier if I were dressed as a she-orc. ‘Do I have to be a she-orc? Couldn’t I be an elvin maiden, or something?’

‘Well not really, this is kind of a battle – orcs versus barbarians. So you’d have to be an orc or a barbarian and there aren’t really any female barbarians, so…’

‘I see,’ I interrupted, and then added casually, ‘is Charlie being an orc?’ I said this while fiddling with my fork so it looked as if I didn’t really care one way or the other.

‘Nah, Charlie’ll be a barbarian. Charlie’s always a barbarian. Got the build see.’ Then Tom grinned knowingly at me. ‘I’m an orc, though,’ he said with a certain relish. And then, I can’t be sure – not sure-sure – but I think he winked at me.

So that was that, it was all set. I told my housemates I wasn’t coming on the planned holiday to the Lakes over Easter, because I had made plans for a little holiday of my own. And when I told them about it they tried, only half jokingly, to get me to go to Casualty and get my brain checked out.

And they might well have had a point because three weeks later I was in the back of a mini-bus rubbing damp thighs with The University of Sheffield’s most spoddy ultra geeks, and I wasn’t even sitting next to Charlie.

Not only that, I didn’t even get to spend the four hour long journey to Wales staring at Charlie, who was looking particularly dreamy in tight jeans and a sort of furry gillet thingy over his cheesecloth shirt. I didn’t get to gaze lovingly at Charlie because Tom decided I needed pointers and started giving me an impromptu tutorial on how to wield a sword in an orcish sort of a way.

Something that included grunting, grunting in front of Charlie, which – however much he might be ignoring me – was so not fun.

Somehow, though, I managed to grunt and snuffle my way through miles of drizzley motorway and into the heart of so breathtaking, crackly fern covered Welsh scenery. Brownish-grey hills rose up to meet greyish-brown sky in a way that was both beautiful and slightly depressing. I leant against the mini bus to drink it in, inevitably picturing Charlie, striding windswept across it like a lone stag. But I didn’t get to enjoy this image for long, because I was quickly dragged off by Tom to help pitch the bloody orc tents.

Standing in the rain, smashing tent pegs into boggy soil with a mallet, I was suddenly faced with the waterlogged reality of life under canvas in Wales at this time of year. I found myself fantasising about all the drinking and partying and cosy log fires in the Lake District cottage that I had sacrificed for this weirdness. In all honesty it was probably raining there too, but at least they had some bricks and mortar between them and the elements.

Bloody Charlie, he’d better be worth it. And my plan (oh yes, I had a plan) had better work.

Although gorgeous barbarian Charlie was on the other side – he was the enemy, as it were – that could actually prove to be to my advantage. My oh-so-clever-idea was that once battle began and the fake swords started to clash, I would engineer getting myself taken prisoner by Charlie, who would then, no doubt, take me back to his tent and ravage me in a barbarian manner, as the game demanded. See, I’d figured out that best the way to get some Charlie shaped action, was to make the action itself part of his passion, make it part of a role play.

By the time I was standing, shivering, in a line of orcs clutching my padded fibre glass sword, I could think of nothing but the fantastic Charlie-ravaging that awaited me (despite the fact I had been rather unsubtly made up as an orc, with disgusting green grease paint.) I could see my beautiful quarry in the opposing line, across the scratchy grass. It had finally stopped raining, but the sky was still a heavy grey, and he shone against it like a blonde beacon. He was so beautiful, dominating the majestic landscape with a majesty all of his own, with his tousled blonde hair whipping about in the squally wind. The furry thing and cheesecloth shirt he had been wearing earlier remained, but the tight jeans had been replaced by even tighter brown leather trousers – it was almost as if he were deliberately trying to get me excited.

With a sudden urgency, a whistle blew and then all hell broke lose as the two opposing sides hurtled towards each other, roaring. I crouched low in the long scratchy grass and darted around in the crowd.

Avoiding the swords and pikes and clubs actually turned out to be quite exhilarating. I rolled and dived around, my tactic of keeping close to the ground working very well. And as soon as I got within striking distance of my quarry, my delicious barbarian prince, I feigned a tumble and rolled around in the mud yelping.

But Charlie didn’t even seem to notice.

And then someone – someone else – grabbed me by the arm and bundled me up and over his shoulder.

After some very uncomfortable travelling upside down across the grassland, I was dumped in a heap on the ground, behind enemy lines in the barbarian’s encampment. Slightly stunned, I looked up into the face of my captor. He was a cute little thing. I was seriously surprised he had managed to run cross-country with the not insubstantial moi over his shoulder. He had rather floppy brown hair drifting into his eyes and, of course, he was wearing the standard barbarian uniform of leather and fur and bare biteable skin.

‘Hi,’ I said.

‘Don’t talk,’ he hissed back, ‘you’re meant to be a prisoner. I never got a prisoner before.’

‘Okay.’ And I know it sounds strange but just for a few tiny moments I must have forgotten all about wanting to be captured by Charlie, because I said, ‘Are you going to ravage me?’

He laughed. ‘Doubt it. I probably have to give you to my commander.’

‘Who’s your commander?’

‘Charlie Baker.’

Oh. Bingo!

The downside of this great news was that I had so spend the next few hours in the prisoner holding bay – which was actually just a large tent – until Charlie, returned from the battlefield. I found myself a cosy spot near one of the paraffin heaters and settled in for the duration.

In one corner, a large gang of the prisoners had begun playing a separate game-within-a-game, setting up and elaborate and entirely different role play on the table, battling with tiny figurines.

I sulked in my cosy corner, excited, yet bored.

It began to rain again, storm clouds ushering in the evening before it was really due. I didn’t know the exact time because watches were a big old anachronism and hence banned, but shortly after the heavens re-opened, a worrying rumour started to go around the tent. It seemed several high powered barbarians had been captured by the orcs and a Berlin Wall style prisoner exchange was going to take place – which meant all ravaging was off!

Obviously, my heart sank. The last thing I wanted was to be traded back to the ruddy orcs and end up having to get captured all over again. When I heard that one of the high up types captured was Charlie himself, my heart sank even lower.

Now I really couldn’t win. I was trapped on the barbarian side, Charlie was trapped with the orcs! I kicked an anachronistic lemonade can on the muddy tent floor.

But despite my despairing mood, the prisoner exchange itself turned out to be quite exhilarating, despite the rain slithering down the back of my neck. We were all comically roped together and herded into a small woody clearing in the fast fading light. Various negotiations took place in orc-grunts and barbarian-grunts, while I scanned the other set of prisoners until I saw a distinctive mass of blonde hair and furry waistcoat. So near, and yet so far. Damnit, I didn’t even get to be on home turf while he was our prisoner.

Making my way back into base camp, I found Tom was at my elbow, proffering a rather out of character orange cagoule. ‘Hi Caroline, are you okay?’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ I said, grabbing his offering and pulling it over my orc clothes without breaking stride.

‘I’m sorry you got captured.’ He shrugged. ‘I meant to keep an eye out for you. Still, I got you back didn’t I?’

By the time Tom was saying this we were already outside his tent. It was only then that I noticed that his tent was everso slightly bigger than the others. I began to wonder about something. ‘Tom,’ I said, slowly, ‘are you, like, in charge of the Orcs?’

‘Um, not exactly,’ Tom said, looking slightly pleased I had asked. ‘I’m one of five commanders. But the prisoner exchange trick was all my idea.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘thanks.’ And then I thought for a moment and said, ‘What do you mean “trick”?’

Tom smiled. ‘Oh yeah, you wouldn’t know. Well we didn’t want to hand over Charlie did we; after all he’s one of their commanders. It’s like, you know, having taken their queen in chess or something. So we pulled a little trick, got one of our tallest barbarian prisoners to dress up in Charlie’s clothes, tied him up and gagged him and in all the scuffle it…’

‘Oh my God,’ I interrupted.

‘I know,’ said Tom, clearly swelling with the pride at the thought of his excellent plan. ‘It shouldn’t have worked really, but it did!’

I brushed his boasting aside. ‘Yeah, yeah, never mind that now. Are you trying to tell me that Charlie is still here?’


‘And he’s our prisoner?’


‘And he’s naked?’

Tom looked at me, very puzzled. ‘Well no, of course not. He has his underwear on.’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘Caroline? Caroline, are you okay.’

‘I’m just fine, Tom,’ I said, in a very odd sounding voice. ‘Very fine indeed.’

Night had properly fallen now. The boggy campsite that I was currently calling home looked different in the dark. It twinkled prettily in torch light like a squelchy fairy land.

‘Er, Tom,’ I said as we headed across camp to the big sort of main tent right in the middle – apparently there was going to be some kind of feast and celebration of today’s minor victory. ‘Do you need anyone to guard Charlie?’

‘Guard Charlie? Nah, I got someone on it. Anyway, you’ve got to come to the feast? You’re a part of it, after all.’

I cursed under my breath, but followed Tom into the tent.

But after just half an hour – and that was all I could take of ale swigging and weird singing – I slipped out, determined to find out where Charlie was. Most of the camp was in darkness now, but I could see torch light coming from outside the front of one of the tents. Hunching myself up against the drizzle (having lost my precious cagoule at some point during the feast) I headed in that direction.

As I approached, I saw that there was a young looking guy sitting outside it sheltered by a small awning. Even by torch light I could tell he had really terrible skin, which probably wasn’t being helped by the caked layer of green orc make up he was wearing.

‘Hi,’ I said, breezily, ‘not going to the feast?’

‘Nah,’ bad-skin replied, grumpily, ‘got this bloody job didn’t I.’

‘Oh, well, you know, I don’t really go in for feasts all that much. I’d be happy to stand in for you for half an hour.’ I said, with all the breeziness I could conjure up under the circumstances.

Bad-skin looked sceptical. ‘I dunno,’ he said, ‘if anything happens to him I’ll be in dreadful trouble. He’s a big prize. A commander, you know. Tom said not to leave my post for anything. Look.’ And by way of a horrible demonstration he produced from the shadows a plastic bottle that clearly contained urine.

‘Ew.’ I said, then shrugged. ‘Well, it’s up to you, but if you let me take over I promise I’ll keep a very close eye on him.’

Bad-skin put down his bottle and fixed me with a glare, but I could tell he was wavering – how could he resist the ale and singing?

‘Well, okay then,’ he said, eventually, ‘just for half an hour, but don’t leave your post, whatever happens. And don’t go in there either; apparently he has ways of talking to you to try and get you to let him go.’

And a few minutes later, once bad skin had disappeared into the feast tent and I had gingerly kicked the horrific bottle into the dark grass, I was standing by the tent’s entrance, heart banging with excitement.

Charlie. Could I even go in?

Could I not?

I pushed one of the flaps aside with a finger tip and peeped inside. One of those camping gas lights sat on the floor, emitting a strange whitewashy light, and I could just about make out Charlie.

He was a sitting on the edge of a little camp bed, his big bare shoulders shiny in the odd light. A blanket was draped over his lap and he was holding his arms awkwardly behind his back. I had to look carefully before I realised, with a surge of lust, that his arms were actually tied behind him.

He looked up. He looked right at me. Well, at the little sliver of me that must have been visible through the tent flaps, and he said, ‘Hello, Caroline.’ And I was totally shocked that he knew my name.

‘Hi,’ I said, stepping through the tent entrance. The rain seemed to get harder as I did so, drumming urgently on the canvas above me. Not that things like that were really making much impression on me at that moment. My world was so full of Charlie.

He looked so sexy, sitting there, in the half dark, all semi-naked and tied up, that it didn’t twig for a moment or two, but then the penny dropped: The odd contrast between Charlie’s experience of captivity and my own.

‘How come you’re tied up?’ I said, ‘I thought that if you got captured you got to come out of role and just hang out backstage?’

Charlie snorted. ‘Because, Caroline, that bastard Tom knows full well that if I wasn’t tied up I’d walk straight out of here and up to the game moderators and demand an enquiry into that tricky little fake exchange deal he pulled. It’s totally against protocol and he knows it. What’s more tying people up without supervision is pretty dodgy behaviour too. He’s going to be in serious trouble the minute I’m out of here. That’s why.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘so he’s broken the rules?’

‘Yeah,’ said Charlie, as if I was an idiot. ‘I’d be surprised if he’s allowed to play live combat anywhere in the country when this gets out.’

‘Seriously?’ That really surprised me. ‘Well, then why has he done it?’

‘Because, Caroline,’ Charlie said, very slowly, ‘he couldn’t get his other commanders to agree to a straight swap of me for you. Obviously I’m worth a good deal more than you are, tactically,’ he paused, dramatically, ‘but not to Tom, it would seem.’

I took a few minutes for this to sink in. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I said, ‘Oh God.’

Charlie shrugged his shoulders. ‘He does this every so often. Gets a girl he fancies, talks her into playing, gets her done up as a she-orc…’ he tailed off into a sigh and then said, ‘some of us are more interested in the actual game.’

I looked at the ground for a minute. ‘So your being here, like this, it’s kind of all my fault then.’

‘Well, kind of I suppose,’ said Charlie. ‘But you can easily make it right. How about you untie me and we both head off to the moderators camp and sort this mess out.’

And I suppose that would have been the right thing to do, but he looked so sexy all tied up and bristling with his righteous anger. How could I just let him go?

I moved closer to him, across the tent. ‘I’ll let you go Charlie, if you do something for me first.’

Charlie looked up at me, I was standing over him at this point and I inched forward, straddling his bare legs.

He wetted his lips. ‘What do you want me to do?’

I didn’t answer. There was no need. I bent down and I kissed him. And then I could hear the rain on the roof again, even over the roar of my blood pounding in my ears.

For a little while he didn’t kiss back. He held his mouth still, lips pressed firmly together. I found his reticence strangely arousing, and kept right on working on his mouth, easing and teasing until his lips parted, just a little and his head moved forward a tiny fraction. And he finally gave in and let me kiss him.

I kissed him for quite a long time, making myself repeat over and over in my head: This is Charlie Baker! You are kissing Charlie Baker! Until I was so wound up and excited I couldn’t wait any longer to see his cock.

I began to work my way downwards. I kissed my way across his throat and down his bare chest. I slipped my hands under the blanket on his lap and found a pair of underpants, barely containing a very hard, very ready cock.

Charlie inhaled. ‘Caroline,’ he said, ‘I’m not sure if this is a good idea…’

But it was too late. I had just slid his underpants down far enough to liberate his erection. I clapped my right hand over his mouth and smiled up at him. ‘Now, Charlie, I really don’t think that’s the kind of thing a barbarian would say.’

And I dipped my head and slid my mouth over his smooth, smooth cock.

He was hot there. Every other part of his body had been cool, chilled by the cold night air and his lack of clothing. But his cock was hot, so hot that I felt like the contrast was enough to sear my mouth as I sucked. He was delicious.

When I looked up at him, I saw he had closed his eyes and tipped back his head, with my right hand still clamped over his mouth. His cheeks were gently flushed and his longish hair was drooping across his beautifully sculpted face. I pushed my left hand down between my legs. I wasn’t surprised to find that I was very wet.

Now, although sucking Charlie’s cock was all very well – in fact it was a dream come true – I wanted more. I slid my mouth free.

Charlie’s eyes popped open, questioning. I smiled and finally took my hand away from his mouth, looping my arm around his neck instead and pulling him off the camp bed and down onto the groundsheet with me.

Somehow I managed to get my muddy trousers and knickers off, squirming around Charlie, as he knelt on the floor next to me. He looked at my crotch, which was glistening in the pale light. He didn’t say anything.

‘I know you want to come, Charlie,’ I hissed, softly, ‘but I think you should be a proper barbarian gentleman about it and sort me out first.’ And I stared meaningfully at his beautiful face, before flicking my gaze down.

Charlie still didn’t say anything, but he jerked at his bound wrists. He wanted to be untied first.

I almost laughed out loud. ‘Oh no. Not yet remember. I’m not stupid.’

And with a sigh that I’m sure turned into a smirk, Charlie dipped his head and buried his face between my legs. His tongue touched me almost at once, and I realised how close I was already. I gazed down at him, crouching on the ground with his bound hands poking up in the air, and I found I was bucking up into his mouth. I didn’t want slow build up, or anything like that. I’d had had enough build up – months of it, in fact! I just wanted Charlie’s tongue against my clit right now, over and over until I was coming in his mouth. And in less time than it took to think it, that was what was happening. I clapped my hand over my own mouth then, muffling my screams as I saw tight little blue stars behind my eyes.

And I didn’t forget that I had promised Charlie an orgasm too. In fact, I pulled myself together as quickly as I could, remembering, as my own orgasm faded, that bad-skin had only reckoned on being gone for half an hour. Time was running short.

I scrambled up into a sitting position and pushed Charlie down onto his back. His cock was harder than ever now, jutting out of his underpants and cherry red. I fell on it, sucking hard and I couldn’t resist working my own clit at the same time, bringing myself back to the peak in a few quick strokes. Charlie jerked hard and desperate as he came, thrusting himself deeper into my mouth, over and over, and his delicious orgasm was enough to make my clit start to spasm all over again – if anything harder and longer than before.

Not long afterwards, Charlie and I sneaked carefully out of the tent. We raced across the sodden grass and into the woods, where I could see the lights of the barbarian camp not far away.

‘Where’s the moderators camp?’ I asked in a whisper. ‘Aren’t they somewhere in the middle?’

‘It’s not far.’

We dashed on a little further and then something occurred to me. ‘Charlie,’ I hissed.


‘Well, you know that swap thing that Tom pulled. You said it was against protocol or something.’

‘Yeah, that’s right.’

‘Well, surely your team would have reported it to the moderators by now. I mean, they would have noticed pretty quickly that it wasn’t you that was handed over.’

Before I’d even finished speaking Charlie’s hand suddenly appeared out of the darkness and grabbed one of my wrists. I tried to jerk it away, but he was far too strong and in a split-second he had tight hold of my other wrist too. Suddenly I was Charlie’s prisoner.

‘Oh, Caroline, I’m so sorry,’ he said, in a low voice, ‘I can’t quite believe you fell for that.’

And, ignoring my screams of protest, Charlie whisked me up in the air and flung me over his shoulder.

Just moments later I found myself on the damp ground, bathed in the flickering light from the barbarian’s camp fire, as all around me Charlie’s stunning escape was celebrated with manic whoops and cheers.’

In the pub, Caroline stops talking. Last orders has come and gone and drinking up is now being urged. Our table is so covered in empty glasses now that there is scarcely room for us to rest our elbows as we all stare at her in awe.

Finally Chris says, ‘God, Caroline. That Charlie was a bastard.’

‘Not really,’ says Caroline, finishing her last vodka tonic, ‘he was just bloody good at playing the game.’

‘Fuck,’ says Mary, who is probably the drunkest of any of us, ‘I can’t believe you told us all that.’

Caroline laughs. ‘Blame that last double you bought me. I was planning to gloss over the explicit stuff a bit more than that, but, well.’ And she shrugs as we all stand up and sway our way into our coats.

As we totter out into the night I say, ‘So what happened after that? After you were captured again.’

‘Oh,’ says Caroline, and then smiles a sort of secrety smile, ‘I was finally Charlie’s prisoner. There were no more exchanges after that.’ And she turns and hails a cab, which chugs to a halt at the kerb.

‘Was Tom pissed off?’

‘Kind of,’ she says as she climbs into the warmth, ‘but it was only a role play.’

When I get home that night, my husband is sitting at the dining table, painting little miniature goblins with a tiny, tiny brush.

When he hears the door he looks up. ‘Hi,’ he says, ‘good evening?’

‘Interesting.’ I say, as I slip into the seat opposite him and glance at the fantastical army spread across the table top.

‘Good,’ he says, going back to his painting.

I purse my lips and watch him for a minute. Then I say, ‘Charlie, you went to Sheffield University, right? Ever meet a girl called Caroline?’

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