I shall endeavor to avoid being spoily.
This is one of the finer stories crafted by Dave Sim for Cerebus. It shows some of the artistic directions he will take over the rest of the series. Firstly his use of historical characters in a major role rather than as comedy relief which he used with the Marx Brothers. There's a story within a story that gives the reader a thorough background to Jaka's childhood and adolescence up to an important event in her life. This is presented to the reader with an illustration accompanied by a dense block of text detailing the events of the image instead of a usual comic book layout of panels, people and word balloons. As one continues reading Cerebus, one learns this is the style of the "reads" in Sim's world which are an analogue to comic books.
Starting with issue 112/113 one finds out that while Cerebus was on the moon the Cirinists had taken over Iest. The Cirinists had taken advantage of the chaos wrought by the unexplained growth of the black tower, covered with "demon 'eads and skuwws", which was Cerebus's ticket towards what he thought was ascension. Cerebus finds himself distraught at having lost the giant pile of gold he had amassed while Pope of the Western Church of Tarim in addition to his friends. He considers suicide as the Judge's pronouncement that Cerebus will die "Alone, unmourned and unloved" echoed through his head. A stroke of lightning knocks him back to his senses.
At the end of the book he finds himself in a tavern holding a crotchety old war veteran decrying the failure of the armies against the Cirinists to the ears of a very large bartender. At the end of his ranting he asks the rhetorical question "How does it all end?" Cerebus has the answer which leaves them stunned and silent.
Cerebus's progress takes him up the mountain until he comes into a smaller pub run by Pud Withers which leads to a series of discoveries. Cerebus orders an ale and decides to pay for it with a gold piece which shocks the barkeep. Apparently gold is very rare and dangerous to possess in Cirinist-occupied Iest. Next he runs into the one woman that he's been pining for since issue six.
They run to each other and hug while she expresses her concern for Cerebus and offers him a place to stay just before telling him that she's still married. Cerebus is a wanted man being the former Pope and may be killed on sight. There really isn't any way for him to keep a low profile since he's a little over three feet tall, gray with a large tail. Jaka really doesn't seem to realize that her straits are just as dire as Cerebus's because she is a tavern dancer. Such activities which raise the prurient desires of males, who are second class citizens under Cirin, are punishable by death. No questions asked.
Thus begins the love triangle which is at the heart of the story.
Cerebus has been deeply in love with Jaka for quite some time but it has never been the right time for them as a couple. Either he's drugged by a cult or too busy politicking or Jaka has that pesky marriage thing and a pregnancy getting in the way of things. Pud Withers, proprietor of the tavern, is a very lonely man. He deals with Jaka on two levels where she's Mrs. Nash, customer, with whom he exchanges the same banalities with over and over every single day. At night Jaka comes in to dance should there be any customers. Pud lusts after Jaka and uses money that he has stashed away to provide her with black market goods which he sells for exactly the same amount he pays her each and every night. Rick is Jaka's ne'er-do-well husband who is always looking for work but never finding it.
Rick's friend on the side of the mountain is Oscar, a socialite and poet who looks and acts just like Oscar Wilde. The two men will spend many hours talking together by the side of the road. These aren't as much discussions but Rick acting like a fanboy while Oscar recounts the escapades of artists and other socialites in the upper city. Either Jaka or Pud eventually break up the two friends by their mutual distaste of Oscar. To Jaka, Oscar represents Rick's reticence towards finding work, distracting him with pointless anecdotes. Oscar looks down his nose upon Jaka's chosen profession for being something base and completely lacking in any integrity. Pud simply dislikes Oscar because of Oscar's homosexuality.
Eventually Oscar learns that there's a houseguest by the name of "Fred" but any formal introductions are immediately put to rest when Jaka reminds him that Oscar was there on Cerebus's election night and considering Cerebus's circumstances nothing can be left to chance. Rick explains that "Fred" is sick and they can never meet.
By now Pud's lust towards Jaka becomes stronger and stronger, he's playing out fantasies in his head that start out with her rushing into his arms out of sympathy followed by his demands that she put out because he's paid out more than enough. Things get even creepier when the fantasies turn to rape. Keep in mind this is never presented to the reader except as Pud's thinking to himself rather than being graphically depicted on the page. The title character, Cerebus, has left the scene not really having a part in the story. According to his note he said he went out to get some paint for a project.
Business picks up at the tavern when the old war veteran arrives. For the first time in quite a long time Jaka can dance for someone rather than staring out the window during the small hours of the night. Oscar, during a bout of writer's block with Jaka's Story, peeps in the window of the tavern and discovers that Jaka is no mere tavern dancer but an artist with a capital A. The next day he expresses his admiration and desire for an audience with her in order to appreciate her craft. Unfortunately this is where everything ends.
Jaka finds herself in a Cirinist prison rather than dead due to her diplomatic immunity. She discovers that the person next to her cell is her former nanny. It's a dark, lonely and frightening place but Nurse does provide a little comfort. Sadly, the next day Nurse is told that her execution has been ordered within the hour for being an illegal alien. The day after Jaka is brought in for questioning by a Cirinist who looks like Margaret Thatcher. She's confronted with her impact on the lives of the people who were on the side of the mountain that night. Jaka learns of Pud's descent into madness because of her and is soon reunited with Rick. Unfortunately Rick learns one of Jaka's secrets and never wants to see her again.
Cerebus returns and finds all the buildings burned to the ground. He presumes everyone is dead.
All characters and story are © Dave Sim and Gerhard. All likenesses to people, living or dead, are intentional for parody purposes. No purchase necessary. Offer not valid in Tennessee.