DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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Dulce et Decorum est…
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery., and more recently, Cosmo, a young boy who has died, but has agreed to help them. Together they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. Simon and Annie had a task, that took them out of their own world, to find out more, and to fulfil a promise to Morag. Now, far from the sea-side city of Brighton, in Hyperborea, the country of the faeries, they find new friends and old foes.
Annie yawned deeply and turned over, beneath her soft quilt. Then she remembered, with a shock, where they were. She lay, thinking about why they were here, in Hyperborea, the land of the faeries. Then she was struck with a sudden mental jolt, that made her sit bolt upright in the small whitewashed bedroom. Sunlight gleamed brightly through the wooden shutters, casting a yellow ray alongside her bed. Where were the others? She threw on some clothes hastily, the ones she had worn before, when? Yesterday? She pulled the door open, making sure the talisman was still on the index finger of her right hand, and walked out into the large square atrium, in the centre of which was a large rectangular pool, its blue water reflecting the azure sky above, through the open roof that slanted down on all four sides. Four fluted marble columns supported the roof at each corner of the basin.
There were other doors on each side. To her right, was the entrance door they had come through the night before. On the left was an open room, and beyond that, was a splashing fountain, in which a tall bearded river-god stood, knee-deep, his palms outspread, from which the water ran and tinkled into the round basin below. Then Annie remembered everything.
This was the house in which Gloriana, at the end of what might have been a very violent meeting, had offered them, “as befits our guests” as she put it. It had been Morag, who had ended that acrimony. Annie now realised that they were still in Elsace, the capital city of Hyperborea. She walked hesitantly around the pool, and the statue, that seemed to follow her with a wink and a grinning leer. The marble floor felt warm and comforting to her bare feet. Large earthenware pots and tubs lined the path around – sweet-smelling herbs, thyme, marjoram, mint, and rosemary. Others contained small delicate roses, red, orange and pink, that filled the sunlit air with more fragrance. The second door on her right was ajar, and to her delight, it was a bathroom and lavatories, together with a very large circular tub in one corner. Several minutes later, she emerged, refreshed and at peace. There was a clattering of metal pots inside the adjacent door. Feeling curious, she pushed it open, and walked down a small step into a hot, windowless room.
There was a faery clad in a short tunic, bending over a large, black cooking-pot, suspended over a hissing red charcoal fire, her long, slim legs bright against the embers’ glow. She whirled around, her right hand clasping a long deadly knife, its glistening length pointed at Annie.
‘Hallo, Ragimund’. said Annie calmly.
Ragimund slid the knife back into its sheath, with a practised movement.
‘Forgive me, Annie’, she smiled, in apology. ‘It is the way I have been trained’.
‘Is that breakfast? Smells wonderful. Why are you doing that?’
‘Ragimund shrugged. ‘I thought I should offer you hospitality. We have no servants here. It is what you deserve’.
(Nothing to do with my brother, Simon, of course, she thought). Aloud, Annie said ‘Can I help you?’
‘Could you take those dishes to the dining-room? To your left’.
At the doorway, Annie paused. ‘You know, Ragimund. I can’t believe that you once threatened to skewer my brother on the end of your sword, and stick his head on a pole. Now you’re making breakfast for us’.
Ragimund turned back to the simmering pot. ‘I would never have done that, Annie. But never underestimate faeries like us. We are capable of many things. But then, so are humans’.
They ate in companionable silence around the large wooden table, in the dining-room next to the kitchen, that opened off the colonnaded peristyle, with the smiling sea-god still mischievously trickling water from his fingers. Both Morag and Simon entered, looking rested and relaxed, gazing curiously around the walls, painted a vermilion red, to waist-height, and whitewashed above. It was a comfortable and gentle room, with little decoration. Its tiled floor, laid in diagonal black and white squares, was warm and comforting, from some form of under-floor heating.
‘Where do we go today, Ragimund?’ asked Simon, his mouth still full of fragrant porridge.
‘We go on a journey. Gloriana feels that you should see our port, Druard, where this ship lies, with the red-bearded stranger we spoke of. It is to the north-west of here. It is two days’ ride, but we will stop along the way’.
‘Did you say ride?’ said Morag, faintly, accidentally dropping her spoon.
‘Of course’. replied Ragimund, in surprise, sitting close to Simon. ‘There is no difficulty, is there?’
‘Absolutely not’. said Annie firmly. ‘Is there, Morag?’
‘No’, gulped Morag. She groaned.
‘Get on that horse!’
‘No! It doesn’t like me! Look, it’s sniggering!’
‘Get on it! Now!’
Morag struggled onto her steed, The horse turned its head and looked at her, pityingly, shook its head, and then they were off, Simon and Ragimund in front, Annie riding beside a frightened Morag, clinging on, along the white-paved road, that led north towards their destination. Annie nodded, approvingly. Morag was beginning to get the hang of it, sitting more comfortably in the saddle, adjusting her rhythm to that of her horse. Her mouth was set, thin-lipped with fear, but Annie noticed that she was looking around, at the swaying fields of corn each side of the road, patch-worked with green fields of emerald grass, in which sheep and goats grazed, small smudges of grey and white, under the gleaming bright sky. They saw the occasional white-painted square of a farm or villa, with courtyards attached. The land was lush and fertile, lazily humming in the warm heat of the sun above.
They stopped that night at a faery inn, similar to the house in which they had woken up that morning. After the meal, they sat around a small table in a large honey-coloured dining-room. There were other faeries there, who greeted them kindly, though with a quiet reserve. Most were women, all attractive, and some genuinely beautiful, their hair, both blonde and dark, flowing freely down their backs, almost to their waists. They chattered gaily amongst themselves, casting polite but inquisitive glances at them. Surprisingly they spoke in their own language, so that they could understand brief fragments. The few men, seeming also to be in their early twenties, were equally handsome. Annie was struck by how Morag seemed to resemble the faeries: the soft wide mouth, the rather acquiline nose, the large dark eyes, and the same slim body. She felt somewhat flattered when she overheard a male faery, talking to his companion as they left, ‘The humans look like us. They must have faery blood. There is no mistaking that’.
She turned to Ragimund, who sat, as was expected, next to Simon. ‘Why are they speaking English?’
‘Out of politeness and courtesy to fellow travellers. Your language is one of many we know’.
‘I see’, Annie considered this.
‘Do you think we look like faeries?’ she said abruptly.
Ragimund frowned, and looked carefully at each of them. ‘Yes, I do. I know about Morag, because she is born from a faery. But you and Simon, yes, you too’. She looked down, thinking. ‘I am not sure why, but you have become, closer, to us. I do not know how. Perhaps it is because of the talismans. I think my folk see that. Perhaps that is why they seem so uncertain of you. It is not out of discourtesy, but they seem puzzled. I think I am too’.
Annie thought back to the night before. What was it Morag said, before they fell asleep?
(I noticed you. When you were really angry, violent almost, your eyes turned grey. Both of you. Just like the faeries).
‘It’s nothing, Ragimund. Tell us more about your country. We really don’t know anything about it, about your history, I mean’.
Ragimund stared down at the table, before she spoke again. When she looked up, Annie was astonished at how much pain and grief were reflected in her deep brown eyes.
‘I don’t know where to begin’. She spoke very softly, as if her words were strained. ‘ A very long time ago, we lost our land, where we originated. No-one knows how or why, even our own historians. We were scattered, lost, spread amongst many people and many worlds. We lived by our senses and by the sword. We hired ourselves out to those who would have us, and needed us. We were skilled in warfare’.
‘You became mercenaries’. said Annie quietly, not liking what she said.
‘I don’t understand that word’, replied Ragimund, hesitantly. ‘But if you mean we were employed for our fighting skills, and strength, I could only say yes. But we were a lost people! We had no land to call our own! We were scattered like chaff in the wind! Then, one of our warriors came back from a long journey, and told those of my folk he could find, that he had found a land where we could settle. A place we could call home. My folk bought ships, and, following his directions, they travelled here, where they found a wasteland, overgrown, left to itself. They settled here. More and more of my folk came, and gradually we began to cultivate the barren land. We created pastures and fields. We grew crops, and built houses. It became our new home, that every faery desperately wanted to come to! Somewhere, that was truly ours!’
Ragimund paused, her eyes glinting with tears. She was deeply moved.
‘I cannot tell you how precious our new homeland was! Somewhere, so that that we could tell other peoples, I have a home! A place to come from, and to return to! We did not take it away from any others. Nobody wanted it! We took it with gratitude, and defended it against others when we had to! It was ours, and ours alone! Every one of us will fight to the death for our land!’
Ragimund was ablaze as she stood up suddenly, overturning the chair behind her. ‘We are faeries!’ Suddenly, she looked like the murderous avenging warrior that Annie remembered – eyes like granite, fists clenched, suddenly larger and bigger than they realised. She strode to the window, and threw the shutters open violently. They crashed in protest against the wall, and hung ajar, leaving dark marks on the wall. Ragimund’s shoulders heaved up and down, as she breathed deeply. Behind her, the others were silent, stunned by her outburst.
After a few moments, Ragimund seemed to relax. She turned round, picked up the fallen chair, and sat down. Her eyes had returned to their natural deep brown. She clasped her hands on the table.
‘Forgive me. It is part of who and what I am. It is what I feel, and every faery feels’.
Simon found his voice. ‘Remind me not to make you annoyed in future!’
Ragimund smiled at him, affectionately. ‘I am sorry. It is not any of you that I feel angry towards. Perhaps I should tell you something more about our history’. She sighed and went on. ‘Over centuries of your time, we began to trade. We found silver and gold, which were of little use to us, but others desired it. So we began to trade more and more, with other peoples and in other dimensions, and particularly so with your world. We found that we had a great deal in common, as you will see tomorrow. Humans and faeries began to mingle and eventually marry and raise children. Your culture, your human culture, has a great significance for us. We identified with your Celtic peoples, so that our languages, our existence, our very people, became interwoven with yours. But we also adopted many other parts of your history, to such an extent that we adopted much of your art and architecture, particularly that of your ancient Greek and Roman worlds. But we remain our own people’.
She spread her hand out towards the window. ‘Our land is called Hyperborea, after a mythic land of yours, existing only in legend. Our dwellings are based upon your Roman homes. There is much here that has survived from your world. You will find faeries throughout your history. It may surprise you that so many of your great men and women have faery blood. Your world, and ours, are far closer than perhaps you have ever realised. You are living proof of that, Morag. Your father was human, but your mother was a faery. Do you not think that there are many others like you?’
‘Wow’. said Simon finally. ‘Perhaps Winston Churchill? No, not really. That would be too much’. Both Annie and Morag were still too astonished to speak.
‘There are some of us who are still suspicious of humans. You bring trouble to our land, they say. Gloriana does not think so. She is a queen, but in name only. She is elected for her skills and bravery. Everyone in Hyperborea is equal, Annie. Men and women alike. Everyone has a voice. That is why you are so important as allies, to prove those others wrong. But it is also why Gloriana was so disturbed, and angry, by the…..murder… that happened. She was concerned that you, however inadvertently, had introduced your enemies into our world. She will do anything to protect this land. That is why you must aid us in eradicating this evil, whatever it is, for your own sake as well as for ours’.
Simon stood up, and looked around at the others. ‘We will do our best, Ragimund. Please understand. All three of us have our own reasons for finding whoever is responsible. Once, we were children. We had innocence’. He sighed. ‘No longer. All that is past now. We have bigger things to do’.
‘ I know’. said Ragimund sadly. ‘Be brave, but be careful’. She furrowed her brow. ‘How does it go? The phrase I learnt from your world. “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.
“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”. Annie quoted. ‘But I prefer another interpretation. “It is sweet and fitting to live, for what one believes in”.
At that, they fell silent.
Late the following afternoon, they reined in their horses, and gazed down on the great faery port of Druard. The air was warm and still around them. Before them stretched a great bowl of shimmering sea, its soft blue surface mottled with continuous white waves, that shifted and changed as they looked, an eternal, shifting mirror to the great azure sky above. The coast curved away to east and west, until it was lost in the haze of the horizon. From the shore, great jetties stretched out like dark fingers into that blue surface. Hundreds of dark, slim shapes gathered around them, as if for protection. Masts and spars, sails furled, rose up from them, a forest of twigs. The harbour itself crawled with humming activity, swarming around the great piles of cargo unloaded from the ships themselves. Not the grey worming tendrils of suffering they had seen in Purgatory. This was life, vibrancy, movement, like an overturned hive of bees.
They all stood up in their stirrups, excited, apart from Morag, who stayed in her saddle, still overwhelmed by the sight below.
‘All the world is here!’ cried Simon, in delight. He looked out in amazement. There are carracks, galliases, galleons, and galleys! Look! There’s a trireme, coming in! With two biremes as well! I never thought I would see something so wonderful!’
Across the patterned sea, were three large ships, rowing methodically towards the harbour, like water-beetles, sculling with stick-like oars towards the harbour. They stopped suddenly, close to shore, and folded in their millipede-like paddles, relying on their two sails, one on the bowsprit, the other flapping on the central mast above the hull, to bring them in. On the side of each bow was painted a great golden eye, ringed with pink and green, echoing the glinting ram under the bow, that rose and fell above the waves.
‘ They are ours! Come down and see our port of Druard!’ Ragimund shouted excitedly. ‘It is truly marvellous!’
Their horses began to trot down towards the great harbour. Their path ran through a chequerboard of white cubic houses and villas, spread around courtyards, like a mosaic pattern on the hilly slopes rising behind the great colonnaded warehouses and streets of the harbour. They joined the white road, just before a huge sculpted gateway, under which they passed, and joined the crowds within, milling and gesticulating, in the port itself.
The harbour streets, narrow and winding, were thronged with people of all races and origins. White turbans mingled with soft dark hats, plumed helmets, woollen cloths pulled over ears. Languages, unknown, but ringing with sounds that sometime seemed familiar, eddied and whirled through the crowds. They crossed market-places, stalls heaped with piles of spices, exuding the marvellous scent of cinnamon, turmeric, and pepper, alongside pyramids of aubergines, pineapples, apricots and deep blood-red oranges. The air smelt of candles, smoked chicken, burnt oil, a whiff of pungent spice, meat cooking, and the sweat and smell of the crowds. The faces, their mouths aloud with coaxing and imploring, black, brown, white and yellow, screamed at them to buy, to buy to buy!
‘Come on, lovely lady! You’re a treasure!’ shouted one Irish voice. He looked like a grinning potato, under a shapeless black hat. Annie pushed her horse on, but grinning back as she did. ‘So are you, Paddy!’ she yelled. They came out into a small, sunlit square, where a large white building stood, facing them. A tall colonnade masked the façade behind. On each side were equally square buildings, several floors high, faced in brown stone, with small narrow windows. They dismounted, and tethered the horses.
‘About time, too’. muttered Morag’s horse. She turned back in amazement.
‘What did you say?’ she stammered.
‘You ‘eard. Get on in there’. Annie’s horse snickered in laughter. She shook her head in bewilderment, and followed the others towards the white steps into the building. Behind her she heard the other horse say, ‘Townies!’
She ground her teeth in fury. Her bottom still hurt.
Before they could reach the wide steps of the portico, a tall man, dressed in a long tunic with a belt, came down to greet them. Annie nearly swooned. Her heart gave a great leap. He was beautiful. His hair fell in tight, wavy blonde curves around a face chiselled by the gods, over a well-muscled body and strong brown legs. Ragimund ran up the steps and hugged him. ‘Helios!’ she cried. He disengaged himself, and looked at Annie. His face gaped in admiration.
Morag leant towards Simon’s ear. ‘She’s scored!’ she whispered, triumphantly. Simon sniggered. ‘Please, come this way!’ said the faery, recovering himself. He led the way into the arched doorway, and into a small quiet room on the left, with a large wooden table and chairs. Glass goblets and a flask of scented drink stood on the table itself. ‘Please, be seated, and have some refreshment’. he gestured.
They sat, gratefully. ‘I have some bad news’. Helios leant forward on the table. Annie could not take her enthralled eyes from him. ‘This person, with the red beard, that I would have detained, has already left, last night. It was before I came on duty. He has left by another road. He would have gone towards Elsace. I am sorry. I did not know until too late’.
Ragimund leapt up. ‘I will send word to Gloriana! She will take all precautions!’ She ran out.
‘He will travel slowly. But he is well on his way, and he has taken the other road to Elsace, so that you would not have seen him. Who is he, and what does he want?’
‘Us. I think I know what he is planning’. Annie said slowly, ‘If we think we know who he is. Simon!’ she looked at him, anxiously.
Simon nodded, his hands knotted together. ‘I know what he wants. I know who he is. When I find him, I will deal with him. I will!’ his voice rose to a shout.
‘Right, why you lot are planning vengeance, I’m going to do some detecting! About time I made myself useful’.
‘Like what, Morag?
‘I’m going to talk to the horses. Some detection work’. She left them staring after her.
‘Horses? She said she hates horses!’
‘Not any more, so it seems. She’s up to something’.
The faery that guided her to the stables was tall, with long black hair that curled over his shoulders, and very handsome, as Morag appreciated. ‘You might need these’, he suggested, holding out a small leather bag. ‘They will loosen their tongues’. Morag, puzzled, peered inside. The aroma of something fragrant and familiar, wafted from the bag. ‘Turkish Delight!’ she exclaimed.
‘The horses love it. By the way, my name is Haga. I am brother to Helios and to….Hylas’. He dropped his eyes sadly.
‘I am truly sorry for your loss, Haga. We want to find the “perp”, I mean the killer of your brother’. Morag said, sincerely.
‘I trust you will, and wish you well. The horses know most things. They are very observant’.
‘You mean, nosey. My name is Morag’.
‘I know, daughter of Moran. I will wait for you, beautiful lady’.
Morag went into the dark stables, feeling very pleased with herself. A genuine compliment! Well, if Annie can pull a tasty faery, so can I, she thought. Dark shapes rustled behind the chest-high wooden fence in the dim interior, lit only by skylights, high above in the raftered ceiling. An acrid, but not unpleasant smell, of fresh hay and horse droppings, hung in the air. Something soft and hairy nuzzled her ear. She jumped.
‘Aye, Aye? Look who’ve we got here! She’s brought something nice for us, hasn’t she? Come on over, mates’. More large hairy forms emerged and jostled together, behind the fence in front of her.
‘Come on then, give us a bribe!’ one of the other horses snickered.
Morag recovered from her fright, thrust her hand into the bag, and very timidly, extended her open hand, with the soft sticky sweets to their eager mouths, expecting to have it bitten off at any moment. Instead, she felt the soft lick of tongues, as the horses daintily picked up the Turkish Delight, and swallowed them between their large teeth.
The large shape in front of her smacked his horsy lips. ‘Aaaah, that’s nice! I’m Bucephalus, young lass, and this here is Persephone, my girl-friend, sort of….’
‘What do you mean, sort of?’ whinnied Persephone.
‘And this is Ajax, and over there, that’s Achilles’. Bucephalus, continued, unperturbed.
‘Pleased to meet you, I’m sure’. said Ajax and Achilles, in unison.
‘Right’, said Bucephalus. ‘What do you want to know?’
Since when has a policewoman interviewed horses as witnesses, Morag thought. She giggled, then decided to be business-like.
‘Do you know anything about a red-bearded man, who came off one of the ships here? Was he acting suspiciously, or doing anything that might have drawn attention to himself?’
‘Too right he was!’ It was Ajax who answered, looking hungrily at the bag of sweets Morag still held. ‘For a start, he unloaded a big crate off that ship a few days ago. Very secretive he was. But I heard him say to deliver it to someone up near Elsace. No idea what was in it, though’.
‘Then he got the sailors to unload all his stuff. Yesterday, that was. Not much. Just a travelling bag and this wooden box, with legs on it’. This was Achilles.
‘Yeah, like a stand, to put something on. Like a tripod, that you use for candles. A bit like that. Then he hired a cart, and off he went’.
‘Can you give me a description? Of this red-bearded man, I mean?’
‘I can’. snorted Persephone.
Morag looked at her. Her horse’s face was long, with a star of white hair on her forehead, against the light brown of her coat. She turned her head, so that Morag could see her right eye, large and bright.
‘I didn’t like him at all. He was nasty, I could tell that. He was tall and thin, and his legs and arms stood out at angles, know what I mean? He had this funny patterned suit on, and he didn’t walk proper, you know. step to the right and step to the left, as if he was a bit, you know, mad? He had this bushy red beard and red hair, all over the place’.
‘As if he capered, rather than walked?’
‘That’s right! He wasn’t ever still! But it was his eyes that got me! Horrible, bright, black and staring! I remember now. One of his eyes, I don’t remember which one, was bigger than the other, as if he’d been staring through a telescope for too long. It was weird!’
‘Or through a camera lens’. muttered Morag to herself.
‘Nothing. Is there anything else?’
‘Well’, Persephone hesitated. ‘He had this strange laugh. When he was going round checking his things, I mean. He kept, sort of giggling to himself, and he laughed. Only it wasn’t a laugh, it was more like a….cackle, know what I mean?’
‘I think I do. Thank you all very much. I think I’d better give you the rest of these sweeties’. They clustered around, greedily devouring the sticky pieces that Morag held out to them until the bag was empty. As she turned to leave, Bucephalus called after her in his hoarse voice. ‘We remember your mother, daughter of Moran. She was a great and generous lady. If we ride tomorrow, I promise not to throw you off, even if you do feel like a sack of potatoes on my back!’
Morag glared, then grinned. ‘I’ll hold you to that’.
The faery was still sitting outside, waiting for her. Morag flashed him her most radiant smile, which she hoped would have the desired effect. The faery blushed, most becomingly.
‘Can you take me to see the captain, that brought that person here?’
‘Of course. I will escort you myself’. Morag felt rather pleased with herself. On your bike, Annie. I can pull the same as you. No. I shouldn’t think that. Annie’s been through enough. But she still felt delighted at being escorted by an adoring and handsome faery.
They jostled past the teeming crowds of the harbour, faces shrieking and shouting, a blur of excited robes, tunics and heads, all gesticulating and pulling at her, until they arrived at the end of one of the harbour jetties. Men, their bodies bronzed dark-brown, clad only in loin-cloths, shouted and yelled around her, as they unloaded crates, bales and parcels from the moored ships, tossing and heaving them onto the broad stone jetty alongside. Hagar pulled her along by the hand, until they reached a quiet space, where a squat, heavy-bowed ship lay, blunt and rather ugly, its two masts with sails furled and wrapped. A small rickety wooden gang-plank led up to a gap in its heavily-tarred wooden sides. Hagar pushed her gently up and onto its deck, that shifted and moved under her feet, with the flow of the water beneath its caked hull.
Facing her was a small, rotund man, with a very badly shaved beard. His belly spread out under his tight waistcoat and shirt, as he stood, legs astride, matching his stance against the pull of the sea. A broad red cloth was wound round his shaven head, rather like a turban.
‘You want to ask me about one of my passengers? I speak English’. he said in a rather shrill voice, that came slightly oddly from his fat body.
‘Yes, a red-bearded man. What was he like? You must know his name’.
The fat little captain sighed. ‘He not liked, by either me or crew. He seemed very…peculiar. He stayed in cabin most of time, and screamed at us when he came out. He had his meals sent in, always. As for his name’, he consulted a small, rather grubby notebook, ‘he signed himself ‘Mr Whist’ or something like that. Look for yourself’. Morag stared at the semi-literate scrawl.
‘Thank you, captain. That’s all I need to know’. The captain shrugged, and went back to his duties.
As they walked down the gangplank, Morag turned. ‘Will you come back with me, as an escort? I..we have to talk to the others. I need you as a witness’.
‘Gladly, beautiful lady…Morag?’
‘Delighted!’ Morag beamed her radiant smile at him again, hoping it would have even more effect. It did. Eat your heart out, Annie, she told herself, gleefully. Hagar led her back to the white building, the custom-house, as he told her, not without a few discreet pats on her bottom on the way, from the odd sailor, or appreciative person in the teeming crowds. Morag felt very smug, and happy with herself. The others were still there. Hagar and his brother clasped each other’s arm in an affectionate handshake. Annie looked at her sharply. Simon grinned and winked. Ragimund giggled slightly, and then assumed a solemn face.
‘I’ve found out a few things’ Morag said triumphantly. She told the others what she had learnt from the horses and the sea-captain, with Haga supporting her account.
Simon sat, wrapped in his own thoughts. Ragimund sat beside him, anxiously caressing his clenched knuckles on the table.
Annie gasped. ‘So that’s where the cockatrice came from! In that crate he sent here! He must have had an accomplice to release it into the hidden passage! Then, poor Hylas! But why?’
‘To create suspicion, disarray and fear! Classic way to disrupt your enemies! Not only that, but to get at us as well! This is Grandfather Wrist we’re talking about, isn’t it?’ suggested Morag, eagerly.
‘Oh, yes. It’s definitely him. Their trademark. I will pay him back. I’m going to kill him’. Simon said this very quietly, hardly more than a whisper.
‘Simon!; Annie said sharply. ‘Remember your own advice that you gave me! Justice, not revenge!’
‘Perhaps justice and revenge are closer than you think’. Simon said slowly. He pushed his chair back and walked outside. Ragimund, after an anxious look from Annie, followed him.
‘How soon can we get back to Elsace, Helios? Annie asked.
‘Not tonight. Your horses are tired, and I have none to spare at present. You should leave at dawn. If you ride hard all day, you could be in Elsace by midnight. Haga and I will escort you on our own mounts. We can delegate our duties here’.
Morag shifted her bottom carefully. ‘If we must,’ she said mournfully. But she cheered up at the prospect of two beautiful male faeries riding with them. I just hope I don’t fall off, and disgrace myself, she thought to herself. Mind you, that might not be such a bad idea….nice bit of sympathy.
But the long ride back was uneventful, though miserable for both horses and riders. Morag did not fall off, even as they broke into a gallop, when the road was deserted. She had even forgotten about the ride, as she listened avidly to Haga, who rode beside her, telling her, excitedly about his land, pointing out landmarks along the way, and recounting his childhood from where he had grown up, in a small village a few miles from Elsace. She even decided to ignore the grumblings from Bucephalus, who, true to his word, made sure she stayed seated in her saddle. After a brief stop for a meal, they rode on, and finally swept into the courtyard before the great castle of Elsace, close to midnight, where they gratefully dismounted.
It was now dark, lit only by the flaring torches and lanterns held aloft by the faeries grouped around Gloriana, who stood grimly in the centre of the broad open court. Britomart, Mercilla and Lucifera, stood next to her, all of them armoured with corselets, and shoulder guards, over their long tunics, and helmets, pushed back, glinting in the harsh light of the torches. They were all armed, with long curved swords, slung behind their backs. Gloriana came forward to greet them.
Bucephalus caught Morag’s eye. ‘You owe me for this!’ he muttered, accusingly, panting, his flanks lathered in sweat.
‘I know, I’ll make it up to you, promise’. Morag whispered.
‘Should think so, too!’ He and his companions were led away to the stables for a well-earned rest.
Morag turned back to listen to Gloriana talking to the others, who had gathered around her.
‘We have searched the castle, everywhere, from cellar to upper chamber, and we found nothing! If this red-bearded man is here, then he must be in the surrounding area! Demand entry to every house and door! Our people will not care, as they know who we are looking for! Search for information, anything you can!’ She was shouting now, clearly agitated. ‘I will not let this man, whoever he is, damage our land! Report back to me, whatever you find!’
The faeries dispersed, grim-faced, on their search. This was unheard of, and they were clearly angry. As they disappeared into the surrounding darkness, Gloriana turned to Annie.
‘ Do you know where he might have gone to, Annie? Is there a place where he might set up this apparatus of mischief that he possesses?’
‘I don’t know! Annie cried helplessly. ‘It could be anywhere!’
‘What is this apparatus you speak of?’ asked Britomart.
Morag stepped forward, feeling rather ridiculous. ‘From what I’ve heard, it’s a camera, something to take images of people’.
‘Except that he uses it to take their souls, to take away their very future, and control it! Where’s Simon!’
She looked around. He was nowhere to be seen. Ragimund ran up to them. She was also armed with a sword, slung across her shoulders. ‘I cannot find him! He has flitted away into the shadows!’
‘That’s all we need’. muttered Annie, suddenly feeling very afraid for her brother.
Simon stood alone, staring at the large wooden door of the Villa of Poseidon. That was what Ragimund had called it, the house where they had stayed only the night before. He had had a feeling, that grew stronger on the ride back, knotting his chest with emotion and anger. Where else would Wrist be, except right in their very own dwelling? Simon knew he was there, though he could not explain it, even to himself. Just intuition, just an instinct. He was frightened. His stomach seemed to have knotted itself into a ball, and hurt. But he climbed steadily up the steps, and pushed at the door.
It swung open with a loud creak. He froze, his hands forward, raised. He did not know why. He cautiously crept into the atrium, where water glittered in the rectangular pool in the centre. There was a dark object, lying on the edge nearest him. He moved closer, looked down at it and picked it up. It felt heavy and cold, like metal, but it seemed to fit his hand perfectly. It shone in the light of the small brazier, sputtering away in the far corner. It was a gun. Simon peered down. He recognised it. It was an old-fashioned revolver, pointed and deadly, a revolving chamber set in the middle that he knew contained bullets. His left hand moved over it, and turned it around. A circle of bright brass tips glinted back at him. It was armed. Why?
Simon knew little about guns, apart from what he had seen on his computer. But he did remember to pull the lever at the back, which slid, and locked, with a satisfying click. A safety catch? None that he could see. This must be a trap. He clasped the gun with both hands, as he had seen in movies, and moved slowly and carefully forwards, around the pool, towards the sound of dripping and splashing water, beyond.
The house was dark. The only light came from that flickering brazier, that led towards the liquid sound. He moved forwards, softly, slowly, through the central chamber towards the god-like statue, astride the central pool, its smiling face, teeth bared, highlighted by another brazier, hissing gently by one of the tall columns on his right. The villa, so comfortable before, now had become a stage setting, columns and forms shrinking in, an enclosed arena, a backdrop, against which human figures were to act out their tragedies, in the presence of the gods.
There were deep shadows at the far end. A shape moved, its outlines jagged and angular. A hoarse giggle echoed through the flickering darkness.
‘Can you see my camera, Simon? Can’t you? Oh, do step a little closer. Whooo-hoo! Ayee! Now you can see it!’ The figure let out a loud cackle, not a laugh, but much worse. The brazier sputtered and flamed, and Simon could see something vague and square behind the statue. Then he realised what it was. A large wooden box camera, a long snout-like camera lens glaring malevolently straight at him. A few inches below it, was another short metallic barrel, its empty muzzle pointed at his head.
‘Whooo-hooo! Heeeheee! Now he sees it! My soul-catcher! Aren’t I wonderful!’ Simon could swear that the angular shadowy figure behind it leapt in a caper. He also caught a brief glimpse of a bright beady black eye. He recognised it. He had seen it in the photograph of Rosalie and her family, a long time ago. He felt absolute rage, and in that very instant, passed the line of reason, into pure livid anger.
‘Whoo-Hoo! What a jolly jape!’ It was Grandfather Wrist, Simon knew that beyond doubt. ‘Simon comes in with a gun! Unheard of in Faery-land! Must have brought it with him! Bad, bad, very bad! Sees something, bang! Shot dead, all by himself, by mistake! Very bad news for faeries! Oh, turmoil and anger! War between faeries and humans! Lovely!’ Ooooooh-Hooo!’
‘You killed Annabelle, one hundred years ago. A young girl, who came up from the country, hoping to please her parents by bettering herself as a servant, in a nice house in Brighton. But all she got was beatings, pain, humilation, torture! Then she was murdered, deliberately, maliciously, by you! I think you enjoyed that, didn’t you?’ Simon was now shouting.
Grandfather Wrist was not even listening. His dark shadow pattered in the shadows. He became conspiratorial. ‘Oooh, poor little Simon! Do you see? My soul-eater here captures the image at the very point of death! The bullet strikes and the camera flashes. What a lovely photograph! Tee-Heee!’
‘You sadistic piece of shit’. Simon said, softly.
‘Sadistic, you said? Oooh, yessss!’ There was a smack of lips. ‘Annabelle, which one was she? Oooh, I remember. Ooh, yes, I enjoyed that. Such a sweet little thing. But she would keep on screaming and moaning! It got on my nerves, oh yes, it really did. So I throttled her! Watched the life go out of her eyes! Most enjoyable! Just like this!’ There was a flash, and a roar. Simon spun round and fell against the side of the pool, still clutching the revolver, a searing pain scorching through the lower left side of his body!
‘Oh dear, I missed! Never mind! I can finish you off later! Whooo-Hooo!’ Another cackle. Simon groaned. He was still clutching the gun in his right hand. He began to raise himself, gasping in pain, propping his elbow against the rim of the round pool. He spat blood into it. The god looked down on him pityingly. The pain in his side was agonising! He felt something liquid trickling between his fingers, as he held his side, like the water from the god’s hands. He spat again, trying to get rid of the blood in his mouth, tasting slightly metallic and acrid. He aimed the gun, and fired.
It jerked and bucked in his hand, with the recoil. Splinters flew off the wooden casing of the camera. He fired again and again. More splinters flew off. He pressed the trigger again, but this time there was a sharp smash, and the moan of some thing whining into the darkness! The lens of the camera hung askew, its little eye broken and dead.
‘Ayeeeeeh! You’ve killed my soul-eater! You little piece of vermin! The shadowy figure moved out, clutching another dark gun. ‘That’s it! Whooo-Hooo! I’ll finish you!’ It raised its hand, grasping something dark and snub-nosed. Simon looked up again, his eyes unfocussed and dim. He saw two heads, one, the smiling figure of the sculpted god, its lips parted, teeth grinning in a half-smile. The other held a black beady eye, lips curled back in a snarl. The two were blurred together. He couldn’t make out which was which. He tried to level the gun he still held.
The god-like head moved. It shifted slowly to the side. He saw the broad domed forehead above that gleaming right eye. He fired, the gun jerking frantically in his hand. Then he collapsed, falling down, down into the black eye-socket of the skull, that he had seen in his nightmares, slithering and tumbling into that darkness, into the very head of death!
He did not see his revolver fall from his fingers, and splash into the pool. Nor did he see the figure of Grandfather Wrist, his wet lips agape with horror and astonishment, fall backwards, a red, gaping hole above his gleaming eye, his arms and legs clattering askew, onto the floor, like a broken scarecrow. Neither did he see what was to happen next. He lay, slumped across the rim of the pool, his right hand still clenched above the splashing water, the sculpted god still smiling down on him.
‘Where can he be?’ shouted Annie, frantically. ‘He must be somewhere!’
‘Perhaps in your house! The villa of Poseidon! We have not searched there!’
‘I don’t know, but one of the faeries might have done! Go there, now!’
They ran, all of them, through wide-paved streets and small alleyways, and stood outside the Villa of Poseidon. The front door was ajar. Annie heedlessly rushed past and scurried into the dark interior. They heard her anguished scream.
The others rushed in, their bright torches and lanterns highlighting the scene. They saw Annie, clutching at Simon’s inert body, sobbing hysterically, and the dark puddle of blood that lay beneath him, and his bloodstained fingers, held over a seeping wound, that had turned his clothes into soggy crimson. They saw the shattered wooden box, splintered, its lens hanging like an eye from its socket. What they did not see, at least immediately, was the dark outline of a body, all that remained of the late Grandfather Wrist. Nor did they see the dark smudge of a gun on the bottom of the tiled pool, now dissolved. That would come later.
Morag, like the others, stood frozen in shock and horror. Then she remembered her policewoman’s training. She leapt forwards, pushed Annie aside, and felt Simon’s neck for a pulse. It was there, but faint. She felt utterly helpless. A glint caught her eye, with a sudden jolt.
‘Annie! Try our talismans! They might work!’
She grabbed Annie’s unresisting hand, and pressed both their talismans hard against Simon’s gaping wound. They knelt there together for what seemed to be an eternity, as if they were suspended in time. Morag could hear voices and movements around her, unseen and invisible. Then a third hand pushed in, the gleam of its ring clear in the light, and joined them. The talismans pulsated with light, fighting to heal and restore the bloodied wound.
‘Three talismans?’ Morag thought, amazed.
The bleeding stopped, and the ugly hole began to close up, little by little, until it was no more than a faint scar.
‘His pulse is now regular. We must take him to our hospital’. announced a voice, that came from a hooded faery physician, crouched beside them. Simon was gently placed on a stretcher, still unconscious, and carried away. Morag’s legs suddenly felt very weak. She sat down on the warm floor, her sore bottom making her wince. She felt both drained and relieved. A small robed figure sat down next to her. Morag caught the glimpse of a talisman on the slender hand.
‘The third talisman!’ she gasped, ‘But who…?’
Annie ran across, from where Gloriana had been comforting her, face streaked with tears. The figure beside Morag threw back its hood, revealing a lovely oval face with almond-shaped eyes, now wide in delight. She and Annie embraced each other in a warm hug.
‘Of course!’ Morag muttered to herself. ‘The third talisman!’ She rose painfully to her feet.
‘Morag’, said Annie, still gulping back her tears, ‘This is Jezuban. She’s Gloriana’s daughter. Jezuban, this is Morag, our friend and sister. She is half-faery, and also carries a talisman’. Annie gave up and burst into tears again. They both put their arms around her.
‘You must both rest. Do you wish to stay here or otherwise? I can arrange that, or my mother will’.
‘We’ll stay here!’ said Annie defiantly, her voice blocked with sniffles. Later that night, Morag lay on her bed, listening to Annie crying herself gradually to sleep. Poor Annie, she thought. Half her life has almost been torn away from her, and only yards away. Then she fell asleep herself.
Annie was awoken next morning by a shaft of sunlight glinting on the whitewashed bedroom wall, through a gap in the window shutters. She had barely slept, and then only fitfully, seeing over and over that dreadful image of her brother, lying apparently dead, in his own blood. It had shaken her to the very core. At that fateful moment, she had truly realised the brutal reality of the death of someone you loved, and the dreadful desolation and grief that it brought. She heard voices and footsteps outside, and, in a panic, pulled on her jeans, and a short, soft, white cotton tunic that the faeries had provided.
She came out, blinking, into the sunlit atrium. Golden fish splashed in the pool. Morag and Britomart were standing in the entrance to the peristyle beyond, where the river-god stood. He looked benignly at her. Britomart came across and smiled at Annie, her hands on Annie’s shoulders. ‘Before you ask’, she said, ‘Your brother is alive and well. He has made a full recovery, ate a very large breakfast, and has been telling some, what I could only call’, she hesitated, with a grin, ‘some very lascivious stories. They rather shocked some of our nurse-maidens!’
‘There you are, Annie, he’s back to normal. I suggest you go and wash, and comb your hair. You look as if you’ve been dragged in by the cat from the laundry. We’ll make some breakfast’. Annie was about to retort furiously, then she caught the sly smile and wink Morag gave to Britomart, who grinned back. She remembered too, how Morag had sat with her the night before, comforting and soothing her. She walked past into the bathroom, opening on the right from the peristyle, looked into the polished mirror, and groaned.
Five minutes later, she came out, feeling better and more refreshed. She paused, before she went to join the others in the kitchen, and stared up at the river-god, still trickling water from his fingers. His expression was kind, as he smiled down upon her.
Annie looked up at his bearded face. ‘You must know many secrets. You helped my brother last night. I truly thank you for that’. The god continued to smile down on her. In the kitchen, she managed to swallow a warmed fruit drink, and a couple of mouthfuls of soft warm bread. ‘Where is Ragimund?’ she asked bluntly. Britomart sighed and put down her cup.
‘She is with your brother. She sat and watched over him all night. She is still there, and refuses to leave his side, until you come. She was out searching, with other faeries, and hastened back when she heard what had happened. She was distraught, and ….and very distressed. I have never seen my younger sister in that state before. She refused to leave his side, and even began to draw her sword when we tried to persuade her. She looked after him, Annie, so much. I have never seen her so, frightened, before. You have a saying, don’t you, in your world. I have come across it, in my journeys. “She thinks the world of him”. Is that right?’
‘It is’. Annie murmured. ‘Bless her. But I need to see my brother now! Right away!’
‘Of course. I have a chariot waiting outside’.
‘Chariot! Wow!’ Morag exclaimed. delightedly.
It was certainly a chariot, painted red, with reliefs of warriors, in full armour, moulded in gold on each side of its sleek sides, flanked by two huge red-spoked wheels. It was yoked to two dark horses, that skittered, ready to be off. As they mounted into the open back, they saw war-bows, and a quiver of arrows, and two spears mounted upright, one on each side, their wicked barbs glistening in the bright sun. Britomart shook the reins, and they drove off, out onto a broad paved highway, that led away into the city. They stood in the chariot, holding on the curved wooden rails above each side. Great colonnaded porticoes rose up each side of them, white, and gleaming in the bright warmth of the sunshine. Smaller roads and streets ran off, at right angles to each side, with gardens and cypress trees, behind which lay more geometric buildings, set back, with the same narrow windows. People thronged the sidewalks, faeries in light blue, yellow and green tunics, sandals on their feet, dark men in long robes, with Arabian headdress, tall black people in long vestments, their plaited hair glistening with oil, shorter, stockier men in goat and sheepskins, their long red hair warm in the sun, as they talked and discussed, hands gesticulating. A group of Orientals paused, in their long silken kimonos, festooned with bright blue writhing dragons, and bowed to them as they passed.
They eventually turned into a wide courtyard, just off the street. A fountain splashed and glimmered, in the centre, surrounded by a wide bowl. The marble figures of children lay and stood under the sheen of water that cascaded down upon them, laughing and giggling.
‘That is our Fountain of Children. It brings happiness to the patients here’. announced Britomart, proudly. She led them inside the wide porticoed building. There were stone benches along the corridor. Three faeries sat on it, partly clad in white bandages, who raised their hands in greeting, palm outwards. Then they entered a small room on the left.
Simon sat up in his small bed, bandaged across the lower part of his body. A young girl sat next to him, holding his hand tenderly, who Annie recognised as Ragimund. Jezuban sat next to her.
Annie threw herself into his arms. They hugged and kissed each other. They parted. Simon looked exuberant and cheerful. She looked around at Ragimund. She looked exhausted. Annie walked around Simon’s bed and knelt down in front of her, looking up into her face. Ragimund’s eyes were red-rimmed with weeping, the black kohl that the faeries used to outline their eyes, smeared across her cheeks. She tried to muster up a small smile.
‘Bless you, Ragimund. You looked after my brother. Thank you’. Annie whispered to her, so that no-one else could hear. Ragimund nodded, so tired that she could barely hold her head up. ‘I did what I could, Annie’. she whispered back. She got up, swaying as she did, leant over and kissed Simon. Britomart led her gently from the room, her arm around her shoulders. Simon looked after her, worried.
‘Simon, you need to tell us more, don’t you? Annie spoke quietly.
Simon’s face was cold. ‘I killed him, Annie. I killed Grandfather Wrist. For what he did. Poor Anabelle. Justice was done’. He paused, weighing his words. Jezuban had now slipped into the room, and was quietly listening. ‘He was going to kill me. I killed him first. And he nearly did. Kill me, I mean. Not revenge, Annie, but justice. I nearly died for it. But you know what this means, don’t you?’
‘Yes’. Annie muttered, her head down. ‘The Wrist family will seek revenge on us. I don’t care! Let them try!’
Morag stared, shocked. Both Annie’s and Simon’s eyes had glinted hard grey. She shook her head, and the moment was gone. But she looked across, at Jezuban, who nodded, slightly. She had seen that sudden flash of fury, too.
‘Enough of this! cried Simon. He flung back his blankets. ‘We’re going to see where Mr Cuttle is buried. I’m fine. After all that’s what we came for, Annie, isn’t it?’ He held her stare, without blinking.
Annie suddenly grinned. ‘Take us to his grave! Right at this moment!’
They clattered along the road at a steady canter, Annie, Morag and Britomart in the chariot at the front, followed by a fast four-wheeled wagon containing Simon and Ragimund, who, now rested, insisted on coming with them. Behind them rode Helios and Haga, as escorts. They rode on through the great northern gate and into the Hyperborean countryside, that swiftly became soft green woods and thickets on each side. Then they stopped by a small pathway of beaten earth, that led upwards into the trees. They got down and began to follow the path, that meandered this way and that, until they came to a fast-flowing stream, spanned by a gentle, curving stone bridge. The water sounded loud, as it flowed beneath its arch.
They crossed the bridge, and moved uphill, following the stream, that began to cascade down, forming pools and small waterfalls. It sounded sweet and musical, its falling water white against the grey-green of the banks. Along the path small statues stood, one of two young girls, their arms around each other, their mouths open in smiles, as they passed by. Further on was another, of a young woman, from whose mouth carved ivy leaves fell across the plinth on which it stood. ‘This is a sacred place for us’. whispered Britomart, in Annie’s ear. ‘This is where time and space hold still, in perpetual peace. Our statues are symbols of something lost, of sorrow, a broken promise. It is sacred to us’.
The path opened into a small green glade, surrounded by tall oak trees. In the middle stood a white marble plinth, about two feet high. Annie, Simon and Morag walked slowly towards it and looked down on its white surface. It was inscribed in three languages. One seemed Celtic, with strange runes and symbols. The other looked like Greek. The third was in English.
“Here lies Albert Cuttleworth, Scholar, HumanWarrior and Faery Companion. May he enjoy his final rest”
They looked at it in silence, remembering that little plump man, shy and nervous, whose library they now held in trust, who had fought with them, and died, in the great battle on the beach in Brighton, armed only with an umbrella.
‘He would have been so pleased with this’. said Annie softly. She glanced around at the green glade, and then frowned as she saw something through a gap in the trees. Without a word, she walked purposefully through it. Simon and Morag, exchanging bewildered glances followed.
‘Stop! You are not allowed..!’ Britomart bit off her words. Wordlessly, the three faeries went after them. Annie stood, staring at the great white sarcophagus that stood in the centre of the second glade. There were more inscriptions, but here they were engraved on the side. Celtic again, and Greek, but what was the third, at the bottom? Helios and Haga stood with them, curiously. Simon knelt down, pulling away the small tendrils of ivy that obscured the lettering, his head outlined against the wall of the tomb. Helios crouched next to him, looking back up at Annie enquiringly. Haga stood behind Simon, looking down, his left arm draped across the upper slab. Annie stood next to them, on the right, looking intently at the inscription that Simon was uncovering, left hand on hip, the other resting lightly on Helios’s shoulder, to balance herself.
“Et in Arcadia Ego”, Simon read. ‘”Even in Arcadia, I am”. What does that mean?’
‘I think I do’. said Annie meaningfully, still staring at the inscription. Morag blinked, and rubbed her eyes. Where had she seen that tableau of the four figures in front of the tomb before? A picture, a painted picture! In a book, perhaps? Or a gallery? Then they got up, and the image was broken. Haga shook his head mournfully, and smiled at the tall beautiful human girl who had captured his heart. She smiled back, and the memory was gone forever.
They were all strangely subdued on the way back, but by the time they reached their villa, at least Britomart had recovered her spirits.
‘I have been charged by Gloriana to offer you a grand banquet, with full regalia, fanfares of trumpets, and a great procession to make your introductions to all visiting dignitaries, served at table with delicacies from all lands’.
They groaned. ‘Or would you rather have a small meal, in your own quarters, with your paramours’, she smiled wickedly, ‘and my sisters and I?’ And Jezuban?’
They nodded vigorously. ‘That is just as well, since that is what Gloriana has already decided upon. Be ready for eight o’clock’. She grinned, ‘And behave yourselves until then’.
The supper was exactly as they wished. Gloriana, Mercilla, Lucifera, Britomart and Ragimund laughed and giggled, and told stories about Hyperborea, and the other cities it contained, and some of the strange customs and habits of the merchants who came to trade. ‘Imagine! They expect their women to wear veils, and not to speak unless spoken to!’ exclaimed Mercilla. ‘But some of them refuse to let them do anything, and be waited on hand and foot!’ sniffed Lucifera. Jezuban laughed. She told them that her adopted sister, badly afflicted, was making good progress, and wished to be remembered to them. Annie and Morag were happily entangled with Helios and Haga, who were both attentive and soulful, singing little songs and trying to outdo each other in paying extravagant compliments.
Annie finally managed to extricate herself from Helios’s imploring hands, and stood up. ‘Gloriana, would you excuse us for a moment? I would like to spend a few minutes with my brother. I’m sure Morag would like to join us too, when she’s quite finished. Wouldn’t you, Morag?’ she said pointedly. Morag glared resentfully at her, but nodded reluctantly.
Simon and Annie walked quietly through the main door and sat down on the steps outside. The air was warm and balmy, filled with the smell of scented roses and sweet herbs. Annie suddenly hugged Simon’s face to her fiercely, protectively. Her eyes were brimming with tears.
‘ I thought I’d lost you forever, Simon! Don’t do that to me again! Please!’
Simon hugged her back, tightly. ‘I love you Annie. You’re my sister. You know I had to, for Annabelle, and for you. I hope she will be at peace now. She deserves it. It was justice, as you said, and it was self-defence, not revenge’.
It was Morag, who sat down heavily, and rather unsteadily alongside them.
‘This had better be good. Not often, that I get to smooch with a gorgeous faery’.
‘Sit down Morag, and listen. You might like to know that my paramour, as you described her earlier, is sixty years old in our time, but she is only a young girl in faery time. She’s the same age as Annie and myself, in this land. So there!’
‘So you’re not dating a granny?’
‘Absolutely. So less of your cheek’.
Morag hicupped loudly. ‘Sorry, Simon, I didn’t know. So she’s the kid sister?’
Annie wiped her wet eyes with her sleeve. Morag noticed and immediately sobered up. ‘What is it, Annie?’ she whispered, looking back at the door.
‘Do you remember, as we drove out this morning, that all the faeries we saw, were armed, with swords and daggers? Why should they be armed, in the middle of their own capital city? Those faeries that we saw in the hospital, sitting outside?’
‘They were injured’.
‘They weren’t injured, they were wounded! I know a bad sword-cut when I see one! They looked battle-worn, weary! Then when I saw that sarcophagus, with its message, I knew! It wasn’t a tomb, it was a reminder. No wonder Britomart didn’t want us to see it!’
Morag gently set down the glass goblet that she had been holding, next to her.
‘I understand. Even here, there is death’. she said softly. ‘I sensed something, I don’t know what. But there is something not right’.
‘There is something terribly wrong with this land’, said Simon quietly.
They turned round. Ragimund stood in the doorway behind them, the light inside shining through her soft dark hair. ‘Will you come? My sister, Gloriana wishes to thank you again. Your paramours, too, are longing for you’. She laughed.
‘Go on Simon’, Annie grinned. Simon got up and put his arm around Ragimund’s slim waist, and walked back through the doors.
Morag stared after them dreamily. ‘Haga wants to see me again, if I come back to Hyperborea, when we go home tomorrow’.
‘That’s funny. Helios said the same to me’. They giggled together conspirationally.
Annie, leaning back on her elbows, sat up suddenly. ‘Morag, what did your faery senses tell you?’
Morag clasped her hands around her knees under her long white robe, and stared out across the little garden. She was looking at small moths, blue and blinking, fluttering around the small herb bushes.
‘I felt fire and blood. Along a dark wall. Swords striking each other. Arrows streaking through the air. It was real, Annie, I swear it!’ She shuddered.
‘I know you did. I trust your sights. Morag’.
‘They’ve tried to keep something quiet from us, haven’t they?’
Annie sighed, and looked out into the darkness. ‘Morag, I’m frightened to say this. But the faeries have kept a secret from us, something that might destroy them. They are fighting a terrible war’.
Frank Jackson (13/12/10) Word Count – 10662.
5. It was just up from here, that we came to the glade where Mr Cuttle was buried.