DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
A Journey to War
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. Together, they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. During a journey to Hyperborea, the land of the faeries, they have succeeded in destroying one of the hated and murderous Wrist family. Having returned to Hyperborea, to aid their faery allies, they are on their way to prevent a war that has broken out against their western enemies, the Barbarrossi. They are about to arrive at the faery city of Mila.
The great painted eye of the trireme lay, bobbing along the stone jetty, the fluted golden ram, beneath its bows, scraping along the brown, weed-festooned stones below. Annie stared at it. It was an enormous dark eye, outlined in black, highlighted with blue and pink. The long narrow ship lay alongside the tongue of solid stone that thrust out into the waters of the great lake of Miletus. The lake stretched out into the distance, brown here in the harbour of Delas, but shifting and murmuring into a soft grey-blue beyond. Small waves, fanned by the wind, lapped and scratched at the layers beneath her feet, bright in the morning sun. Green weed lapped around the contours of the stone jetty, and occasionally she saw the silvery glimmer of a small fish, nosing around the wooden hull of the vessel, as it banked and swayed in the breeze, swifting lightly under the water.
It was a beautiful warm day. The sounds of the sailors around her, packing and loading, seemed like a raucous music of laughter, shouts, and groans. She stood, amidst all the clatter and bustle., occasionally jostled, good-naturedly, by faerys, their hands gripped around large bales and baskets. She stood on a long, stone harbour walk that curved along the lakeside, its cobbled surface still gleaming from the morning dew. The sun was already high and dazzling in the azure sky, mirrored in the great blue lake, sparkling and glittering with layers of white waves, stretching out to the horizon. It was warm on her back, as she listened to the laughter and gossip around her, feeling that sense of inner peace, when all is cheerful and bright, with the slight thrill of a voyage ahead.
She looked up and saw Ragimund hurrying towards her, with another faery behind.
‘Annie, This is our captain, Perella. She will take us all to Mila today’. A tall, dark faery smiled at her, and gripped her wrist in a faery handshake. ‘Greetings to you, Annie?’ Annie nodded, and smiled back. Perella’s eyes had slight lines around them, but apart from that she looked as ageless as any other faery. Her hair was tied back, and she wore a long robe, clasped by a broad leather belt. Her hands, Annie noticed, were larger than usual, with broad capable fingers. ‘I know about you, and your fellow humans. Ragimund has told me your brother likes our ships! Where is he?’
Annie looked around the crowded harbour. ‘I see him! Please wait a moment’. She ran across to where Simon sat, cross-legged, on the edge of the jetty, gazing adoringly at the vermilion and gilded bow of the great trireme above him. ‘Simon!’
She cuffed him playfully over the head. ‘Oi! I’m talking to you!’
‘What?’ he gazed at her, his thoughts elsewhere. Dreaming of ships, she thought.
‘The captain wants to meet you. Come on, now!’
Simon jumped to his feet and followed her, to be introduced.
‘She’s wonderful, captain, I mean, Perella!’ he said, remembering the faery custom of using names.
‘He, not she. His name is Narcissus. The captain always has the choice of choosing the vessel’s name, when we are commissioned. I call him that, because sometime he is more interested in looking at his own reflection in the water, than he is doing what I want him to do!’ She laughed mischievously. ‘But’, she looked around, ‘’where is your party? We must depart as soon as possible’.
Annie promised to round them up and found herself having to push past throngs of faeries on the already crowded quayside. She paused and turned. Many of them were already beginning to queue up to clamber aboard the little wooden platform that led up onto the deck of the Narcissus, and she realised that these were the crew, the oarsmen and women who were about to row them to Mila. Many of them, as they pushed past her, were young, no more than her own age, she guessed, but others were older, more dignified, perhaps, though it was so difficult to tell with faerys, ageless as they seemed. They laughed and chattered. She caught various fragrant sweet-smelling scents as they pushed past her, and she remembered how fastidious faerys were about washing and cleaning themselves. It was the first time she had ever been within a real crowd of faerys.
She caught sight first of Indira’s white-bandaged arm, then of Pei-Ying’s short, spiky black mop of hair, then the smaller figure of Mariko. ’Come on, you lot! Time to get aboard!’
They walked along the jetty, noticing the great length of the narrow curved ship. It seemed much bigger than they had realised. The deck was raised a few feet above the side of the jetty, but separated by another lower deck that stretched along two thirds of the hull, supported by curved ribs to the main deck, marked by a railing, on which were slung a row of blue oval shields, a white pentagram painted on each. Through the open gaps between the curved supports, Annie could see the faerys below, settling into their rowing seats. The small, rather flimsy-looking wooden gangplank stretched across the narrow gap of water to the deck beyond. Pei-Ying looked at it, shifting and creaking with the movement of the water, and gulped loudly.
‘What’s the matter, Pei-Ying?’
‘I should have told you before’. she said miserably. ‘I’m a terrible sailor! Aeroplanes, fine, cars and trains, no problem. But boats! Just stay well away from me’.
‘You wimp!’ laughed Indira, who looked radiant in the bright morning, ‘I’ll get old Sawbones to give you something. Look! I can waggle my fingers now!’ She wriggled her fingers in the air, now without a sling. Her hand was now only bandaged around her palm.
‘It’s healing up really well’. she announced proudly. But she was interrupted by the sharp cry of an order from Perella, as the ropes attached to the iron pillars on the jetty were cast aboard. Oars beneath them pushed into the water, and Narcissus slowly edged out into the lake, until he was clear of the jetty. There was a sudden tug on the starboard side, as oars dug deep again into the brown water. The curved, gilded prow swung slowly lake-wards, pointing towards the horizon. Narcissus rocked hard for a moment as the swell caught him in the turn. Then a sudden jerk, and a thrust, and the ship moved smoothly forwards, away and out of the harbour.
Annie looked back, and upwards, from where she stood near the prow. Faery sailors had climbed up the rigging attached to the huge stubby mast, that rose forty feet above her, and nearly two feet in diameter. Far back, along the wide deck, the curved stem of the stern rose up into the carved and gilded effigy of a snarling dragon, jaws open and defiant. Below, a canopy of white cotton had been erected over the deck, as shelter from the hot sun, where Perella and Ragimund stood. As she looked, Perella shouted out orders, but in a faery language she couldn’t understand. It was slightly harsh and came from the throat. But she heard the loud clatter and splash of the oars being run out, and the sudden vibration that rang through the deck beneath her, as they thrust into the water in perfect unison, leaving a white foamy wake behind.
Another order, and there was a sudden, huge CRACK above her head. The great square mainsail, quilted, gleaming whitely in the hot sun, roared and bellied out, filled with wind. The ship thrust forward as the faeries who had unleashed it, scurried down the rigging. As she turned, there was another loud crack, as the forward sail opened, reaching out hungrily from the smaller angled foremast. Sailors pulled hard on the ropes to control the heaving sheets above them, as, unseen, the tiller men heaved on the steering paddles on each side to allow for the extra speed and thrust of the wind.
Simon was up in the bow, next to the barbed iron anchor, gazing excitedly out across the lake before them. On the other side, however, it was a different story. Two figures were standing each side of a human bottom, that Annie suddenly realised, belonged to Pei-Ying. She was leaning over the solid deck near the curved prow, her head and shoulders invisible, but she could see from the convulsions, that poor Pei-Ying was being terribly sick. She walked over, as she was hauled back gently by Indira and Mariko. Pei-Ying slid down onto the deck, looking not exactly green, as has often been said, but showing a distinctly unhealthy colour.
‘I thought I recognised that shapely rump’. Annie giggled, and then stopped. Pei-Ying was looking close to tears.
‘You shouldn’t have brought me! I’m only going to end up being stupid like this!’
‘Come on! What’s a little mal de mer amongst friends?’ Indira began, and then tailed off as she realised how upset Pei-Ying really was.
‘Allow me’. Indira jumped.
‘Where did you spring from, Thursday!’ she demanded.
‘From the galley, below decks. Here, drink this. This will cure your sickness’.
Pei-Ying took the small glass mug from him, and took a swallow, not thinking what it was.
‘Ugh! It’s really bitter!’
‘Please drink some more. It will cure you’.
Pei-Ying finished it off. She held up the glass vessel doubtfully. ‘Do I have to drink the sludge as well?’
‘No’. Smiled Thursday, showing his fine white teeth. ‘Throw it over the side. Do you feel better?’
‘Much, thanks’. Thursday smiled again and disappeared abruptly down the hatch in the deck.
‘I wish he wouldn’t do that!’ snapped Indira.
‘Appearing and disappearing like that! As if he was a shadow!’.
Annie left them to it, and walked down the deck. She stopped between the main mast and the stern and leant on the rail that separated the main deck from the lower, gazing out. Already, the tumbled white town of Delas was almost lost to sight. The coast rose up and down in the distance, blurred and indistinct. Behind her, she knew the other shore was no more than a thin smudge on the horizon, and before her, stretched only the endless shimmering blue lake.
She looked down. She felt the hard knot of wood in the railing beneath her fingers, that seemed to transmit the pulse and vibration of the ship itself, sensing the heat of the sun on its polished surface. She felt its essence, warmed, crafted and carved, smoothed by other hands than her own. She felt the love and care of craftsmanship, that seemed to come alive with the sway and shift of the ship upon which she stood. She could hear the grate and creak of the oars, as they shifted and turned in their pivots, the grunts and laughter of the faeries below her, as they pushed back and forth in rhythm. Above her, small flicks of cirrus cloud, high in the sky, seemed to move with Narcissus, as he drove steadily on, gliding across this vast inland sea. We are on an odyssey, Annie thought. We’re sailing towards strange places and a place of battle that we know nothing about. For what? To try to stop a war?
She must have been there half an hour, dreamily gazing at the patterns of the water, when she became aware of someone leaning on the rail next to her. She turned and saw Ragimund. Like Annie, she was staring at the sweep and thrust of the oars as they dipped and swung, flashing and dripping with water. Her long dark curling hair swept across her face, and she brushed it aside as she looked at Annie, her mouth tense, her eyes a deep brown.
‘May I talk to you?’ she asked quietly.
She nodded, slightly bewildered. Ragimund hesitated, then spoke.
‘I am frightened of you, Annie’.
She stood, holding onto the rail, as the ship rolled and ploughed with the wind behind.
‘Why? Annie asked in surprise. She had never expected this.
Ragimund turned and held onto the rail, looking out across the lake.
‘You are braver, and stronger than I am. You have fought battles. You have fought terrible enemies face to face. You have taken on challenges that I could not even understand. Is it no wonder that we fear you?’
Annie found her voice at last. She felt stunned with amazement.
‘Ragimund, you have mistaken us!. My brother and I have fought things that even we’ve never dreamt of! Ragimund, we are, and have been, terrified of what we might have done! I can’t remember a single time when we haven’t being frightened out of our wits! We’re humans! We’re scared! We don’t know what we’re doing, or where we’re going! How can you say that!’
‘But you have fought against those terrors! You have done things, both of you, that faerys would cower from! Do you not realise, Annie, how you have fought face to face with things we do not even understand! Why do you think that our people are so nervous of you! It is not because they think badly of you! It is because they are in awe of you. They all know what you have fought against! We know, Annie!’
Annie stood at the rail of the trireme, her thoughts beginning to unravel in her head. Ragimund stood, her pale face fixed on the horizon of the far shore. Annie tried to gather her ideas together, into something reasonably coherent. Best to ask a question first, she thought. Find an answer to something that might unlock the things that trouble me.
‘Can I ask you something personal?’ She didn’t wait for a reply. ‘Ever since we came here, you have always been shy of us, diffident, perhaps. What is the reason for that, Ragimund? You’re a strong warrior! You have commanded troops and taken responsibility! I’ve seen your fury! It is us that should fear you!’ She looked around. ‘It’s just you and me, Ragimund. No one else is listening. Tell me, what do you really feel?’
Ragimund stood by the rail, her hands clenched white as she gripped it. Annie could see that she was trying to form words, that would express what she felt. She waited, patiently. Finally Ragimund spoke, in a low voice.
‘I was a mistake, Annie. I was not intended. My father was surprised and angry, when I entered the world. But there I was, and he had to put up with me. But he was good to me, though I cannot remember much of him. But my mother died, giving birth to me. I was blamed. I had to grow up as the unwanted child, a nuisance to my sisters, who were planned. I had to fight every step against them, their ridicule, their contempt, their bullying! But I did. I wanted to prove that I was as good as they were, in all things. I had to do it without the love and protection that they enjoyed. But I did. Is it not true, in your world, Annie, that, often, women have to be better than anybody else, so that they can prove then that they are equal?’
Annie nodded, sadly. She wanted Ragimund to continue, so she asked again.
‘Why did you take us into the forest, to see those terrible things?’
‘I felt I had to. Please forgive me. I wanted you to see me, and my own folk, for what we really are! Descendants of murderers, thieves, pillagers and rapists! I did not want to pretend that I, or any of my people, are guiltless of crimes that may be commonplace in your world! We are flawed, Annie. So am I. I am a faery, Annie. I am proud of it, but I am also ashamed of who I am and what we are. My people are those that were cast down from heaven, wanderers, until we came to this land, tilled its soil, gave back to it what it had lost before. We are proud of what we have achieved, Annie, but we have never forgotten who we once were! Take us for who we now are, despite everything in our past!’
Annie was silent, and deeply moved. She still had questions to ask.
‘Why are faeries as they are? I have never understood, how you can be so….terrible and cruel, and then so gentle and warm in the next instant! Why is that, Ragimund?’
‘I do not know. It is something that we have been born with. I cannot explain it. Perhaps it is our curse, from long ago. I know it in myself, but I cannot understand it. None of us can. But it is never directed against those that we love and care for. You must believe that, Annie! Perhaps, in history, we were ruthless and utterly cruel. Do you remember Tellius, that great golden head that I showed you?
‘I remember. There was something wrong. I could feel it’.
‘He was my great great-grandfather. He was the worst murderer of any of the faerys. Before we came to this land, he was feared and hated above all, for his viciousness and cruelty. We loathe him, but he is still there, to remind us of what we once were and what we might become again’.
Annie was silent. She was now beginning to understand so many things that had puzzled her. But she still had another question that she felt she must ask.
‘Do you love my brother?’
Ragimund’ grip on the rail tightened still further, but her eyes were still a soft brown, as she gazed at the shore beyond, now invisible in the haze of the blue sky above.
Annie sighed. It had been a weight of anxiety that had she had carried for some time.
‘I am happy for you. I mean it. I know he loves you, Ragimund. I’ve known it all along’.
Ragimund stood, still looking out to the distant shore, her face in profile. Beneath them, the wooden deck creaked slightly. They could both hear the grunts and chatter of the faerys below, as they pulled on the oars, still twisting and gleaming with droplets of water, as they rode swiftly across the glistening lake.
‘I’m not my brother’s keeper, you know. He does what he wants to. It’s not up to me. After all, we’re all older than we really are. He knows his own mind, like I do. What does it matter? You don’t have to ask my permission’.
Annie hardly knew what she was saying. But she felt happier inside. Ragimund turned to face her. Annie noticed how the contours of her face seemed to move upwards to her high cheekbones and her large eyes, alive and moist with delight. She threw her arms around Annie, who in a great rush of emotion, hugged her back fiercely. Further along the deck, Perella saw the two young women locked in a sisterly embrace. She shook her head and grinned, before checking her course once more.
Annie saw, out of the corner of her eye, Simon, near the prow, staring at them curiously. She clasped Ragimund by the shoulders, who clasped her back. For a moment, they stood, looking into each other’s eyes. ‘Go and see my brother’. She said gently. She looked after her, as Ragimund walked towards Simon, who pulled her by the waist towards him.
‘What was that all about then? said Indira, as the three friends gathered around Annie. ‘Acquiring another sister for your collection?’
Annie laughed. ‘Piss off’. She said affectionately.
‘Annie, what has happened to Morag? She has still not come’. asked Mariko, quietly. Annie felt a sudden pang of guilt. She hadn’t thought of Morag for some time.
‘I don’t know. She must have been delayed. Ragimund would have told me if she’d arrived’.
They fell silent, though Annie noticed that Pei-Ying was looking healthy and cheerful. Thursday’s remedy had obviously worked. The morning drifted lazily into the afternoon. Every hour, groups of faerys clambered up though the hatch onto deck, though at first they kept apart from them, though still shy and curious.
Finally Indira had had enough. ‘What’s the matter with us! Have we got the plague or something?’ she snapped. ‘Stuff this!’ She strode over to the large group who stood or sat around the main mast. ‘Got any room for a little one?’
Annie could never understand how Indira managed to infiltrate any group in any circumstances, but she could, by sheer charm, and downright cheekiness. Within minutes, she had the faeries laughing and joking, and telling her their most intimate secrets. One by one, Pei-Ying, Mariko and Annie became sucked into her little ’Salon’, as Indira later described it. The faerys, young and old, had opened up and began to tell of their families, jokes and stories about wild behaviour. They all had a gift for mimicry, taking on characters and mannerisms of friends and families that reduced everybody to helpless laughter. As one group went down to resume their duties, Indira worked her same magic on the other who replaced them. By late afternoon, they were engaged with the third group of faerys, who proved to be as enjoyable as the others. Annie was remembering how the faerys were supposed to be afraid of her, but now, under Indira’s spell, they became cheerful and even exuberant. She liked them more and more.
A tall dark faery stood up, his long black hair tied back, clad only in a loincloth, though no-one seemed particularly aware of his semi-nakedness.
‘Do you know the poetry game?’ he demanded.
‘Can’t say I do’. Laughed Indira delightedly. ‘But I bet Mariko does! Don’t you, Mariko?’
Mariko stood up, shyly. ‘It is a game where someone provides the first line, and then anybody can complete the poem. What is the first line, Acteo?’ she asked, addressing the scantily-clad young faery.
Acteo made a pretence of being deep in thought, and then shouted, triumphantly, ‘I have it! “ What a delight it is”!’ he pointed to Mariko. ‘You, human woman of the wondrous eyes! You must go first!’
Mariko stood for a moment, shyly. Then she began.
“What a delight it is
They were all silent, and then applauded loudly, for the simplicity and beauty of the tiny verse. Mariko blushed and sat down. Another faery stood up, her blonde hair pushed back behind her ears, making her fine-boned face look slightly catlike.
“What a delight it is” she began, nervously.
“When everyone admits
She sat down amidst loud cheers, looking relieved.
“What a delight it is
More cheers and applause. Another young faery sprang up, dark-haired, with a potential moustache threatening to appear at any moment.
“What a delight it is
This one brought laughter as well as applause.
The faery who had proposed the game stood up.
‘What a delight it is
There was a moment’s silence then everybody burst into laughter and cheers. The faery sat down, looking gratified.
Perella’s tall figure loomed behind them. ‘Enough!’ She cried, sharply. ‘Back to work! Her broad smile countered her words. She aimed a good-natured kick at the youth with the incipient moustache, who neatly side-stepped it, and ran down the hatch, giggling.
Annie felt her arm gripped gently. It was the faery who had first spoken. ‘I have a poem for you”. he said quietly. He leant forward and whispered it into her ear.
“What a delight it is
‘Perhaps it does not fit. Farewell, Annie’. He turned and leapt down into the narrow hatch. Annie stood, feeling the deck move and tremble beneath her. In that instant, that strange little verse felt more to her than anything else in the world.
‘Mila is close! We are approaching Mila!’ someone shouted. Annie looked up. It was the faery sailor, perched, legs aslant, over the main spar above the sail. He pointed. In the distance, she could see a coastline, and a great mountain on the right, but nothing else. For some unknown reason, disturbing images clamoured in her mind, demanding to be seen. She saw her brother’s body, slumped against the pool, in the very house in which they had breakfast in, a while ago. Above all else was the sharp, nagging voice. What has happened to Morag?.. it demanded. She shuddered, and opened her eyes, resolute to put these visions away. The coast was much clearer now, and she could both feel and hear Mariko’s excited voice beside her.
‘Look, Annie, look!’
Only the lower oars were moving. They coasted gently into the wide mouth of the river that bisected the city of Mila. There were more sharp orders from Perella, and the sails coiled up, gathered in by the faery sailors, moving cat-like along the long spars. Now they had a full view of the city, as they moved gently into the wide river mouth. This was no Elsace, with its austere and elegant strength. Even with the sun setting, and the twilight beginning to descend, the city glowed. To her left, Annie saw the lamps beginning to flicker and gleam along the harbour, beyond which she saw terrace upon terrace of white villas and apartments, that one by one, began to light up, throwing each surface into relief.
But to her right, she perceived great buildings. As yet, she could barely see them, angled as they were in perspective. But she got the impression of huge bulk, faced with tall colonnades. Along the shore closest to them, she caught glimpses of white temple-like palaces, set amidst luxurious gardens of cypresses, poplars and palms. The air hung full of the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle, from the far bank. Then Narcissus made another turn to the left, to coast gently into the harbour, damp with the odour of seaweed, bright with lights. The oars rumbled and slithered as they were drawn in, and Narcissus rode gently against one of the long jetties stretching out into the water. Ropes were flung ashore, and finally Narcissus came to rest, rasping quietly against the stone walls.
The harbour shone with lanterns, enclosed in metal frames, hanging from hooks and posts all along the jetty, full of bustle and commotion, despite the falling darkness. They said farewell to Perella. ‘We will meet again no doubt!’ she declared warmly, as they shook hands. Ragimund led the way towards a line of small two-wheeled chariots, each with a pair of horses, snickering noisily, impatient to be off. As they clambered aboard the chariots, Annie turned to look back at Narcissus. The faery rowers were thronged along the railings, and as they saw her, they waved and shouted. Annie noticed the dark-haired faery who had led the poem game. He cupped his hands and cried out, ‘Remember the poem!’ Annie waved back and yelled ‘Thank you!’ though she wasn’t sure he heard it in the clatter of the harbour. The chariots set off with a jerk, each driven by a faery.
They drove along a broad avenue, parallel to the wide, swiftly-moving river, now dark in the twilight. All they could make out was the dark bulk of the mountain on the other side. Finally they turned right onto the broad bridge that spanned the river, the horses’ hoofs echoing and clattering on the smooth road above its surface. Once across, they turned left onto a smaller road that ran between the river bank and the great buildings that they had glimpsed, and stopped before a pair of large wooden doors, standing open, that led into a great vaulted hall. It was a mirror image of the great hall at Elsace. They mounted the staircase to the balcony that ran around all four sides, beneath the dim painted ceiling. Ragimund threw open a pair of double doors, and they entered.
It was a large room, panelled with red squares, brightly lit by lamps, and two braziers, glowing softly, shadows flickering against the walls. Along the far end hung a row of light grey curtains that hid what lay beyond. In the centre was a very low table, covered with dishes of silver, flagons of metal, and cushions around it. There were no chairs, only loose cushions scattered around it, and two carved cupboards, that stood, innocuously, against the walls.
Ragimund, who had stood aside to let them enter, pointed to the doors on each side. ‘They are your bedrooms. There is the bathroom’, indicating another door. ‘You must sleep and rest now. I must see what messages I have’. She turned and walked back through the entrance. Mariko squatted down, cross-legged at the table, reaching out for the food. ‘Civilisation, at last!’ she said happily. They joined her and after washing, found their small beds and went to sleep, to wait for morning.
Annie’s sleep was tormented. A vision repeated itself over and over, of Simon lying dead in a pool of his own blood by the fountain. The blood began to rush towards her in a crimson tide, that broke and spattered around a great horse, eyes like hot embers dashing its enormous hoof down upon a screaming, writhing figure, that turned its face towards her in an agony of terror! It was Morag! Annie cried out and sat up suddenly in bed, trembling, dank sweat trickling down her back. There was no –one else stirring, and the only sound was her heart, pounding wildly. She stared into the darkness, caught in that dreadful half-world between dream and reality, not knowing which was which. She began to sob for a few moments and then got up. The floor was warm under her bare feet. Opening the door, she walked out into the main room and curled up on one of the cushions, desperate not to sleep again.
But she did. Someone was gently tugging her shoulder. It was Ragimund, who was staring at her in concern. ‘Annie!’ she cried. ‘Have you been here all night? Is there something wrong?’ Annie shook her head fuzzily. She felt wretched. ‘Just a bad dream’. She muttered, and stumbled off to the bathroom, for a long, hot soak in the great tub that she shared with Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. They were all cheerful, though they kept stealing worried glances at her tired face and the deep shadows under her eyes. As they emerged into the main room now bathed in deep sunlight, they gasped.
The curtains had been drawn right back, and the shutters that enclosed the broad balcony outside had been thrown open. They ran across onto the balcony and peered out. Directly below the balcony lay a long shimmering deep blue pool, the surface broken and faceted by the slight breeze. The water was so transparent that they could see the sea-creatures, octopus, squid, and others, picked out in golden mosaic, inlaid into the ultramarine tiling. Fountains along the sides hissed and spluttered, rainbows shining through their wet mist. Beyond was a broad road, that was already thronged with horses, glinting chariots and laden carts. The city rose up behind, tier after tier of white and cream-coloured walls, facades and balustrades, all at different angles to each other, but meshed and interlocked into an enormous pattern. Cascades and waterfalls plunged down between, and under, the courts, plazas and terraces, with a distant roar of emerald foam, into pools and miniature basins. On the summit of the sculpted mountain stood a giant gilded statue of a griffin, wings outspread, hooded eyes glinting darkly in the dazzling sunshine.
Annie had now forgotten her nightmare, rapt in the scene before her. She stroked her hand over the open filigreed shutter, feeling its delicate patterns carved with such loving care. It was painted, like the others, in a deep emerald green, and the inside surfaces a bright pink. The two colours seemed to combine together in warm harmony.
‘Do you like this city, Annie?’ asked Ragimund, standing next to her. ‘It is a city of water, as you will see. You can even feel it beneath your feet. It comes from the lake and the mountains. I like Mila very much!’ Annie smiled at her and put her arm around Ragimund’s shoulders. She felt Ragimund’s arm around her waist. For a moment or two they stood together, holding each other, Annie remembering how Ragimund had confided in her the day before, and felt a sudden surge of affection.
Sitting around the table over breakfast, Ragimund outlined what would happen next. ‘Your parents have sent word about communicating with them. Would you send them a message?’
‘Damn! We completely forgot! I’ll see to that’. Simon muttered.
‘Is there any news of Morag? Annie interrupted, anxiously.
Ragimund shook her head. ‘None at all. We have had no news’.
All Annie’s fears began to return. Had something happened to Morag?
Ragimund continued. ‘We cannot continue our journey today, because the horses will need a day of rest. It will be a hard ride. But, if you agree, I will take you to the artists’ quarter and the market this morning, and then up to the mountain later’.
Mariko’s lips had formed into a tight hard line.
‘We are not tourists!’ she snapped. ‘We have a task to perform! To try to stop a war!’
There was a moment’s silence. Mariko saw the expression of hurt on Ragimund’s face. Mariko bowed her head. ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I did not want to cause offence’.
‘Don’t worry, Ragimund’, Simon said quickly. ‘Mariko is quite right. She’s our conscience, you see’.
‘Please, no offence is taken. But I thought you might like to see more of our land and our people, to understand what we are fighting for. But, what are tourists?’
‘People who see, but don’t understand’. Simon replied, promptly.
‘Then you are not tourists. But you might like to buy some things. Please take these’. She pushed a cluster of small leather bags on the table towards them. ‘This is our currency, our coins. These are a gift to you’.
Annie emptied the bag into her hand and stared at the coins, curiously. They were a mixture of gold and silver, each one stamped with the emblem of a griffin.
‘We use these for trade and for buying. But in the countryside, people just do favours for each other, rather than ask for money. It works, but sometimes with a few arguments’. She grinned. ‘I thought we might walk this morning. We can take chariots to go up the mountain. Shall we go?’
‘Brilliant! I do like a good chariot! Indira said, delightedly.
‘Roll on, Boudicca!’ replied Pei-Ying, rather spitefully.
A few minutes later they walked out into the bright sunlight, the heat already warming their backs. Annie looked up at the tall white colonnades that ran along the whole façade of the enormous buildings on their left. The river ran alongside them, murmuring and splashing noisily along the banks, flowing grey-green through the very centre of the city. Beyond, looking back, lay two wide-arched bridges that leapt over the swiftly-flowing water below. The one nearest was built on wide arches, resting on huge piers. Annie could see glimpses of carts and chariots as they passed underneath. Above a smaller colonnade ran, two arches for every one of the larger. The centre of the bridge was marked by a large stone pavilion, people standing on its flat roof. The rhythm of the arches seemed to complement the endless flow of water beneath. As they crossed the wide bridge of the previous evening, they peered down over the balustrades. The surface of the river was already criss-crossed with the wakes and eddies of small boats of all kinds, some shallow and broad-beamed, curving gracefully at each end, and rowed or paddled by teams of oarsmen, sheltered from the sun by white canopies stretched on a framework above their heads. Others slid smoothly along the river-banks, their triangular lateen sails slung across slender masts, white, cream and pale yellow marine butterflies. Here and there, were very small boats, propelled furiously by single gesticulating oarsmen, as they bobbed in the wake of other vessels.
Around them was the low hum of a city coming to life. As they descended the long broad steps that led down from the bridge on the western bank, and turned left onto a broad palm-lined boulevard, they could feel the surge and vibration of the waters rushing beneath their feet, right through the soles of their shoes. Ragimund pointed down to the stone pavement, already dancing with bright warmth. ‘Beneath us is a great underground water system’. she shouted over the noise of the wheeled traffic. ‘It provides all the water for our canals and fountains, as well as our homes. There is another separate system to take away the sewage!’ They were all looking however, back across the river. They could now see the real magnificence of the great buildings of Mila. The long, unbroken sweep of the facades, colonnaded with tier after tier of columns, porticoes and angled pediments rose up over six storeys high, broken only by narrow enclosed roads, leading up the great slope behind, the last outcrop of the mountain range that they had travelled in the last few days. From the western bank, they could see that the roads rose vertically and horizontally, alongside broad flights of stone steps, towards the summit, broken at various levels by wide terraces. The contours of the structures were softened by dense, luxurious swathes of greenery, speckled by the bright reds, blues, yellows and purple of hanging flowers – nasturtiums, jasmine, honeysuckle, geraniums and trailing roses. Some walls were entirely covered in dark-green ivy, and above, on the roofs of the small villas and apartments built above them, gardens of pots, trellises and small trees broke the sharp outlines.
They walked on along the riverbank, heads turning to right and left, in the sheer delight of seeing a new city for the first time. Between the road on which they were walking, and the harbour road and river, was a long green space. divided into small walled gardens of gravelled paths, fountains and pools. Each garden opened up into each other, under archways of cypress, fir and tall poplars. In every one, stood small ornate kiosks, some like small Greek temples, others domed, with small minarets and verandas. Already, faeries and other nationalities, in tunics or blue-striped robes, sat fluttering and gossiping around them, nibbling delicately on slices of melon, orange and lemon bought from some of the little kiosks: the function of others was unclear. Ragimund saw Annie’s look of curiosity, and laughed. ‘Some of those are public latrines, Annie’. she said, amused. ‘Even faerys have to relieve themselves, sometimes’.
On their right were two larger buildings, again faced with columns but stepped back, so that each façade contained hidden alcoves, recesses, and balconies, resembling a monumental stage set. They knew that these were the Mila theatres, designed for an audience both inside and outside. Opposite each façade was a small open semi-circular amphitheatre, already crowded with jugglers, musicians, stilt-walkers and acrobats, performing with or without an audience, as they chose. Annie was captivated. The performers wore all kinds of strange attire, knee-length tattered robes, animal skins, and sometimes, just loincloths. The sound of laughter and applause filled the air. ‘Mila is well-known for its street theatre’. Ragimund whispered in her ear. ‘There is a great festival every spring. Everybody dresses up for it. They wear masks and play tricks on each other’. But Annie suddenly looked around. She could hear a tune, on a violin. There it was, being played by a ragged-looking faery, the instrument on his lap. It was a kind of Irish reel, and already children had gathered around, awkwardly jigging in time to the music. Her eyes pricked. Celtic music, she thought, and was swept by a sudden feeling of homesickness. She missed Brighton, and the tune reminded her painfully of home. She pulled out a coin from her small leather bag and tossed it into the hat in front of the musician. He nodded and smiled.
But Annie’s sadness passed, as quickly as it had come, for now Ragimund was leading them past another, more dignified façade. Through the great portico, they could see a wide hall. There was a smell of steam, and scented perfume. ‘Those are our public baths. They are wonderful places to meet and talk’.
Indira’s eyes gleamed. ‘What happens in there, then?’
Ragimund stared at her. ‘They bathe together of course’.
‘In the nude?’
‘Men and women together?’
‘Yes, of course. It is perfectly natural’.
Indira and Pei-Ying burst into giggles.
‘What is wrong?’ demanded Ragimund, affronted. ‘If you prefer to explore this city on your own, you can!’
Indira and Pei-Ying looked at each other, conspiratorially, and shook their heads.
‘Bad sense of no humour’.
‘Worst case I’ve ever seen’.
‘This calls for a drastic remedy’.
‘Yes. A full course of treatment’.
‘Shall we start off with vicars and tarts?’
‘Undoubtedly. Then we can progress onto the harder stuff’.
They marched up to a confused Ragimund, linked their arms under hers and marched her off down the wide road. ‘Now, Ragimund, you really need to know about the wicked prelate and the naughty nun….’
‘Of course. How silly of me to forget’.
Simon, Annie and a frowning Mariko followed. ‘I don’t understand’. Mariko complained. ‘What are they doing?’
Simon sighed heavily. ‘Mariko, at this present moment, they are engaged in telling my lovely, unsullied, innocent faery queen, the filthiest, coarsest, most obscene and disgusting jokes that they know, concerning sexual and other activities. In short, they are intent on corrupting her’.
‘Oh!’ said Mariko, reassured. ‘Is that all?’
Ragimund led them into what looked like a ruined quarter of the city. It looked as if it had once been an archaeological site. Tumbled broken facades, weather-worn, and bedraggled with moss and ivy, stood forlornly along the western side of the road. Behind them lay crumbled fragments and heaps of masonry, eroded by time into shapeless brown fragments, littering the ground. It smelt of age, that dank, mildewed smell of old stone and creeping lichen, of long-forgotten, decayed ruins. Without warning, the three ahead turned and vanished into a gaping dark entrance. They ran to catch up, and found themselves stumbling down a dark ramp of crushed rubble and loose pebbles, lit only by guttering lanterns on the grey walls at each side. They were aware of other figures coming up the slope on the other side, clutching bundles and parcels. Down below, at the end of the ramp, there was bright light and the hubbub of chatter and noise.
They were in the bazaar, created under the ruins of the old people. Wide passages led each way, zig-zagging across each other. The ceiling above, where it still stood, was pierced with small openings, from the ground above, that flashed and glistened on the piles of metal utensils and silverware, that lay heaped on the rickety,
Annie remembered jostling her way to a stall, where she saw something that she would know her mother would like. She even remembered arguing with the stallholder, in sign language, and finally emerging up the ramp again into the warm air, where she leant against a wall, thankful to be out of the crowded bazaar below. One by one, the others joined her, each clutching some small purchase, that they had miraculously escaped with.
‘Talk about January sales!’ gasped Indira, as she sank down next to Annie. ‘I got my bottom pinched about twenty times! You faerys have got a lot to answer for!’
‘Faerys do not pinch bottoms! They must have been foreigners!’ snapped Ragimund, indignantly.
‘Whatever. My bum’s still sore’.
They made their way into the district behind the covered harbour markets into a warren of white-washed walls and rickety buildings piled high on each other. It was similar to that of Elsace, except here they were threading their way through a maze of small narrow alleyways, over uneven cobbles and crumbling bricks. They could hear the sound of laughter and children wailing behind the closed doors on each side, paint peeling and blistered, with small worn steps. Within moments they were lost, following Ragimund, as she turned this way and that through narrow passageways and small dark tunnels, listening to the chatter and clatter on the roof-tops above them. Finally, Ragimund turned sharply to her left and led them through a ramshackle archway that ran for several yards, until it emerged into bright warm sunlight.
They stood at the entrance into a small, rather decrepit looking court, surrounded by a cheerful host of flaking white-painted square houses. A flimsy wooden balcony ran around, from the paved area where they stood, above it. It was aged, and tilted up and down, slightly tipsily, ending at a right angle, from which stone steps descended down to the courtyard surface below, Large pots, cracked jugs and vases stood along the walls and balcony railings, each one planted with flowers and plant cuttings. Threadbare patterned rugs hung over the railings, and small sheets and clothes were pegged to ropes under the wooden roof of the balcony itself. One the other side of the court, another tiny balcony hung precariously from an upstairs doorway, roofed with cracked red pantiles, supported only by two bent wooden poles below. In the nearest corner of the court stood a little round wooden pavilion, with a domed leathery roof, partly covered with a flimsy wooden pergola to one side, almost obscured by green vines, from which large clusters of damp purple grapes were suspended. Just beyond the little pavilion, water trickled, splashing into a large marble trough.
Little groups of faerys, men and women, sat or squatted, along the balcony, or on the floor of the courtyard, sheltered from the sun by the faded white sheets tied above them. They greeted them in faery language, smiling in welcome, but curious and guarded. Ragimund sprang forward to the grey weather-worn railing, shouted, and waved her hands. Two figures rose up from the rug spread beneath a woven reed canopy in the courtyard, an open door and shuttered window behind them. They shouted back in delight.
Ragimund turned to them, her eyes alight with pleasure. ‘Come and meet my friends! They were students with me! I have known them for many years!’ She ran along the balcony, and down the stone steps, where she hugged both figures. She looked around at them, suddenly shy. ‘This was a surprise for you. See us for what we are. This is Eldi’, she indicated the thin, impossibly tall faery, who had unfolded himself, so that he stood above them. ‘And his partner and wife, Maha’.
Eldi was slender, with a brush of long straight hair, that he constantly swept away with his fingers, a sharp hawk-like nose, and sad brown eyes, that looked over them carefully. Maha, by contrast, was small, slim, with large blue eyes and a torrent of curly fair hair, that she. too, pulled to one side of her face, as she looked keenly at them. They introduced themselves, and Eldi grinned. ‘Come and have food with us’. He said, indicating the plates and dishes, piled with fruit, vegetables and bread, spread out on the tattered rug on which they had been sitting.
So they sat and talked, and ate. Eldi and Maha were lively, and mischievous, with little curiosity about their visitors, but they spoke happily about Mila, and about their work. ‘Ragimund is a warrior now, and important’, Eldi laughed, ‘but she once was an artist, like us! She painted people, in very amusing ways. They ran away, when they saw them. They were too real! She frightened them away!’ Maha roared with laughter, as she saw Ragimund’s embarrassed face. ‘Oh, be quiet!’ she muttered. But there was a commotion in the courtyard. A black spidery figure had appeared from nowhere, pursued by a gang of laughing faery children. It danced up to them, and gave them a very low bow.
Annie and Simon gasped, and looked at each other sharply. They were ominously reminded of the chitterlings they had encountered in the past. The skinny figure, all arms and legs, wore an odd ill-fitting jacket and trousers, right down to his bare feet. His black hair was plastered to his skull, and his face was painted dead white, apart from the lips, that were bright cherry-red. They blew outwards in a sucking kiss, as he stood immobile for a few moments. ‘This is Ecro’, announced Eldi, proudly. ‘I think he is about to give you a performance’.
Immediately, the figure began to mime what seemed to be part of their journey. He raced around the courtyard, his mouth agape, as he shouted silent curses at the non-existent horse that he was chasing. Finally he caught up with it, and pulled irritably on its reins. Then he tried to mount it. His foot in one stirrup, the horse began to move away, leaving him hopping, comically, his foot in the air, still caught in the stirrup. Finally he caught up with it, and finally mounted, his hands clasped tightly in front, a look of horror and fright on his face. He began to buck up and down, looking more and more frightened. Suddenly he pitched sideways, and fell to the ground and lay there, groaning silently, before picking himself up, and feeling himself all over for bruises. Then he gave up, decided to walk, and strode determinedly to the end of the courtyard and back, where he fell on his knees, arms outstretched. They all applauded, still laughing and giggling.
The faery Ecro suddenly pushed his face right up into Annie’s his mouth puckered in a kiss. They did not understand what happened next. Annie screamed, in utter terror, scrabbled back against the wall, and sat there panting, her eyes fixed wide with horror at the faery. They all stared at her in shock. Ecro’s face crumpled, as if he was about to cry. Then he made a little moue with his lips, laid his head on one side, resting on his hands in woe and despair. Without warning, one hand whipped behind his back, reappearing with a small bouquet of blue flowers. He clasped her hands around it, kissed them, sprang up and disappeared into an empty doorway.
Annie stood up, unsteadily, still clutching the flowers. ‘I have to go. Thank you for your hospitality’. She said in a dull, mechanical voice. She turned and began to climb the steps up to the balcony. The others all looked at each other in amazement and dismay. They got up, too, thanking Eldi and Maha, Simon apologising profusely for Annie’s strange behaviour. Maha gently gripped his arm. ‘Look after your sister’. she said quietly. ‘She saw something. It has terrified her. Please do not blame poor Ecro. He would never harm her in any way’.
‘I know. Please tell him that’. Simon replied quietly. They found Annie waiting for them at the archway into the court, and they retraced their steps back down the alleyways, to the main road, where three red-painted chariots stood waiting for them, with their faery drivers. ‘They will take us to the main citadel. I would like to introduce you to our griffin ambassadors’. Said Ragimund, looking worriedly at Annie.
‘I am not coming. You must go on without me’. Annie said, quietly, but with a note of finality that chilled everyone. Without waiting for an answer, she got up into the nearest chariot. ‘Please take me back’. The faery looked uncertainly at Ragimund, who looked equally anxiously at Simon. He looked at the back of Annie’s head, who waited patiently. ‘You go back, Annie. We’ll meet the griffins’. The charioteer shook the reins and the chariot, and Annie, disappeared into the noisy traffic.
Ragimund touched his sleeve. ‘The charioteer will look after her, Simon. He is a good man’. Simon nodded, but he was choking with fear and despair. He remembered the last time his sister had become so remote, and how he had thought she was lost to him for ever. ‘We’d better get on’. he said sadly.
The faery dropped Annie by the great door that led through the hall up to their chambers. As he helped her down, he noticed with surprise that her eyes were grey. ‘Do you wish me to find your physician? If you are unwell….’
‘’No, thank you. I have no need of him’. Annie replied calmly. The faery looked after her as she entered, and decided that he would seek out the physician after all.
Annie walked in the fog of darkness that had descended upon her since she had seen that thing. Crossing the great chamber, she pushed open the bedroom door and stood at the table. Barely even registering what she was doing, she pulled out the delicate little vase, dark blue with delicate filigree decoration, that she had bought as a present for her mother. She filled it with water, from the water-jug on the table, and gently placed the little blue posy of flowers into it. She never even noticed how pretty it looked. Her senses were dead to the world, and nothing, no-one, existed for her any more. Sitting down at the table she pulled a sheet of paper towards her, picked up one of the pens that she had brought with her, and began to write.
The chariots pulled to a halt in the great square high up on the mountain above Mila, enclosed on one side by the great building of the museum, its rows of marble columns enclosing a shaded walk under its walls. They had ridden up the mountain up steep wide roads, with cascades of gushing water running alongside them. At one point, they passed a great waterfall, dropping down in a damp mist into a semi-circular pool, that in turn overflowed into a torrent below, controlled by water-chutes, lined in fish-scaled tiles, that slowed the descent into the river, below the flat roofs and open atriums of the government buildings, hundreds of feet down. The sound of swirling water echoed around the mountainside, dominated by the massive buildings, carved into the rock, of the Institute of Learning, the embassy building, below them, and the Library of Mila that flanked the museum itself.
The two griffins rose up, sinuously, with an agility that belied their size. Simon shrank back automatically. He had never realised until now, just how big griffins might be, and how they exuded sheer power. They were the size of large bulls, overlaid with muscle and sinew, that stood out on their furred, leonine bodies, that rippled as they moved.
Their bodies were shaped like lions, tawny and lithe, with a black-tufted tail, that snaked back and forth. Great leathery wings were folded back from their sides, extending back beyond that viciously swishing tail. But their heads and shoulders were feathered, red and iridescent, and their eagles’ heads, with a sharp crimson plume, and black, fathomless eyes under heavy beetling brows, regarded him with a hard stare.
Both cocked their heads as Ragimund spoke to them in a strange, rasping, guttural language. They nodded their heads as she finished. She turned to Simon. ‘I have explained who you are, and about Annie. I have also asked them to speak your language. But they are not very good. Just listen. They will introduce themselves’.
The slightly larger of the two griffins cocked his head, and spoke first.
The second said immediately. ‘I…Hycla’.
Simon had no idea what to do. He bowed, and as he did, his Watcher’s medallion slid from around his neck. The smaller Griffin uttered a loud Clack with his beak, and turned to the other. They both moved a step closer, their paws glinting with their hidden claws, so that their heads were within a few inches of his face. Without realising, he held up the medallion. They both studied it intently. Simon was very conscious that their cruel curved beaks, a foot long, were very close, and that each could easily rip his head off his shoulders. He could smell the avian scent of a bird, mingled with the coarse musky odour of their bodies. Then they stepped back, satisfied.
‘Watchers!’ Yclos said, in his harsh voice. Simon could see his red tongue darting as he spoke. ‘Good!’
‘Our parents are both Watchers! We all are!’ Simon stammered. Ragimund suddenly intervened, speaking in the same hard rasp as the griffins. They nodded again, cocking their heads to one side.
Yclos spoke again, haltingly. ‘Good! Faerys! Griffins. Friends! Allies! Welcome!’
The audience was over. The griffins bowed their heads and then turned, and padded softly back into the towering portico of the library.
‘Did that go well?’ asked Simon nervously. In answer, Ragimund threw her arms around him. ‘Of course it did! The griffins are pleased that you are all with us! Simon! We must look after Annie! I do not know what has happened to her!’
Mariko tugged at his sleeve. ‘Simon, we must find her! I hope she did not see again what we…..’ her voice tailed off. Simon stared at her for a moment, and then ran for the chariots, the others following.
Annie stared down unseeingly at what she had written. She began to read them aloud, though the words seemed to have no meaning.
“Dearest mother and father,
When you read this, I will be dead. There is no hope for me. I am no longer with the living. I am not going to survive, and I hope you will understand. I hope that my brother will, too. Please try to think well of me. I have done my best, but the inevitable will happen. Lying trapped, this message is written to you in the knowledge that I will not be alive much longer. The war here will kill me: I am sure of that. Do not grieve for me.
I remain your loving daughter,”
There was a sharp tap at the door. It opened, and Thursday stood there, a small glass in his hand.
‘The faery downstairs was concerned for you’. He said softly. ‘He summoned me’. Annie did not even hear him. She sat, staring at the letter in front of her.
Thursday gently picked up the paper, and began to read it. The expression on his long, somewhat bony face did not change, but he sat down abruptly on the bed behind her.
‘What did you see today, Annie?’ he asked gently.
‘I saw a terrible death‘s head, a skull, that grinned at me. It was me! What I am about to become!’ she shivered violently. ‘It drew me down! I could not bear it!’
They sat silently together for several moments. Then Thursday spoke.
‘It was not you, but your fear that you saw. You saw something that came from hell, but it was not you. The faery did not realise what had happened. He gave you flowers’. He pointed to the little blue flowers that stood in Annie’s small jar.
‘They are just little things, but he wanted to give you comfort. What do you see now, Annie?’
‘Desolation, misery, An unending plain that stretches for ever, to the horizon. I want to die!’
Thursday sighed, and stretched his long legs.
‘You thought you saw your own death, Annie. That is not true. What you saw was just a fragment, an indication of what you saw back in your headquarters, when you looked down, as you were besieged. I do not know for certain, but your brother and your friends, protected you, from what you could see. Is the darkness still around you, Annie?’
Annie looked around. It had lifted. She could see things, objects, surfaces again, around her.
‘Good. Do not go into that terrible place again’.
‘What happened to me? How do you know so much?’
‘Do you remember the great Doctor Nicholas Flamel?’
Anne gasped, sharply. Everything was becoming clearer by the second. She could see things again
‘You descended into something you did not need to. Your friends have tried to protect you. Sometimes words are better than medication’.
He got up, but Annie wanted to know more. The fog of darkness had now lifted completely, and she could see thing so clearly around her. ‘What about Simon? she cried. ‘I…I thought that when he nearly died, I thought that I might die with him!’.
Thursday sat down again, heavily. ‘Do you not remember the talismans that saved him?’ he asked softly. ‘They protected him, and brought him back. Do you realise how powerful that is? He was saved by their strength. No wonder he does not remember’.
‘What about Doctor Flamel? Who are you?’
‘Once I was a warrior. Now I am a physician’. Annie could feel the pain in his voice. ‘I studied under him. He is a marvellous person. I was, am, his devoted student. He knows, Annie. He feels your grief and sorrow. He is there for you’.
Annie was speechless, but Thursday pointed to the letter she had just written.
‘Put that away, Annie. Place it in an envelope. Never look at it again. Perhaps one day, in years to come, your years that is, you might find it, and wonder why you ever wrote it. It is your memento mori, Annie. Leave it, and write what you really wish to write’.
He got up abruptly and walked towards the door.
‘Wait!’ Annie cried. ‘Who are you, really?’
Thursday paused, his hand on the door-latch. ‘I am Thursday. I am not what I seem’. He turned and went out, closing the door gently behind him.
She reached out and caressed the little vase that she had bought for her mother. It felt hard and pleasant under her fingers. She felt the care and concentration that the craftsman had lavished on it. She remembered. The little blue flowers, still damp with wet, glistened before her. They were forget-me-nots. A small blue petal fell, and she caught it in her hand, a delicate little fragment. Pushing away the paper before her, she folded it into two, pulled out an envelope, and pushed it in, before thrusting it into her satchel. Then, she pulled out another sheet of paper, and picking up her pen, so hard and light in her hand, began to write.
My dearest Helios,
I was so sorry not to have been able to say goodbye to you properly. Please forgive me. Tomorrow, we are going to war……’
Frank Jackson – 22/04/2011 – word count - 10906
Mila – centre of the city.
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