DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Meet the artist
The brother and sister, Annie and Simon, and some of their friends, have journeyed to the land of Hyperborea to explore a mysterious tomb found in the Griffin Mountains. To learn more, they visit Meridias, the greatest artist in Hyperborea to find out about the Ancient Ones, who delt in the land three thousand years before. But on their return they discover that their camp has been attacked, and two of their companions badly wounded.
They reined in their horses at the top of the crest which they had laboured so hard to ascend and looked down at the cream-coloured buildings below, the abode of Melisarius. It was clearly a rebuilding of an earlier, ancient ruin and much of it still seemed unused and dilapidated. But its site was spectacular. The complex of buildings and courtyards seemed to overflow into the deep gorge, anchored by buttresses deeply embedded in the face of the rock itself. Birds flew in and out of the small square windows cut into the buttresses, their cries only just discernable above the roar of the stream far below, which echoed against the dank brown walls of the chasm. Beyond the building lay a dark still lake, cradled in the brown foothills, behind which the great grey-white mountains of the griffins soared upwards into the sky. It was a dramatic setting, but all their attention was focussed on the great house itself.
In fact, it was nothing of the sort. If it could be described at all, it would as an accumulation, of open spaces and small buildings grouped together, enclosed by large masonry walls, on each side. From the mouth of the chasm, stepped upwards, were what appeared to be a series of large courtyards, bisected down their length, by another large wall and outhouses, culminating at the far end, where the entrance was, in a jumble of small rectangular blocks, pierced regularly by small narrow black windows, all interconnected by small corridors. In the courtyards they could see what looked like large individual sculptures, with small dark figures moving around them.
‘Now that’s what I call baronial!’ exclaimed Indira. ‘He’s even got his own sculpture courts!’
‘It is his workshop as well as his dwelling-place’. Ragimund replied. ‘This is where he produces all his sculpture’.
‘Does he know we’re coming to see him? After all, it might seem a bit rude just to turn up unannounced’. asked Annie, rather diffidently.
But Ragimund just laughed. ‘He will know all right. The griffins will have informed him’.
‘What griffins?’ asked Indira. ‘I haven’t seen a single one since we’ve been here’.
‘Oh, they are there. It is only that you cannot see them. They have been watching us since we set off’.
They looked nervously around at the barren landscape, now full of unseen beady black eyes.
‘What would happen if they thought we were hostile?’ asked Indira, uneasily.
‘They would have picked us off long ago, out here in the open’. replied Ragimund, cheerfully.
‘I wish you hadn’t told me that’. said Simon gloomily. Since his close encounter with the griffins in Mila, he had no illusions about what they could do to him and his companions, if they so felt. He shuddered inwardly, suddenly eager to be indoors. He looked upwards and around, but could see nothing but a few wisps of high cloud in the blue sky above. ‘Let’s get on’ he muttered morosely, and they started down the steep slope down towards the house entrance, the horses’ hooves slithering and sliding in the loose scree underfoot.
This excursion was born out of a strange question that Ragimund had asked them earlier that morning, as they sat around the fire eating breakfast outside the newly named Morag’s Cave, the repository which the Ancient Ones had left for them to explore, over three thousand years ago.
‘Would you like to meet the most famous artist in our land?’
They looked at each other, wondering what lay behind such a question, that Ragimund had asked them.
‘I would’. said Annie defiantly, looking around at the others. The others, Simon, Annie’s brother, Indira, Pei-Ying. Mariko, Morag, and the others nodded doubtfully.
‘I hate to ask this, Ragimund, but someone has to. Why?’ said Indira.
‘Because he is very wise, and very old. He is more than a thousand years old in your time. He is nearer the ancient peoples than anybody else I know. He might remember something about them, which might explain their mystery. Something his grandfathers knew. Apart from that, he was a great friend of my dead father, and I should like to see him again before it is too late’.
‘Was this the idea that you mentioned yesterday, Ragimund?’
‘Yes, but only if everyone agrees’.
‘Can I be really cheeky, and ask another question?’ Indira called out. Ragimund nodded.
‘Is your father’s friend, this artist, has he still got all his marbles together? I’m sorry to cause any offence, but it is important to know’.
Ragimund looked confused, not knowing what Indira was referring to.
‘Indira means that, given your friend’s age, does he still have all his mental faculties?’ Simon added, as tactfully as he could.
‘ Ah, I understand now. The answer is yes. But I must say, Indira, you have the habit of asking the most direct questions’.
‘That’s because I can get direct answers’.
‘I understand. However, we must make preparations. Will you be coming, Demos?’
‘Alas, no. I have to stay here to supervise the transport of the artefacts we have found. Someone has to’.
‘Oh’. said Morag. Her face had fallen and she looked disappointed. Simon noticed and winked at Annie, who nodded. Morag had spent most of the previous evening with Demos, and they both obviously enjoyed each other’s company. Annie was secretly hoping that it would lead to more serious things, for Morag’s sake. Demos, for all his handsomeness, was not in the slightest bit vain. In fact, she thought he was a genuinely kind and good man, though away from the archaeological field, he was hopelessly absent-minded. Still, that doesn’t matter, she thought. It will give Morag something to work on.
‘I, too, must stay. As a customs officer, I have to attend to the paperwork involved in transferring such assets to the Department of Antiquities in Rhuan’. added Helios.
It was Annie’s turn to look disappointed. Her brother sniggered, then tried to look solemn, as she glanced suspiciously at him.
‘Oh, yes, You two are going to do a runner as soon as our backs are turned. Head to the fleshpots of Rhuan, and pick up a pair of painted strumpets. I know you men!’ Indira said maliciously. Demos and Helios looked aggrieved and angry.
Morag looked ready to cry. ‘No, they won’t!’
‘That was a wicked thing to say, Indira! With not an ounce of truth in it! You wouldn’t do that, would you?’ Annie looked hard at Helios.
‘I am not Haga, Annie!’ retorted Helios.
‘Nor am I!’ cried Demos.
‘That’s settled then. Indira, I wish you could think before you open your big mouth in future. Right?’
Annie glared at her. Indira smiled back, completely unfazed. ‘I like being wicked. It keeps everyone on their toes, and beside, I’ve got good reason to be’.
Annie wondered what she meant by that.
They finally arrived outside the open gate at the end of the house, at the bottom of the scree slope. To their surprise, there was someone waiting for them, inside the gates. Annie thought at first he was a child, because he was so small. But he was not. ‘I am Demetrios’. He smiled. Annie liked him at once. His smile was genuine, on his small but broad face. She noticed other things about him, as well. His dark hair was tied back in a pony-tail, and he wore a shapeless khaki tunic down to his knees, which was spattered with paint and white stone dust. She also noticed his arms, which were long and muscular for his size. His hands, too, were large and strong, with long capable fingers. ‘My fellow students will stable your horses’. He called out. Several different faeries emerged from the shadows of the courtyard, both men and women, and led their steeds around the corner to the stable yard.
Then he turned back to face Ragimund. ‘Do you not know me, now, Ragimund? Or have you been away too long?’
‘I am his protégé now that he is very old and not just old!
Ragimund turned to the others. ‘Demetrios and I used to draw and paint together whenever I came here to visit’.
‘Yours were always funnier than mine!’ said Demetrios, mischievously. ‘You were always braver than I was! He still has that one you drew of him fighting off his own creations’.
Ragimund’s mouth dropped open in incredulity. ‘He still has it?’
‘Yes. You will see it when we go in. He says it stops him from being too arrogant. Follow me’.
He led them through a doorway on the right into a long narrow corridor. They all gasped in amazement. It was not a corridor at all, but a jungle, or so it seemed. It could have been oppressive, but above them, the ceiling was painted a bright blue, with white clouds scudding across it. And then there were the birds flitting in and out of the jungle foliage, some flying, other larger ones strutting majestically in front, flamingos, waders and even cormorants, who looked at them with bright beady eyes full of curiosity, but all so realistically and naturally painted that they expected to hear a cacophony of bird sound at any moment. Instead, it was silent, only the sound of their footsteps on the wooden floor. ‘The master calls this one of his conceits. His study is quite different’.
He tapped on the panel of the large wooden door at the end of the painted hall. ‘Master, your visitors are here’. They heard a voice from within, that said distinctly ‘Bid them enter’. Demetrios opened the door and ushered then in. They walked in to meet the greatest living artist in Hyperborea.
They did not know what to expect. But it was certainly not this. A very tall, white-haired man rose quickly from behind his desk to greet them. ‘Uncle!’ Ragimund cried, and rushed across the room to embrace him affectionately. Annie noticed that, tall as Ragimund was. her head only reached up to the old faery’s neck. She quickly looked around the room. It was bare, almost austere, with whitewashed walls and only a few framed drawings and paintings on them. The only furniture was the large wooden desk, with an upright chair behind it, and two other wooden chairs against the opposite wall. There were no bookcases, nor any books.
Annie suddenly became aware that Ragimund was standing in front of one of the framed drawings on the wall behind the desk, her face alight with delight. ‘Look, Annie, this is my drawing! Oh, Meridias, you did keep it!’
Annie joined her and peered up at the drawing. It was extraordinarily well done. She recognised the tall gaunt figure of Meridias, his body and limbs contorted into impossible postures, his face in an expression of mock ferocity, flailing uselessly with a large stick at the creatures that beset him on all sides. They were birds of all shapes and sizes, pecking and snapping. It was a remarkable and very beautiful composition.
‘It’s wonderful’. Annie said quietly. ‘Is this your work, Ragimund?’
‘It is. Oh, master Meridias, you kept it!’
Oh, yes, my little one. To remind me . speaking of which, Ragimund, you must introduce me to our guests’.
‘Please forgive me, Meridias, this is Simon and Annie’.
‘Ah, yes, the human brother and sister who have fought monsters’.
‘Well, we have’. Annie said defensively. ‘At least some’.
I believe you. Annie, you are beautiful’.
Annie blinked. She was not used to being complimented by total strangers. ‘What?’ she stammered. ’I’m not. My eyes are too big, my nose is too small, and my mouth is too wide’.
‘Nonsense!’ cried the old artist. ‘It is the totality of the sum of the parts that creates real beauty. I should know!’
He dropped his voice as he examined Simon. ‘Ah, you are the one that has captured the heart of my warrior angel, Ragimund, are you not?’
‘Er, yes. I think so’. muttered Simon hesitantly, not all sure about which way this conversation was going. He was encouraged by a wide smile and wink from Ragimund.
‘She has made an excellent choice. I can see that you and your sister, despite your differences, would fight to the death for each other, eh?
Simon glanced at Annie. Her face was expressionless. He resisted the temptation to say something facetious, but simply said ‘Yes, we would’. Meridias nodded approvingly, and he was rewarded also with a grateful smile from his sister. Just for once, he thought, I’ve managed to say the right thing.
Meridas’s attention had switched to someone else. ‘Who is this delightfully voluptuous young maiden, Ragimund?’
‘This is Indira, Meridias, one of our companions’.
‘And who is this beautiful young goddess with the raven tresses?’ demanded Meridias. Morag came to with a guilty start, and looked around to see whom he was referring to. Then she realised that he was gazing directly at her, and looked down at the ground in embarrassment.
Annie had had enough. ‘Meridias! We’re not here to be petted and fawned over! We came here to ask you some questions about the ancient ones! We need to know more about them, and what happened to them. We were hoping that you might have some views or information that would be useful to us’.
There was a dead silence in the room.
Meridias hobbled over to one of the chairs against the wall, and sat down heavily. It creaked under his weight. He suddenly looked like a very old man. Annie felt a wave of compassion, walked over and knelt down in front of him.
She looked up into his face, and was amazed. He was not crying, as she had thought, but laughing silently to himself. ‘You’re laughing at me!’ she cried indignantly, and started to get up. ‘No, please!’ he cried. ‘Annie, you must forgive an old man for his vanity. I am an artist. I see into you and beyond you. If you only knew what pleasure your company brings to me. I was laughing at myself, not at you. For being an old fool’.
‘You’re not an old fool’. she whispered, sensing that this was a conversation between Meridias and herself. ‘By the way, before I was so rudely interrupted, Morag is the one that has walked with the Ancient Ones. She went back into the labyrinth of time to do so, and then had to walk back. We nearly lost her, but we got her back eventually. She’s very brave. She’s the daughter of Moran the faery, so she’s half-faery herself’.
Merias half-turned in his chair to look at Morag. ‘I did not realise. Then I really must speak with her. And you, Annie’, turning to her again, ‘must come and see my work. I take my inspiration from the myths and legends of the Ancient Ones. They might provide you with some enlightenment ‘.
Annie smiled at him. ‘I would love to’.
‘Then let us be off!’ cried Meridias, melodramatically. He sprang to his feet in a nimble gesture that belied his age, and reached down behind his desk, reappearing with a long black cloak that he fastened around his neck, and a battered black fedora hat that he clamped firmly over his long white hair. He was like an aged child full of glee about to go on an outing. Annie smiled. She liked this old man, able to switch from old to young as the mood took him. He proffered his arm to Annie, which she took. Meridias offered his other arm to Morag. ‘If you would be so kind, daughter of Moran. I do like to make a grand entrance with beautiful young women on each side!’
The retinue, headed by Meridias, Annie and Morag passed into the little entrance courtyard and through an archway opposite the main entrance, and descended broad flat steps down into the first courtyard on the left. The other courtyards descending down towards the gorge beyond, shimmered in the heat of the sun, but Meridias did not seem to notice the warmth. ‘As I was saying, Annie, I joined Michelangelo’s atelier just when he was halfway through painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. You will not find me in any of the history books except as an “unknown assistant”, but I was there. I prepared the plaster ground for him on the second half of the ceiling. He painted much of it freehand, without any preparatory work, to save time. You see, he was already tired with it, and wished to finish it soon as possible. But think of it, Annie, standing on a scaffolding sixty feet above the ground, always, always painting above your head! The fatigue was enormous, and it made him ill in the end’.
Drowsy in the heat of the sun, Morag was barely listening. But she heard Annie ask, ‘What was Michelangelo like as a person?’ Meridias chuckled. ‘As one of the popes said, he was “teribile”! By that, Annie I mean that he was bad-tempered, over-worked, and, because of that, very, how shall I put it…..obstreperous. He took on too much work, and never finished many of his commissions. He did not keep many of his assistants either! But I stayed with him for some time. Do you remember the series of Slaves he did, Annie?’
She tried to recollect what she had seen and read as a small girl. ‘I remember seeing two unfinished ones in Florence when I was a small girl’, she said slowly, ‘and I’m sure I’ve seen pictures of some others too’.
‘I’m sure you have. The other two are finished pieces and are what are now called The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave. They were more or less completed pieces. I worked with Michelangelo on both of them’.
‘Oh!’ said Annie, impressed. She remembered them both now. She had never understood why it was called The Dying Slave. To her it seemed like a young man having just woken up and stretching. The other was more accurate, a slave with hands still pinioned behind his back.
‘That’s a big horse, Meridias’. said Morag, looking up at the great black horse on the right of the court, pawing at it’s plinth. On top if its head sat a young girl, her bare brown legs astride its neck, her smock hitched up. She was busy scratching away at the horse’s left ear, raised and alert. Morag looked up at her nervously. She estimated that the girl was perched precariously over thirty feet from the cobbled ground. ‘Is she quite safe up there?’ she asked apprehensively.
‘Oh, quite safe. She has been climbing my statues for years. Haven’t you, Andromeda?’
The girl slid swiftly down the horse’s neck and swung onto the flimsy wooden ladder that leaned against the horse’s body. She climbed down and stood before them, smiling. She had a pert but pretty face. She pulled down her smock to cover her legs.
‘All finished, master’. she said, grinning, eyeing Simon speculatively. Behind them, Indira giggled.
The girl took the hint but remained unabashed. She scampered off to join her colleagues across in the other courtyards. Annie suppressed her own grin and disengaged her arm from that of Meridias to join Morag who was staring at a smaller figure in the corner of the courtyard. She had never understood how her brother could attract such attention from other members of her own sex. But then, she was only his sister.
But she did notice the expression of horror and revulsion on Morag’s face. Looking at the creature, she could see why. Like the horse, it was a bronze casting, but hideous and deformed.
She was looking at a bull, or rather half bull and half man.
‘Have you ever tried to arrest a minotaur, Morag?’
‘What kind of silly question is that, Annie? You know perfectly well I haven’t! Oh’. She saw the grin on Annie’s face. ‘Imagine me trying to snap handcuffs on that thing!’
‘This’ll cheer you up, Annie’. said Morag as she peered down into the courtyard below.
Annie looked down and saw a circle of dancing figures. She cried out and ran down the stairs. Morag followed rather more slowly. She found Annie standing in the middle of the circle of figures, turning around and around in delight.
Morag joined her and looked around. One figure caught her attention. She looked at it closely, and called Annie. She came across and looked at Morag, who was staring fixedly at the figure. ‘Morag! What’s wrong? Morag!’ Morag turned and looked at her. ‘Don’t you recognise her, Annie?’ She looked at the figure. ‘Oolita!’ she cried.
‘It’s her. It’s definitely her. I’m positive’.
‘But what’s she doing here?’
‘I don’t know. But it’s definitely her. I saw her in flesh and blood, Annie. As near to her as I am to you!’
Annie turned and cupped her hands to her mouth. ‘Ragimund! Did you say there was an inscription here?’
‘No, I didn’t, Annie. But there is! It is in the rotunda behind you at the other end of the bottom courtyard!’
Annie looked around and saw the rotunda, a small round building, with a domed roof. at the end, on the edge of the gorge. She waved to acknowledge, then shouted again. ‘Mariko! Please come down! I need your help!’
She saw the small figure of Mariko dart down the steps from the others, and run towards her across the courtyard. Annie grabbed her hand, as she reached her.
‘What! Why now, Annie?’
‘Because I’ve got an idea. Come on, Mariko, humour me’.
They ran hand in hand across the lower courtyard to the small rotunda and peered through the little dark doorway.
‘It’s too dark to see!’ cried Annie, despairingly.
‘I brought one of our torches with me, Annie. Come on, let’s look’. Mariko plunged in the dark interior and shone her torch around. After the bright sunlight outside, it did seem dark, but they could see reasonably well in the beam of the torch. The rotunda was very small, no more than nine feet in diameter. The walls were faced in crumbling grey stone, and the only other light came from the doorway and a central round opening in the centre of the domed roof above their heads.
‘There it is!’ cried Mariko, as the torch flashed over a crumbling grey slab set into the wall opposite the doorway. She picked her way over the uneven cobbled floor, and began to study the slab intently, checking what she saw with her notebook from her satchel. A quiet minute passed. Annie shifted impatiently. There was a muffled exclamation. ‘What is it?’ she cried nervously.
‘Nothing, It is so maddening that every inscription I have seen so far has been damaged or so worn, that I can make nothing of them, But there are some letters here, Annie. Give me a moment more’.
Annie waited again for another long minute. There was a sudden gasp of surprise from Mariko. ‘I have found a name!’
‘What! What name?’ This had caught Annie by surprise.
‘What! Are you sure, Mariko?’
‘Of course I am sure. It is unmistakeable. See for yourself. Here are the letters of her name’. Marko traced with her finger a set of six marks in the scripts of the slab. ‘They are the same as the ones below her image in Morag’s Cave. But there is more, in the line above. Another name’.
‘What is it?’ Annie cried, her excitement rising.
‘Look here, Annie’. She traced each letter with her finger. Annie sighed. She loved Mariko, but she could be infuriatingly pedantic at times. ‘D. E. M. A. J. A. N.’ and the first words before that I have translated as ‘House of. Did Morag say he was her grandfather?’
‘So “House of Demajan” followed in the next line by “Oolita”?
‘Yes. I am sorry, Annie, but that is the best I can do’.
‘That’s more than good enough for me, Mariko. Thank you so much’. Annie gave her a hug and a kiss. ‘You are worth your weight in gold, Mariko’.
‘But I have done very little’. Mariko protested
‘Oh yes, you have. You’ve provided me with a good story’.
Mariko looked after her, open-mouthed, as she went out to meet the others.
‘Meridias! When you sculpted those figures, did you have any idea about what you were intending to do?’
‘The dancers? No, I had no idea. They found their own form. I followed the stone. They shaped themselves, almost without my realising. Why do you ask, Annie?’
Annie ignored the question. ‘Where were the stones that you carved them from, Meridias?’
“Where they are dancing. The stones were all here in this courtyard. They were here when I first came to live here. The dancers came out of them like butterflies! Almost as if they wanted to!’
‘That’s what I thought.’ Annie sat down cross-legged in the middle of the dancing figures. ‘Please sit down. I have something to tell you’.
They all settled down in a circle. Annie waited until Mariko had come back from the rotunda and joined them, and settled herself down in the circle. ‘Why did you ask my uncle those questions, Annie?’ asked Ragimund.
‘To make sure the last pieces were in place. Forgive me, Ragimund, and you too, uncle Meridias. I have a story to tell’.
‘You have excited my curiosity, Annie. Please continue’.
‘You really have brought the past to life!’
‘Because you have brought the daughters of the Ancient Oirnes to life. Here, where they once played and sang’. Annie glanced around at the dancing figures around them.
‘The best way to tell it is as a story. Right, once upon a time…..’
‘Oh, no, Annie, please!’ her brother groaned.
‘About three thousand years ago’, Annie continued relentlessly, ‘a young girl called Oolita lived here with her grandfather. We don’t know what had happened to her parents. But she was happy here. We can see that by looking around’. She glanced at the dancing figures. Their kicking feet, their bare arms outstretched, their faces half-turned towards each other, their mouths open in a smile, reassured her. ‘But then something happened. Suddenly they had to leave this place where they had been so happy. Oolita was now very unhappy. She went with her grandfather and his companions to Morag’s Cave where they left an archive of themselves and their images. But this was not enough for Oolita. She wanted to record herself and her own companions for the generations that would come after her, so that they could see what her childhood was like and draw their own conclusions. So, she got someone to drag these pieces of stone into this courtyard, or perhaps they were here already, for some other purpose. I don’t know.
The other thing I don’t know is this. Somehow, Oolita and her friends managed to leave a trace of themselves on those stones. An imprint, or DNA or something, I don’t know. Then, after three thousand years, came a famous sculptor called Meridias, who saw these stones, and thought that he might carve them’.
‘I did too! They were a joy to carve. So sweet!’ cried Meridias.
‘That is how, I think, Meridias came to sculpt an image of a girl he had never seen before and certainly didn’t know. That’s the only conclusion I can make, and if anyone’s got any better ideas, then I’ll be glad to hear them!’ said Annie with a note of defiance. There was silence for a moment.
‘I believe you, Annie. I can think of no other way that this image could be created other than by the means that you suggest’. Ragimund said emphatically.
‘And I too!’ cried Meridias. ‘My working life has been spent in following my instincts or the stone. It is perfectly natural that a young girl should leave a trace of her appearance. It is part of my method’.
‘I think it’s a wonderful idea! I love the idea of a young girl leaving traces of herself behind for future generations, so we know what she’s like!’ Indira cried enthusiastically.
‘Morag doesn’t think so’. Annie said, looking at Morag’s face.
‘Oh, Annie! No, I don’t. I just can’t believe that a fourteen-year old girl from three thousand years ago can have the power to change the molecular structure of a piece of stone! My own training as a policewoman can’t allow me to accept that! You see, you’re challenging everything I believe in! I don’t know what to believe in any more. I can’t even justify myself. I don’t know whether I’m faery or human. I don’t know which I am!
Annie looked at her steadily. Morag knew she was weighing her up, and blushed, looking down at her own feet.
This isn’t about whether you believe me or not. It’s about you isn’t it, Morag?
Morag continued to look down. She felt like a child about to be scolded. The others had already wandered off in the direction of the courtyards on the other side. She and Annie were on their own.
‘You’re both faery and human. Use it to your advantage! Think about it as having the best of both worlds!’
Annie’s voice hardened even further.
‘Your mother’s dead, Morag! You can’t live in her shadow for the rest of your life! She’s dead, Morag! Dead and gone! Just put down that suitcase of guilt and inferiority you’ve been humping around with you ever since we first met! Leave it where it stands! Just dump it, Morag! Since you’re our elder sister, start behaving like one!’
She walked off after the others, already in the next courtyard. After a few paces, she hesitated, then stopped. Turning around, she extended her hand out towards Morag. ‘Are you coming, or what?’ she said, impatiently.
‘Yes, I am’. Without a backward glance, Morag hurried forward and took Annie’s proffered hand. Together, they ascended the steps up to the next courtyard, on the other side, where the others were waiting. They stopped at the top of the steps and looked around in amazement. On their left, was a youth trying vainly to extricate himself from the mass of stone which encased the lower half of his body, his hands and arms straining with the effort of trying to lever himself free. His face, tight-lipped, was contorted with frustration as he sought in vain to extricate himself. To the right, a young girl’s outstretched arm reached out imploringly from a solid block of marble partially carved. Her face and body, only slightly carved, were still encased within the stone slab, but her mouth was open in what seemed a cry for help. Annie looked around. Surrounding her were similar statues, all pinioned and apparently calling for aid. She felt suddenly saddened.
‘Why is he so cruel? Leaving all these statues still imprisoned like this’.
Annie gave a start. She had not realised that Morag was still behind her. ‘I’m going to ask someone’. she said determinedly.
‘Why not ask Meridias?’
‘Because I want to ask someone else’.
She had seen the young girl, Andromeda, across the court, working busily on one of the unfinished statues. She went over and dropped to one knee beside her. The girl, startled, dropped her chisel and hammer. Flustered, she began to sweep away the marble chippings on the floor around her with her hands so that Annie and she could sit down. ‘Am I in trouble, lady?’ Annie smiled at her. ‘ Not can I think of. By the way, my name’s Annie, not lady. That’s what I prefer’.
‘Annie! That’s a really good name! I like that!’
‘I like Andromeda too. Where did you get that name?’
She pushed a strand of her dusty black hair back from her face. ‘You’ll never guess. My father studied the history of your gods and decided to call me Andromeda after one of them. He thought having such a name would keep me out of mischief. Little did he know!’
They laughed together. Annie really liked this girl, who was both impudent and entertaining.
‘A word to the wise, Andromeda. It’s not wise to display your wares to my brother in front of his girlfriend, especially when she’s the niece of your master’.
The girl’s mouth dropped in dismay, and she brought up her hand to cover it.
‘Your brother! I didn’t know, Annie! And he is betrothed to my master’s niece! Oh, no! I really am in trouble this time! Annie, I meant no harm! It was just that, well, your brother is really handsome!’
‘Is he? I hadn’t really noticed’. Annie said vaguely. ‘But I do want to ask you something, Andromeda’. She looked around. ‘There’s not a single figure that’s finished here, or in the other courtyards either. It seems so sad. Look at them! They’re all crying out to be released! It just seems so cruel, somehow. Why doesn’t the master just finish them?’
Andromeda looked around. Then she looked back at Annie. ‘I know I should not say this. But the master is very old and sick. He will not let his creations go from him. But he is wrong, Annie! You see them! They are crying to be let free from the stone! It is wrong!
Annie looked up and down the courtyards. All she could see were writhing figures, desperately trying to free themselves from the embrace of the stone which encased them. Some were so lifelike as to almost be flesh and blood. Annie felt a great surge of pity for these struggling figures, which already, even in their unfinished state, possessed their own characters and personalities.
She turned back to Andromeda. A sudden idea had come into her head. ‘Which one of these would you like to complete, Andromeda?’
The girl pointed unhesitatingly at the block close to them. from which a girl’s bare arm protruded. ‘That one’. she pronounced firmly.
‘Why that one?
‘Because she is like a caged bird. I want to make her fly, Annie! I can do it! I know I can!’
‘But how?’ Annie said curiously, looking at the massive block of stone. For the life of her, she could not see how anyone could make a girl fly from its inert mass. Andromeda did not reply but instead walked around the stone inspecting it from various angles, hands on hips, head cocked to one side as she made mental calculations. Then she walked back to Annie. ‘Yes, I know how to do it’.
‘Right, that’s settled then’. said Annie decisively. She had made her mind up.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, Andromeda. I’m going to see the master and see if I can persuade him to allow you to finish this sculpture. All right?’
Andromeda’s mouth opened in delight. ‘You would do that for me, Annie! But! Oh! I cannot pay you! I have no money!’
‘Who said anything about paying!’ Annie said, sharply. ‘Let’s say I’ll try as an art-lover. Now, stay here, and I’ll see what I can do’.
She strode over to Meridias, who now had Ragimund on his arm. Her heart sank. Ragimund would be the least likely supporter of Andromeda’ s cause, after her last escapade. She stood squarely in front of Meridias, his tall lean figure completely overshadowing her own. ‘ Meridias, I want to ask you a favour’.
‘What is it, my dear?’ Meridias asked.
‘ Meridias’. Annie took a deep breath. ‘I want you to allow Andromeda over there, to complete that sculpture’, pointing to the block near where, they were standing
‘Andromeda? Hmm. I think she has got the talent, but whether she has the patience or not is another matter’.
‘That impudent little hussy!’ Ragimund snapped, glaring balefully at the girl, who pretended not to notice.
Annie decided to be tactful. ‘Well, at least it would keep her out of mischief. But there’s more, Meridias. Why not extend that privilege to all the other students as well?’
Both Ragimund and the old man stopped and stared at her. ‘What do you mean, Annie?’ asked Ragimund.
Annie decided to be diplomatic, in case the old man thought she was being presumptuous. ‘What I mean is, why not let all of your students have the chance to finish off what you’ve started? Let each student finish off one of these unfinished sculptures as a kind of final project for their graduation. Dependent on whether they can do it or not. At least, you’d get some of them finished, under your supervision of course. It seems such a shame to leave them like this’.
To her surprise, she found unexpected support from Ragimund. ‘I think it is an excellent idea, that Annie has suggested. Let them bring your ideas to fruition, uncle. In doing so, you will be forming your own academy- the school of Meridias. If I was one of your students I would be proud to be able to say that I was trained by the great Meridias himself. Rather than let your creations languish here, let them be finished. Think on it, uncle. It would enhance your fame and provide our land with a body of young sculptors that we could be proud of. Let your students prove their skills by finishing what you have already begun’.
‘You could even give them a diploma or something to prove it’ Annie pointed out.
‘I could design such a diploma for you, uncle. I could even organise an exhibition of the finished works for you, perhaps in the museum in Rhuan!’ Ragimund added.
Meridias’s long fingers rubbed his chin, thoughtfully.
‘It is a beguiling idea. But, Annie, each stone has its story to tell. It is up to the sculptor to recognise the figure inside, and to reveal it, to make it come to life. How can another do that?’
‘But you have done that already! Are not these sculptures images of ourselves? Is that how you want to be remembered? As a creator of trapped souls in despair?’’
‘Annie, what is the matter?’ Ragimund cried.
Both she and her uncle had suddenly noticed that Annie was crying soundlessly. She sniffed, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
‘Annie, my dear, have I offended you?’ asked Meridias, anxiously. Annie shook her head, not knowing whether to tell them about the memory, that looking around the landscape of trapped beings around her, had evoked.
‘That has made up my mind’. said Meridias, sternly. ‘I am not here to create sadness in my audience, but to astonish them. I will act on your idea, now, Annie.
The girl trotted over, clearly uncertain as to what was to happen. Her fingers clasped and unclasped in anxious movements before her.
‘Andromeda, I gather you wish to set my caged bird free, and see her fly?’
The girl looked uncertain and wary. ‘ Yes, master’.
‘Do you think you can? It will be very difficult’.
Andromeda replied both confidently and defiantly at the same time. ‘I know I can, master’.
‘Very well, Andromeda. You shall have your opportunity. From now on you will be working on that sculpture to complete your time here’.
The girl’s mouth fell open in surprise and delight.
‘Before you thank me, Andromeda, fetch Demetrios. I have something to say to him’.
Meridias smiled at Annie. ‘Are you gratified with my decision?’
‘Yes and no’.
Ragimund looked at Annie. ‘I think, uncle, Annie is pleased with your decision, but she is not pleased with herself’.
Demetrios came running up. ‘Master’ he said, slightly breathless.
‘Demetrios, I want you to spread the word amongst your fellow students. I have decided that you and all your fellow students will complete the unfinished works of mine as your final part of your training. Each of you will select a work to complete and I expect you all to finish it to the standards I have set, to be finished by the end of this summer’.
Demetrios managed to look both astounded and delighted at the same time. ‘Thank you, master. I shall tell the others’. He ran off to talk to the other students.
‘And now, some refreshment is in order’. announced Meridias, grandly. He proffered his arm to them both.
‘No, Uncle. You go on ahead. I wish to talk to Annie alone. Take Morag and Indira, They will be happy to escort you’.
‘Very well’. Meridias said happily, and walked over to his new young ladies.
Ragimund took Annie’s hand. ‘Walk with me, Annie’.
They started to walk after the others. But then Ragimund stopped. ‘Why did you cry, Annie?’ she asked.
‘ Because this landscape of despair reminded me of somewhere where Simon and I went. Purgatory!’
‘What is Purgatory, Annie?’
‘It’s a grey desolate place, where some people go to after death. A place with no hope, only unending misery!’
‘You mean, that you and Simon have been to the lands of death?’ Ragimund cried, aghast. Nothing in her faery existence had prepared her for that thought. She looked around at the limbs plaintively reaching out from the stones and the half–carved heads emerging from the marble that encased them.
’Those people we saw there had no hope, only despair. These are representations of us! To you they are only marble statues but to me they represent us! Trapped and longing to get out! Now do you see! I can’t bear it to see people or representations of them trapped like this!’
‘But, Annie, they are but marble statues! They are not real!’
‘I know that! But they’re still images of us! They still stand for the human condition! Oh, Ragimund, you don’t understand, do you? If we choose to make images of ourselves, and then leave them in a state of captivity like these, what does that tell you about us?’
‘Are you saying that my uncle is cruel?’
‘No! But my point is, that having created them in the first place, he ought to give them the life that he intended for them, not leave them unfinished and trapped, as I see them! It gives the impression that he’s cruel, not that he is! That he doesn’t care about the human or faery race! It’s that sort of uncaringness that really saddens me! They’re his creations, so why leave them in this condition? It’s that sort of casual cruelty that reminded me so much of Purgatory! That’s why I find it so repellent! To create so much beauty, and then not bother to finish it! That’s why I thought of Purgatory. To create such a thing as the human race and then punish it by leaving it imprisoned, as here! Now do you understand my feelings?’
‘I am beginning to. Everything that is brought into life ought to be allowed to live its life to the fullest extent’. Ragimund said.
‘It’s just so wrong, leaving them like this!’
I understand, Annie. Do not forget I was a student myself once. And if they create bad memories of that…place for you, it is high time they were completed’.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t cry just for effect. It’s just that, that seeing them like this…..’
‘I understand, Annie. Let us go back and have some refreshment’
They walked back through the unfinished statues. From some of them human arms reached out imploringly. Annie could see faces, still half-buried within the carved recesses of some of the stones. She shuddered and walked on.
They entered Meridias’ s study again where flasks of drink, cups, and dishes of olives and figs, together with dishes of flatbreads spread with honey and preserves were laid out on small tables. But Ragimund walked over to the window and peered out.
‘We must depart soon, uncle. The sun is already low in the sky, and I do not want to go on the path back in darkness’.
‘Must you, my dear? Oh, very well’.
They moved outside into the little courtyard, where they had entered. Demetrious and the others had already brought their horses around, who stood waiting for them.
As they mounted, Annie felt a pull on her arm. She looked around. It was Andromeda. ‘Annie’. she whispered, I want to thank you again, for having faith in me. That caged bird will sing again, and it will fly, I promise you. Come again when we have finished. I will show you’, She looked around at her fellow students, all gathered together around Meridias, to see them off. ‘Come back soon, Annie, and you will see what we can accomplish’.
Annie mounted her horse, and looked down at the small figure of Andromeda. ‘I’ll come back soon, Andromeda, I promise you’. She giggled suddenly. ‘I’m sure you won’t leave anything to the imagination!’
Andromeda grinned back at her and waved her farewell. As Annie looked back, she saw all the students gathered around the tall figure of Meridias in their midst, all waving. Then their horses were ploughing painfully up the steep scree slope up to their homeward path.
Halfway along the stony path that led back to Morag’s Cave, Ragimund held up her hand, forcing them all to come to a sudden stop. Annie took advantage of the wider path to ride up alongside her. ‘What is it, Ragimund?’
Ragimund pointed upwards at the sky. ‘Do you not see, Annie? The griffins are flying! They have been disturbed!
Annie looked up. She saw three dark shapes with outstretched wings swooping and gliding high up, silhouetted against the blue of the sky
‘We must get back to the cave as quickly as possible!’ Ragimund’s voice sounded agitated. Annie’s heart lurched in fear. What had happened to Helios and Demos? They both urged their horses into a gallop. The rest followed after them.
They only slowed their pace when climbing up the steep path that led to the small plateau in front of Morag’ s Cave. At the top of the path, Ragimund again raised her hand, forcing the others to stop. ‘The boxes of scrolls are still here! They should have been collected hours ago! What is happening here?’
Annie looked up. There were the boxes into which they had packed the contents of Morag’s Cave still sitting in the middle of the plateau, ready for collection. But Ragimund was now leaning down from her saddle, studying the ground intently. She pointed down.
‘Do you see, Annie? There are tracks of large animals here. About eight, I think. But what are they?’
Annie leant down from her saddle and peered at the marks. They were imprints of large cloven hooves in the thin sandy soil, and she recognised them immediately. ‘Oh, no! Daemons! she said aloud, without realising it.
‘What did you say, Annie?’ But Annie was already tearing away towards Morag’s Cave, looking to right and left. She reined in her horse sharply, and shouted frantically. ‘Helios! Helios! Where are you? Demos!’
‘Over here, Annie!’
The cry came over near where the fissure that led to Morag’s cave lay. She saw two figures there against the sheer rock face. She could see that there was something terribly wrong. The upright figure, Demos, could barely stand. The other figure lay slumped against the rock, not even moving. ‘Nooo!’ she cried in horror, and urged her hose into a gallop towards them, her heart pounding with it’s hoofbeats. An image flashed into her mind. That terrible night, when she had entered the House of Poseidon, to find her dying brother slumped by the fountain, lying in a pool of his own blood. She leapt from her horse almost before it had stopped, and ran to Helios.
She gathered him tenderly in her arms and pressed his head against her chest. Looking down, she realised his tunic and trousers were saturated with blood. She pulled aside one of the largest rents in his tunic and stared with horror at the large ugly gash that ran down his left side, from his shoulder to his hip. It was as if something had tried to rip him apart. Annie hugged him to her even harder in her grief. ‘Wake up, Helios, wake up! Don’t die! Come back to me! Come back!’ She felt for the pulse in neck. It was irregular, but strong.
Someone was pulling her shoulder. She looked up and saw her brother, who was speaking to her. But she couldn’t understand anything he said. She saw his lips moving but she couldn’t understand, except for one word:
‘Morag!’ she called. ‘Bring Demos over here, and you too. I need you both. Now!’ Her brother scrambled over. ‘I’ll help you, Demos! Come on!’ He and Morag helped Demos over to the other side of Helios, where Demos collapsed in an untidy heap. ‘What do you want me to do, Annie?’ he asked. ‘Just press your talisman against Helios’s wound. Morag and I will do the same, won’t we, Morag?’ Morag nodded. She looked as pale as Helios. The three of them pressed their talismans onto the wound. At first Annie feared it was not working. But before their eyes, the skin slowly met and closed over the gaping gash, until no more than a faint scar remained.
‘How can this be? Demos exclaimed, astonished. ‘I never dreamt that this ring could do that!’
‘You’d be surprised. Your turn next, Demos’. He opened his tunic to reveal two great gashes down each side of his body. Annie caught her breath. He was as badly wounded as Helios, but he had never complained. One more they applied the talismans, with the same result. But she was still worried. They were both suffering from shock, and were weak from loss of blood.
‘Ragimund,’ she called,’These two need to go to hospital’.
Ragimund came over. ‘Forgive me. I had almost forgotten about you’. She smiled at them both, then looked concerned as she saw the blood on their clothes. ‘Tell me what happened, Demos’.
He licked his lips nervously, and closed his eyes as he recalled what was obviously a very unpleasant experience.’When the wagons did not arrive as planned, we began to feel worried. Then Helios noticed a foul smell, and we saw these hoof marks moving towards us. But, Ragimund, we could not see them! We were blind to them! So we set ourselves against the rock face, so that they could not get behind us, and, shoulder to shoulder, we fought them off with our swords. But, Annie, every time we slew one, there was a great gout of flame and smoke! What kind of witchcraft was that?’
‘Demos is right’. said Helios unexpectedly.
Annie looked down at him, startled. ‘When did you wake up?’
‘A little while ago, when you were healing me. ButI did not open my eyes for fear that you might be only a lovely vision’.
‘Liar’. said Annie affectionately. ‘You were just enjoying being fussed over’. Helios just grinned. Annie suddenly remembered again how he and Demos had fought alone and unsupported against an enemy they didn’t know or could even see. She felt a sudden surge of love and affection for him, and throwing her arms around neck, kissed him hard.
‘Ah, now I know you are a vision of loveliness’.
‘Flatterer! But I suppose I can forgive you anything at this moment’. She smiled down at him.
‘What’s that noise?’ Indira asked, standing a little apart with the others.
They heard a trundling of wheels and the creak of wood from the far end of the plateau. A tall faery rode onto the plateau, followed by two large wagons with a faery driver perched on each, hauled by a team of mules. Behind then rode four more faerys, in full armour and helmeted.
‘At last! The wagons are here’. said Ragimund, and she strode off to meet them. The tall faery dismounted and cane to meet her. They were too far away to hear what was being said, but Ragimund was clearly furious, the other faery placatory, gesturing towards the wagons. Another tall, gaunt figure leapt down from one of the wagons and came towards them rapidly, throwing back the hood of his long grey robe. Annie looked up in surprise as the figure reached them.
‘Thursday!’ she exclaimed.
‘Good afternoon, Annie. We meet again. I understand you have some casualties’. He knelt down by Helios and Demos, who looked at him bemusedly. They were desperately weak. Annie was now worried about them. Thursday examined then both thoroughly, his long bony fingers probing their wounds, though without causing them pain. ‘What do you think, Thursday?’ Annie asked, anxiously
‘You have clearly healed them already, Annie. Their internal organs are not damaged, but they are both weak from loss of blood, and they both might have been infected from whatever caused their injuries. They need to go to our hospital as soon as possible’.
‘ Good. We shall send our wounded back in one of the wagons’. said Ragimund behind them.
‘I’m going too! To stay with Demos!’ Morag cried.
‘You will not! You and Annie will stay here! I am not going to split my forces! And I also have some questions to answer!’
‘ But, Ragimund…..I’
‘Be quiet! Do not argue with me! You will stay here tonight!’
‘Annie!’ Morag looked at her, beseechingly. But Annie merely shrugged her shoulders and turned away.
‘Oh, thanks for the support’. Morag muttered, bitterly.
Annie heard her. She turned back furiously, and seized Morag by the arm. She began dragging her back towards the cave. Morag tried to resist, but Annie was deceptively strong.
‘Bloody hell, Annie, what are you trying to prove? I’m only a spare bit of luggage, after all, aren’t I? I can’t fight like the rest of you!’
Annie stopped and stared at her. ‘Is that what you want, Morag?
‘Well, it makes sense, and I…..’
‘Right, I’ll make you into a warrior!’
She dragged Morag through the fissure and into the cave. The figures on the wall looked down upon them gravely. Annie pointed to their spare swords leaning against the wall, still in their scabbards. ‘Pick one of those up and put it on’.
‘Annie, you know I can’t handle a sword!’
‘Just do it!’
Morag slung the belt of the scabbard over her head and shoulder clumsily. ‘I told you I can’t do this!’
‘Shut up and give me your hand!’
Morag glared at her. Annie snatched her hand and pressed it down over her glowing talisman. Morag yelped as she felt what seemed like an electrical discharge travel up her arm and into her brain. Her mind was suddenly filled with images of swordplay – cut, thrust, parry, evade, attack, the gleam of swords curving through the air, recover, avoid, striking back.
‘Now draw your weapon’.
Morag unsheathed her sword and brought it down in a great deadly arc. She gripped it expertly with both hands around the hilt. Annie watched her practice some slashes and sweeps.
‘Tell me, what does it feel like?’ she asked.
‘It feels like its an extension of myself. Oh, Annie, this is so marvellous! I fell like I’ve been doing this for years! It’s like instinct!’
‘Well, congratulations! Tell that to the person you’re about to kill with those skills! I wish to bloody hell I hadn’t had to do that!’
But Annie was already striding off, towards the others grouped around a black thing on the ground, on the western side of the plateau. Morag had to run to catch her up.
‘What’s this about?’ Annie said shortly, after Morag had caught her up.
‘It ‘s one of those things that attacked Demos and Helios. Apparently, so Demos said when you weren’t there, one of the griffins came down, realised they were attacked, saw this one because he was wearing a black cloak, seized it and dropped it from a great height down onto the plateau here. That’s what Demos said as they were loading him into that bloody wagon!’
Morag stopped, breathless.
‘Why didn’t Demos tell us in the first place?’
‘Because he forgot’.
Annie groaned. ‘Morag, you’ve got a lot of work to do’.
Morag sighed. ‘I know, Annie. But he’s worth it’.
‘I’m sure he is. But let’s go and have a look at one of our enemies’.
They went over together and joined their friends around the black-garbed corpse.
Simon was just in the act of pulling off the black cloak that clothed it. ‘The unveiling’. He announced grandly. He pulled it off and immediately stepped back, coughing and retching. Everyone turned away from the terrible stench of putrefaction that arose from the corpse.
‘Ugh! It smells worse than my Dad’s cooking!’ exclaimed Indira in disgust.
Doing her best to ignore the smell, Annie bent down to examine it. It was full-bodied and large, well over six feet tall. Its skull, clean and white, resembled that of a large dog, with a long snout, beneath which were rows of sharp canine teeth. Its arms were abnormally long and muscular, reaching down almost to its knees. The legs ended in large cloven hooves, as she had already guessed. She shuddered at the hideousness of the thing. What flesh it had, adhered to the skeleton in long fetid rags, still with clumps of coarse black hair.
‘This thing has been dead for a long time, before it came here’. she said, slowly.
‘You mean, like a zombie, or something? It’s been raised from the dead?’ Indira cried excitedly.
‘Something like that, yes’. Annie said, looking at the corpse again. She was thinking of the old woman in the Wrist family that she had seen. Whoever else could raise daemons from the dead?
‘The bloody Wrist family again!’ she said out loud.
Ragimund looked bitterly at the daemon. ‘Belias! She called. The tall faery came over from the wagons where he had been supervising their loading. ‘Yes, my lady?’
‘Have your men throw this thing into the ravine over there, and burn it! I will not have it defile my land! Then take our wounded to the hospital in Rhuan. Then deliver the rest to the museum as I instructed in my message’.
The tall faery bobbed his head and set off. Ragimund turned away, but not before Annie had seen that her eyes were wet. She ran after her, and caught her arm.
‘Ragimund, what’s the matter?’ she cried.
Ragimund brushed her eyes with the back of her hand.
‘Snowdrop’. She said simply.
‘Snowdrop?’ Annie repeated, puzzled.
‘She was the little messenger bird I sent to Bedias. Those things caught her in the forest as she was flying low. They dashed her to the ground and broke her wing! I raised her, Annie, from when she was a small abandoned chick. She was all I had, then. You should have seen her, Annie when she made her first flight! She fluttered at first, and then she soared high into the sky! It was one of the best moments of my life! I was so proud of her! She was only a little drop of life, Annie, but I was so happy to have given her a chance to fly! But now she is dead, and I grieve for her!’
As she listened, Annie felt a deep, dark rage welling up inside her. A little drop of life, she thought, but so precious. It was the same phrase her brother had used about poor Annabelle, who had been so cruelly beaten and strangled over a hundred years ago. She looked at Ragimund, picturing her as a young girl, starved of love and affection herself, looking after the little bird.
‘What happened to poor Snowdrop?’ she asked.
‘She struggled on until she reached Rhuan, then she delivered her message and then she died. Imagine that, Annie, she struggled on all that time, with a broken wing, to deliver her message! That was why the wagons were so late! She could not deliver her message until late this afternoon, because she was so hurt!’
Ragimund broke down. She covered her face with her hands and finally wept. She finally recovered and said, ‘I am sorry, Annie. I have your two wounded warriors and now my little bird on my conscience. I should not have tarried so long at my uncle’s. I am truly sorry’.
‘No, it’s not your fault, Ragimund, it‘s ours. Those things were here because of us. I’ll explain later’.
Annie began to walk back to Morag’s Cave. Her mind was now made up. She now knew exactly what she had to do.
She found all the others in Morag’s Cave. She waited until Ragimund had joined them. Ragimund wasted no time, but simply said ‘Why were those things here in my land?’ looking at them all, accusingly.
‘I’ll tell you’. Annie said. ‘They came after us. We’re the ones they want. They’re the servants, or minions, if you wish to put it that way, of the Wrist family, who are our sworn enemies! They’ve tried to kill us before! I’ve had enough! They’ve come into this land and hurt our friends and loved ones! I’m not standing for that! This time I’m going to hunt them down and find them!’
She paused for breath.
‘You’re going to kill them, Annie, aren’t you?’ exclaimed Indira, in a mixture of horror and admiration.
I’ll do whatever is necessary to be rid of them! If it comes to it, yes, I will!’
There was a silence. Annie looked at her brother. ‘Are you with me, or not, Simon?’
Simon looked back at her. ‘I made a promise to you, Annie, and a promise to myself. What ever we have to do, we do it. Together’.
Annie smiled at her brother. At that moment, she felt she never loved him more. ‘Thank you, Simon’. she said, simply.
‘Besides that, if I let you loose on your own, you’ll only make a cock-up of it!’
Annie laughed. ‘I suppose I might!’ she admitted.
‘But why do these people hate you so much, Annie?’ asked Ragimund.
‘Because we’re in their way! They want to be Magi over all the known world!’
‘They shall not be. Faerys govern themselves, not others!’
‘Amen to that! I’m with you, Annie!’ cried Indira.
‘And I too!’ said Pei- Ying, rather more quietly.
‘And me!’ cried Mariko.
‘No!’ said Annie fiercely. ‘This is our fight, and I don’t want anybody else to get hurt! Simon and I are responsible, and we’ll do this on our own!’
‘You heard my sister’. Simon said softly. ‘It’s our fight’.
She looked at her brother. She felt really proud of him.
‘Wait a minute’, said Morag, unexpectedly. ‘you can’t do this! You just can’t go out and murder people! You can’t just take the law in your own hands. It’s immoral!’
Annie turned on her, furiously.
‘The hell with your law and your morality, Morag! Don’t you realise that we’ve been fighting a battle over the last three years of our lives! This isn’t a game, Morag! We’re fighting for our lives! And those around us! It’s not about about justice or revenge any more, it’s survival! It’s about war, Morag, and your rules don’t apply!’
‘So you think that killing is justifiable, is that right?’
Listen to me, Morag! I may be only seventeen years old but I’m having to make life and death decisions! Decisions I don’t like! That’s how old I am, Morag! They murdered your mother! Don’t you realise that! They’re evil, Morag! I’m just trying to protect you, and everybody else, that’s all!’
Morag said nothing further, but instead turned and sat down on her bed and held her head in her hands, staring down miserably at the floor. Annie went over, and sat down beside her. ‘I’m sorry if I was cruel to you, Morag’. She finally said.
‘Oh, it’s all right. I’m used to being excluded and humiliated, not to mention insulted as well’.
‘Don’t say that, Morag! You know that we all love you dearly! What is it that’s really worrying you?’
‘You. I’m afraid, Annie’.
‘Why? What are you afraid of?’
Morag wiped her eyes. ‘I’m afraid that if you start this vendetta against those murdering bastards, then you’ll end up getting yourselves killed. And I couldn’t bear that, Annie! I don’t want to lose you, or Simon. I couldn’t bear it! You’re all I’ve got, Annie! I know I’m being selfish, but I am really afraid for you! I can’t help it!’
‘Oh, Morag!’ Annie said gently. ‘We’ll be careful, I promise you’. She spoke with a confidence that she didn’t really feel. ‘Come here’.
She cradled Morag’s head against her own, and affectionately stroked her long, dark hair. ‘Don’t be afraid, we’ll be careful’. They sat together, the younger girl comforting the elder, not knowing what tomorrow might bring.
Frank Jackson – 1/08/2012 Word count - 11170