DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Annie and Simon recount their near escape from the bomb that nearly killed them, and together they all recover from the shock. Meanwhile, romantic feelings emerge from the debris.
Annie began to stir in her bed and sat up in a panic. She did not know where she was. The figure in the chair beside her also began to stir and as she rose up Annie recognised her. ‘Morag!’ she cried in joy, and held out her arms to her, in the same way that a small child, waking up from a nightmare, held out her arms to her mother to be comforted. Then she sat up suddenly and looked around wildly. ‘Where’s Simon! Where’s my brother?’ She cried.
‘ It’s all right, Annie. He’s in bed next to you. You’re in the faery hospital’.
‘Hospital? How did we get here?’
‘We had to dig you out of the rubble of that hostel last night. Don’t try to sit up, Annie. You’re badly bruised’.
‘I know, I feel it’. She winced as she lay back on the bed.
In the next bed, Simon began to stir. He opened his eyes and looked up. He saw Ragimund’s anxious face. ‘Ragimund!’ he cried out joyously, and pulled her down in a tight embrace. He let her go after a few moments, and sat up suddenly. ‘Where’s my sister?’ he cried frantically. ‘Where’s Annie?’
‘Here, you moron, Next to you. Glad you remembered me’.
‘Annie, are you all right?’
‘No! I ache all over!’
‘Me too! I feel like I’ve been through a meat-grinder backwards!’
‘Simon’. she looked over to him appealingly.
She reached out her hand across from her bed. Her brother reached out across too, and together they clasped hands, exactly as they had done after the explosion.
Morag smiled. She saw the love and loyalty between brother and sister in that simple gesture.
‘But what happened? Before the explosion, I mean’.
‘Look, Morag, I don’t mean to be rude, but could you and Ragimund leave us alone for a few minutes? We have some things we’d like to discuss. Alone’.
Ragimund rose up with dignity. ‘Come, Morag, we must go to eat and drink in the hospital cantina downstairs’.
‘Wait a moment, Ragimund’. He pulled her down by her hand and whispered in her ear. She nodded and then leant down and whispered in his ear. They kissed each other gently.
‘What was that all about?’ Annie asked, crossly, as Morag and Ragimund left through the door.
‘Nothing. I was only reassuring her that we’ll tell her everything that happened, and she told me that Morag is now her faery-sister’.
‘What! That’s wonderful’. Annie exclaimed in delight. ‘But what are we going to tell Morag?’
‘The truth, at least as we heard. She’s a cop, Annie. She’s tough enough’.
‘Not where her mother’s concerned. Oh, Simon what are we going to say?’
‘I told you, tell her the truth. There’s nothing else we can do’.
‘I suppose so’.
There was a sharp tap on the bedroom door. It opened and Indira’s head appeared. ‘It’s all right! she called back behind her. ‘The Babes in the Wood are awake!’
She came in, followed by Pei-Ying and Mariko. Annie cried out in delight to see them. They hugged each other.
‘You two do look a mess’. observed Indira critically, as she looked at their bruised faces.
‘Thanks, we love you too’. said Simon dryly.
‘I didn’t mean it like that, I’m really thankful that you weren’t more badly hurt. Are you going to tell us what happened? I’m dying to know how that whole building exploded’.
‘Later, when Morag and Ragimund get back. You see, it affects them as well’.
A few minutes later, Morag and Ragimund returned after their late breakfast and everybody gathered round expectantly. Annie cast a helpless glance at her brother, who merely shrugged.
‘Right then, this is what happened’. Annie said at last.
They reached the front door of the hostel. Simon peered in, cautiously. ‘There’s no-one around’. They crept in cautiously. The hall seemed deserted. It was dimly lit with only a few flickering oil lamps mounted on sconces on the walls. They crept slowly up the stairs that the sprite had told them about. One landing, two landings, finally the third and last landing. They saw at last the large wooden door on their right. ‘Morag’s sprite was right!’ Annie whispered. ‘What do we do now?’
‘We wait and watch. And then we go in suddenly. We catch them by surprise’.
Annie nodded. They flattened themselves each side of the door, with their swords drawn. They could hear raised voices inside, though they could not tell what was being said. Simon raised three fingers then dropped them one by one. As he dropped the last finger, he kicked the door open, and they sprang in together, to confront whatever enemy they could find.
The four figures around the narrow table in the centre of the room looked up with surprise.
‘Well, well, we have visitors!’ exclaimed the man with the red beard. Annie was surprised. She had heard that voice before. But where?
‘These brats can watch the execution. Then they will see what we do with treacherous bitches!’ The old crone in the middle said. Her voice was dull and rasping, like a rusty hinge. Before they could stop her, she picked up the revolver that lay on the table in front of her, and fired it directly at the seated figure of Venoma opposite. The shot sounded loud in the sudden silence of the night.
Veoma’s head fell forward, as if she was contemplating the bloody hole in her chest. Annie’s temper finally broke.
‘You bloody old woman!’ she screamed. Her sword whirled around in a horizontal arc, slicing through the extended tendons of the old woman’s neck. A great gout of blood rose up, spattering the table and Annie’s tunic. Her head wobbled on her body for a few seconds, then fell off and bounced on the table, finally coming to rest close to the near edge. Her face was still distorted with malevolence.Simon suddenly noticed that the brother’s gun was levelled at his sister, and he was about to pull the trigger. ‘No, you don’t!’ he shouted, whipping his sword around in a reverse arc. It bit deep into the man’s neck, with another great gout of blood. The head rolled across to join the other. Both gazed at then in death, the features still contorted in expressions of hate and fury. Annie, oddly enough, did not feel any remorse or guilt, about killing them. She just felt relief at having rid the world of two entirely wicked individuals. The callousness and brutality of the execution she had just been forced to witness, rendered her shocked and speechless. As she looked at the two heads, with their contorted evil expressions, she was startled by the sound of applause. Someone was clapping furiously. She looked around.
‘Bravo, bravo! A consummate execution! I couldn’t have
Annie looked at Doctor Wrist coldly. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that three deaths in one evening would have been so funny’.
‘No? Alas, Annie, you are cursed with moral scruples and a conscience, unlike me’.
‘That I can well believe. Who are you, really, Doctor Wrist? That’s not your real name’.
‘Don’t you recognise me, Annie? Look now’. He pulled off his grey ponytail and his red beard, and began to peel off his thick eyebrows as well. They stared at him as he gradually transformed himself into who he really was.
‘Detective Inspector Melrose, to be precise. You may recall, Annie, that we have met before’.
‘Yes’. Annie remembered. It was the time that she and her brother had had a terrible car crash in Caliban, not through their own fault. It was also the first time that they had met Morag, when she was still in uniform.
‘By the way, how is that bastard slut of mine?’ Melrose said as if he was reading her thoughts. It took her a full second before she registered what he had just said.
‘You heard. She’s my illegimate slut! From that whore of that mother of hers!’
Annie was speechless with fury. Simon saw her and hurried over. ‘Annie!’ he cried. He was worried about what she might do. Melrose merely smiled.
‘He raped her, Simon! This bastard raped Morag’s mother!’
‘What! You scumbag! I’m going to kill you!’
He poised his sword at Melrose’s throat. ‘Wait! Don’t you want to look in the box, first!’ Melrose cried.
‘Watch him, Annie’.
‘Oh, I will do, don’t worry’.
Simon darted to the box, threw off the lid, and peered inside. He gave a sharp cry of dismay.
‘What is it, Simon?’
‘You’d better come and look for yourself. I’ll take over guard duty’.
She crossed over to the box and looked inside. She, too, gave a cry of dismay. The box was tightly packed with tubes, grey-brown in colour, all connected by a maze of little red wires to a small black box. which in turn was connected by larger wires to an old-fashioned alarm-clock, which, even as she looked at it , began ticking loudly and ominously in the silence. Its hands stood at a quarter to eleven.
‘I know that! What do we do?’
Melrose sat back in his chair nonchalantly, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his expensive-looking black overcoat. Beneath it he wore a neat grey suit, with a matching waistcoat, and a striped regimental tie. He looked like a prosperous businessman about to go out to dinner at his club. To Annie, he represented the epitome of evil. She hated him, more than anything else.
‘Just like Goya, or perhaps Edgar Allan Poe’ She thought to herself. Then she roused herself.
‘Simon!’ she called desperately.’Go through the back door, and see if you can get out at least some of the people from here’.
Simon didn’t say anything. He just ran through the back door, leaving Annie standing over Melrose with the tip of her sword inches from his face. He looked at her with that infuriatingly half-smile on his face.
‘What now, Annie?’ he asked, amusedly.
‘You’re going to pay for your sins’. She replied, evenly.
‘Look around you’. She indicated the bloody table with her hand. ‘Not to mention killing and injuring us and our friends. What for, Melrose? Did we get in your way of becoming a magi? If so, that’s too bad’.
Melrose sprang to his feet, his face red and mottled with rage. ‘ A magi! I am the Magi! That is my right! I will not allow anybody to stand in my way! It is my birthright!’
Annie looked at him. ‘You’re mad, Melrose. Nothing is worth all the blood and anguish you’ve caused. You’re no more a magi than I am. You’re deluded’.
Melrose recovered himself with an effort.
‘So, what now, Annie?’
‘You’re staying here, until my brother comes back!’
‘No, I’m not. You have whatever time that clock gives you. I am leaving now, Annie. Don’t forget, there are thirty-two other people in this building, including women and young children. I’m sure that you don’t want to risk their lives, given your conscientious restraints. I do not have any, thank goodness. That bomb, as you call it, will not detonate until I am well gone from here. Do we understand each other, Annie!’
She was furious. She had never felt so helpless in all her life. Melrose had made it clear that unless she allowed him to escape, innocent people would die. She could not allow that.
‘Get out of here! You know I can’t stop you!’
Melrose rose from his seat. ‘I am going now, Annie’.
‘Good! Go to hell, where you belong!’
Annie looked after him, still in his black overcoat, his hands still in its pockets.
‘Believe me, Melrose, the next time we meet, I swear I will kill you’.
‘Of course you will. If there is a next time, which I doubt’.
‘There will be!’ Annie snapped.
Melrose shrugged, his back towards her, then he walked out of the door they had burst in.
Annie felt like crying. So close, to meeting and making sure of their enemy. But he had escaped. She leant her elbows on the table, heedless of the congealed blood, and put her face in her hands. Then she thought of something else.
She walked across to Venoma’ dead body, or so she imagined. Venoma raised her head, as she approached. She was not dead yet. ‘Come to gloat, have you, kitten?’
She whispered, her voice hoarse yet still threatening.
‘Not to you, you bitch! No, I want to speak to Isabelle’. she replied firmly. Venoma’s green eyes gradually turned to dark brown. ‘Annie‘ Isabelle whispered. ’Please look after Lucia for me’’
‘Where is she?’
‘In our hidey-hole in Hanover Crescent. Please, Annie!’
With that, she died, and Venoma with her. Annie stood, looking down at her, and then went back to the table and held her head in her hands again.
Simon was in a long corridor with doors on each side. ‘Is there anyone here?’ he cried desperately. A shadow appeared on the far wall, at the end. It was a faery, semi-crouched in fighting mode. He sheathed his sword to show he meant no harm, and hailed her. ‘I’m Simon, and I need your help!’
‘My name is Miranda, and what help do you need?’ She came closer now. Her sword was now sheathed. But she still looked suspicious. ‘ I recognise you, now! You are the consort of the lady Ragimund!’
‘ Yes I am, and I need your help, Miranda’
‘I need to get all of the guests here out of this building as soon as possible! I have the lady Ragimund’ s authority for this. There is an explosive device through that door there’, he gestured behind him, ‘which will destroy this building and everyone in it. We must get them out as soon as we can!’
‘I believe you, Simon. You are the consort of the lady Ragimund and a warrior. Why should I not believe you?’
Simon shook his head. He would never understand faerys.
‘They are all on this corridor’.
He looked around. The corridor was half-lit with small enclosed lanterns that cast flickering shadows on the walls.
‘Then, let’s wake them up!’
She took the right-hand side of the corridor, he took the left. Together, they pounded on the doors with the pommels of their swords, until the corridor was filled with milling sleepy figures, most of them still in their nightgowns. Many were still bewildered, unaware of why they had been roused from their beds.
Simon decided to take charge.He held both his arms up. ‘Please listen to me! Your lives are in danger. You must leave the building now! Just go as you are! There is very little time left!’ The women huddled the children against them as he spoke. ‘Listen to me! Follow that faery’, He pointed towards Miranda. ‘She will take you to safety’. He felt guilty at putting so much responsibility on her but he saw her nod. ‘Follow me!’ she shouted. ‘I will take you to somewhere safe!’ They all dutifully followed her down the back stairs, apart from one large fat man clad in a luxurious striped dressing-gown, who stood by Simon. ‘My name is Zanzibar’ he said by way of introduction. ‘If what you say is true, we have much to thank you for. If you ever need me, just mention my name’.
Simon was not to recognise the importance of that name until later. He decided to trust Miranda. He wanted to see his sister again and rushed back through the door into the previous room. ‘Annie! he shouted and then stopped as he saw her still sitting at the long, narrow table in the centre of the room. He looked around. ’Where is he?’ he demanded.
‘Gone. I had to let him go, Simon. I couldn’t risk those peoples’ lives!’
‘It’s all right, I understand, Annie’. He cradled her head against him and stroked her hair. She put her arms around him. It was one of those rare moments that brother and sister expressed their love and affection for each other.
‘I’m sorry, Simon’.
‘There’s nothing to be sorry about, Annie. We were so close, but’s that’s it. It’s not your fault’.
He looked over to the bomb, and to the ominously ticking clock. ‘Annie!’ he cried frantically. ‘We’ve got to get out now! That thing is going to blow up any second!’ He pulled her to her feet. ‘Come on!’
‘Wait a moment! I have to do something!’ She ran back to Isabelle’s dead body, still lying in the chair by the side of the table. She reached out her hand and closed the eyelids over the glazed brown eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Isabelle’, She muttered. How many more times will I have to do this before all this is over, she thought to herself.
‘Come on, Annie!’ her brother cried frantically from the doorway. He seized her hand as she ran towards him and dragged her down the stairs. They clattered down together, heedless of the noise. But there seemed to be nobody around to hear them. Simon pulled the great wooden door of the front entrance open and they ran outside. They had got barely ten yards from the door when the building erupted.
They felt the blast before they heard the explosion. It swept them off their feet, and dropped them on their knees about five yards on. They instinctively flattened themselves on the ground as they heard the explosion behind them. The suction from the blast ripped their swords away, flying over and over, back into the burning building, and tore their clothes to shreds even as they lay. Annie clung on to her talisman for dear life.
‘Annie, look!’ She looked up. The front wall was about to descend on them. She grabbed her brother’s hand, and spoke to her glowing talisman only inches from her face. ‘Please protect us both, talisman. Please’. Then the wall descended and all was blackness. Only the pittering of loose bricks and rubble disturbed the stillness.
‘And that’s when we found you’ exclaimed Indira jubilantly, ‘Or rather Morag did. What’s wrong, Morag?’ she asked suddenly. Morag was sitting on the side of Annie’s bed, her head in her hand. Tears hung from her fingers. She was sobbing loudly. ‘My mother was not a whore!’ she gulped.
‘We know she wasn’t!’ Annie said, dismayed by Morag’s obvious distress. ‘Look, Morag, Demos and Helios will be here shortly. They’ll cheer you up’. It was the wrong thing to say. Morag sprang up and wildly looked around.
‘Oh, God, no! I don’t want Demos to see me like this! Is there somewhere I can go? I just want to be on my own for a while’.
Annie looked appealingly at Indira, who immediately came to the rescue. ‘Come with me, Morag’, she said kindly, ‘I’ll sort you out’.
She led Morag out, still sobbing into the corridor, outside, and accosted a passing faery nurse. ‘Can you find somewhere my friend can be on her own for a while? She’s just had some bad news’.
The nurse looked at Morag sympathetically. ‘There is an empty bedroom at the end of the corridor’, she said, ‘if that will do’.
‘That would do nicely’. Indira said. She suddenly put her arm around Morag’s shoulders. ‘Come on, love’. She added, again kindly. They followed the faery nurse down the corridor. She threw upon a door. Indira gave her a gentle push into the small room. ‘Cry it out, Morag. You’ll feel better for it’. Morag turned back and gave her a tearful smile. ‘Thank you, Indira’.
‘All part of the service. If you need me, I’ll be sitting outside’. She indicated one of the benches in the corridor. She closed the door quietly. Morag sat down on the side of the small bed in the little whitewashed room and stared out of the window. She could see boats scudding on the lake outside under a deep blue sky, mirrored in the water. It seemed like an image, that she was not part of. She burst into tears, and cried and cried, not caring about the tears that splashed onto her breeches, that left dark marks.
Indira looked up as she saw two other people approaching her. It was Pei-Ying and Mariko. ‘How is she?’ Mariko asked anxiously.
‘Well, she probably feels unwanted and unloved at this moment, which she isn’t. She needs to cry it out and come to terms with it on her own’.
‘But she is crying! I can hear her!’
‘Let her cry, she needs to get it out of her system. Herself!’
‘We must go and comfort her!’
Indira placed her arm firmly across the doorway. ‘Go and sit down, you silly little sod. You can’t do anything at the moment’.
Mariko sat down, her face rebellious.
‘Mariko, she’s one of us even if she is a plod. I don’t care whether she’s Melrose’s illegimate daughter! She can’t help that! As far as I’m concerned she’s one of us! She’s got to get through it herself!’
‘Indira is right, Mariko’. said Pei-Ying.
Just at that moment, Morag opened the door and stepped out. She glared at them. ‘What’s this? A guard of honour?’
‘No, Morag, we were concerned about you. We care for you’. Mariko said sadly.
Morag’s face softened. ‘I know. But I feel bloody angry now! About that bastard Melrose! He raped my mother! And I’m the result! What do you think I feel!’
They said no more. Then Morag went down the corridor, turned the door-handle and went in. The first person she saw, to her delight, was the tall figure of Demos.
He turned and opened his arms towards her. She felt a sudden surge of love and affection, and clung to him.
‘Morag!’ Annie held out her arms to her. But instead of hugging her, Annie pulled her down by her hands, so that she was forced to look into Annie’s large dark eyes. ‘Look at me, Morag. ‘You’re our sister. We love you very much’.
‘He’s no father of mine! The only parent I had was my mother!’ But I’m not going back to the police force! Not with him there!
Morag continued, bitterly.
‘That’s right, Annie. He’s stitched me up. All that extra time off he gave me! All he has to do is claim that I was blackmailing him because I knew he was my father, which I didn’t. It’s nepotism, Annie, which in the police force amounts to corruption! He can have me dismissed at any time! And he in turn can blackmail me! I’m not going back to that! I’ll just have to resign! Oh, Annie, what am I going to do? ‘
Annie knew by now that Melrose was quite capable of doing just that. She hugged her new sister to her, miserably.
‘Wait! Ragimund and I have an idea!’ Simon cried. ‘Haven’t we, Ragimund?’
‘We have. Morag, why should you not come here and work for us? We are hard-pressed to stop smuggling into our land’.
Morag looked at her, wide-eyed. ‘You mean, move to Hyperborea once and for all, and work here?’
‘Yes, I can arrange accommodation and a salary for you. You would be most welcome here’.
‘Think of it, Morag. You’ll still be a police officer, only here in Hyperborea, and you’ll make new friends’. Simon put in.
‘I, I don’t know. I need to think about it’. She extended her hand towards Demos. ‘Will you walk with me, Demos? Outside, I mean. Just for a little while’. She asked, shyly.
‘Of course, Morag. I should be glad to’.
He reached out, took her by the hand, and gently pulled her to her feet. ‘Come, let us walk around the island’.
Annie looked after them anxiously as they left.
‘Mariko, will she be all right, if she came here to Hyperborea?’
‘She will not be lonely, but she would miss her friends as I did! Oh, Annie, you did not know how much my heart broke as I saw you all disappear over the hill! ‘
‘Mariko, it broke my heart as well, having to leave you behind like that. Please believe me’.
‘I do. Annie, Morag will be happy here. It is a wonderful land’. Mariko said, sincerely. ‘Ragimund and the other faerys have been very good to me, and I know they will be the same to Morag. But let her make her own choice’.
Morag and Demos walked arm in arm to the water’s edge. They looked down into the transparent depths, seeing the small silver fish gliding among the water-rushes down below.
‘Morag, I have something to tell you’. Demos said finally.
‘I love you, Morag’.
Morag was taken by surprise. ‘Who? Me? Oh!’
‘I was plucking up my courage and waiting for the right opportunity’. Demos explained. ‘Do I have your permission to kiss you now?’
Morag smiled at him. ‘Yes, you do. In fact, I would be greatly disappointed if you didn’t. From now on you can kiss me whenever you like. You see, Demos, I think I’ve fallen in love with you as well’.
They stood on the water’s edge, entwined in a passionate embrace.
‘They’re snogging!’ Indra cried excitedly. ‘Down by the water! Oooh, how romantic!’
‘Come away from that window, Indira’. Said Annie, irritably. ‘Give them some privacy’.
‘Now they’re coming up the steps, clinging on to each other. It looks like they’re really in love’. Indira said, dreamily. She was an incurable romantic, and an avid reader of love romances. She enjoyed things like this, much to the disgust of the others. But she had caught the scent of heady love and was not to be moved from her place at the window.
They all looked up as Demos and Morag came back in. Annie was delighted to see that both looked flushed and radiant.
‘Have you come to any decision yet, Morag?’ she asked, half-dreading the answer.
‘Yes. Ragimund, I would like to come here and work as a policewoman for you, if you’ll have me’.
‘I would be delighted, Morag’.
There was applause and cheers all round the room.
Morag looked up at Helios, who had just entered the room, and was standing by Annie, stroking her face affectionately.
‘Helios, what kind of smuggling will I be looking at?’
‘There are several kinds. One is the theft and selling illegally of antiques and objects of art that are brought to our ports’.
‘Including those stolen from archaeological sites!’ Demos snapped angrily.
‘I see. What else?’ said Morag.
‘Then there are drugs. The main one is opiate of poppy’.
‘Opium, as we call it. Anything else?’
‘Then there are the serious crimes’.
‘For which the death penalty is inflicted’. Added Ragimund.
There was a silence. They had forgotten how draconian faery laws were. Faerys abhorred torture, nor did they have any prisons. But they were quick to use the death penalty, especially for heinous crimes. It was the faery law.
‘What are the serious crimes?’ Morag asked at last.
‘Well, murder, for one. There are a lot of knife fights between sailors in the port of Druard.But two of the most serious crimes are that of the import of you would call firearms which we do not allow in Hyperborea, and the second is that of slaves’.
‘What do you mean by slaves?’
‘I mean the importation of young girls, often, by your human standards as young as twelve years old, usually for sexual purposes. It is a trade amongst traders in Druard’.
‘What! ‘ said Annie, scandalised.
Morag was furious. She hated this trade in people above all and it was all she could bear.
‘Right,that’s it! I’m going to stop this once and for all! If I’m going to have people committed to death, I want to make sure that they are guilty! Ragimund, I need your permission to start a fingerprinting programme’.
‘What is that?’
For answer, Morag got up and sat beside her. ‘Look at the tips of your fingers, Ragimund. See all the whorls and patterns? They are unique to every person. What I want to do is to fingerprint every suspect so that we can build an archive’.
‘What does that entail?’ Ragimund asked suspiciously.
‘Nothing, apart from ink, brushes and powder’. Morag knew well Ragimund’s hostility towards machines and technology. She decided to pursue her advantage. ‘You see, what we can then do, is take fingerprints at the scene of the crime, make a print of them and bring them back to compare with our records. I’m not saying it will prove guilt but it will prove who was present there. It will make confessions from suspects easier’.
‘I see the logic of your argument, Morag, so will you take on this challenge?’
‘Yes, I will, Ragimund. It’s about time I did something useful for a change’.
‘Then I hereby appoint you, Morag, a marshal of the country of Hyperborea, to uphold it’s laws’.
‘I do too’. cried Helios in excitement. ‘We have need of you, Morag. You have second sight and can see into the past!’
‘I have a sprite too’.
‘Even better!’ cried Helios. ‘We shall be colleagues together!’
Morag looked at Annie. ‘Is that all right with you, Annie?’ She asked.
‘Perfectly. So long as you two don’t have an affair behind my back’.
‘Annie!’ Morag cried angrily. Helios looked scandalised. Annie grinned at them both. ‘Just teasing’. She said.
‘There is one other matter that I need to discuss with you, Ragimund. Who would I be responsible to?’
‘What about the rest of the country?’
Ragimund let out a strangled sigh.
‘You would be responsible to my sisters’. She forced the word out painfully.
Morag chose her words carefully, because she knew she was on dangerous ground.
‘But if I’ m to do my job properly I need authorisation from your sisters in their domains, so that we can communicate with each other over the whole of Hyperborea. I have a responsibility to myself as a police officer to do the best I can. Could you speak to them on my behalf?’
Ragimund groaned. ‘I was afraid you might ask that. Very well. But only on this matter!’
‘Thank you, Ragimund’.
‘But now Helios and I must leave to discuss your accommodation. Please excuse us’.
Morag waited until the door had closed behind them, before she said, rather sadly, ‘I hope I haven’t offended her’.
‘No, I don’t think so. What’s she really pissed off about is the prospect of having to talk to her sisters. But without them, she’s got no family, which is really important to faerys. I think she’s really lonely’.
‘I hope you’re not going to be lonely, Morag’. Annie said, equally sadly.
‘I haven’t got anyone to be lonely about!’
‘Yes, you have. You’ve got us’. Indira suddenly said. ‘And you’ve got your beau, Demos’.
Morag smiled. ‘Yes, I have’. She went across to Demos and gave him a hug.
‘And me!’ Mariko cried out, from her chair in the corner of the room. ‘I can do the archives for you, for the fingerprinting, I mean, if you want me to!’
‘That would be wonderful, Mariko, if Demos can spare you’. Morag said, looking meaningfully at him.
‘Of course, There is nothing to do in archaeology until the scrolls we brought back are deciphered, thanks to Morag’.
‘Thank you, Mariko, and thank you, Demos’, she smiled at him affectionately. ‘I’ll need all the help I can get, with no computers, or DNA analysis. Just back to basic detective work. Still, that suits me. Yes, Mariko, you can be head of my new Fingerprint Division, if it will ever come about’.
‘Oh, thank you, Morag! I promise I’ll do my best’.
Morag and Demos, together with Mariko, left to discuss their plans.
‘Annie, do you realise that it’s nearly Christmas back home, and we’ve both missed our birthdays!’ said Simon, looking at his watch.
‘What!’ cried Annie. ‘No, it can’t be!’ She looked at her own watch. ‘Oh, hell, yes it is! Mum’ll be having kittens!’
‘No, she won’t. Ragimund sent her a message through the Watchers to say that we’ve been unavoidably detained’.
‘Since we got pulled out of the ruins. Mum knows’.
‘Thank goodness for that, at least. Simon, do you think Morag’s going to be all right? Here in Hyperborea, I mean. I know she’s older than us, and a trained police officer, but she seems, you know, more insecure and vulnerable than us’.
‘That’s because she is. I mean. she’s not had much comfort over the last few years. Being kidnapped, and nearly murdered in her own home, and being beaten up by you into the bargain, in a fit of bloodlust! No wonder she’s insecure and vulnerable. We haven’t exactly helped, have we?’
He spoke so bitterly and savagely that Annie was reduced to tears. She buried her head into the pillow. After a short while she raised her head again.
‘Simon, I want to make her happy again. I really do. I want you to help me. Please, Simon. It’s Morag we’re talking about, not us. Please, Simon. Do you want me to go on my knees or something?’
The others had departed, soon after Ragimund and Helios. This was between brother and sister.
Simon smiled down at her, affectionately, sitting on the side of her bed. ‘Well, dear sister, there’s not much we can do. You can’t back off from what you did. I’m sure Morag understands’.
‘I just want her to be happy’. Annie said miserably. ‘She’s our sister’.
‘Well, that’s in her hands. All we can do is give her all the support and love that we can, for her new career and life’.
‘You’re right’ Annie said, forlornly. ‘That’s what we’ll do then’.
A few days later
She had left the phone off the hook a few days ago, and had forgotten to replace it. Cursing herself, she replaced the receiver, and wondered whether to phone them. Just then, the main door intercom buzzer rang. She answered it. ‘Morag Wren’ she said.
‘Bloody hell, Morag open the damn door! It’s brass monkeys out here!’ came the reply. ‘Simon!’ she cried in delight, and pressed the release button. She heard them galloping up the stairs, and then her doorbell rang. She unlocked it and Annie and Simon tumbled in.
‘Morag, where have you been?’ Annie gasped, as soon as she had caught her breath. ‘We’ve been so worried about you!’
‘I’ve just been packing and I forgot to replace the phone’.
‘Well, you’re coming with us. It’s our Christmas dinner and you’re the guest of honour’.
‘Yes, you. You’re starting a new life, Morag’.
‘Come on, Morag get a move on. All the faerys are there as well, including Demos’.
‘What! Demos is there! Oh, wait a moment while I go and change’.
‘Wow! Transformed into a vision of loveliness! Just like that!’ Simon exclaimed in awe. ‘Off the shoulder, too’. Morag’s left shoulder was bare, because of the wide neckline of her embroidered white top.
‘You look really beautiful, Morag. Oh, and you’re wearing some wonderful perfume, as well!’ Annie cried.
‘Well, will I do?’ asked Morag, nervously.
‘Of course, you will, Morag. You look beautiful! But, come on, otherwise Mum will be having another set of kittens by now’.
‘Let’s get going then. I’ll drive’. She quickly pulled on her leather bomber jacket over her top, and followed them downstairs.
When they were driving, carefully because it was Christmas Eve, Annie asked a question. ‘ Are you frightened of going to Hyberborea, Morag?’
Morag pulled up outside their house and parked neatly.
‘No, Annie. I’m afraid of failing. Of not doing my job properly. I want to be able to tell people that I can do it. I want to be able to tell then that I can deal with smugglers, that I’m a reliable police officer. In short, I’m suffering a crisis of confidence’.
She sank her head on the steering wheel and began to cry soundlessly. Annie leant over from the back seat and stroked her back affectionately. ‘Is this really a crisis of confidence, Morag, or is it that you’re just lonely?’ she asked gently.
‘You haven’t, but, Morag, what’s really troubling you?’
‘l’m frightened of letting go of this world. It’s all I know. I’ve been brought up here. I don’t really know Hyperborea, though I’m half-faery. I’m really frightened, Annie. I wish I knew that I was up to the job’.
‘You are, Morag, because you’ve got the guts to do your job, believe me. Everyone is supporting you, everyone. You’ll see, when we go in. Trust me, Morag, everyone is there for you. Everyone’.
‘That’s the trouble. Everybody’s expecting so much of me. I’m just not sure I can come up with the goods, that’s all’.
‘You will and you can, Morag. I trust you’.
‘But can I trust myself, Annie?’
‘Yes, because you have belief in yourself. Trust your instincts, Morag. You can do this’.
‘I hope you’re right’.
‘I know I’m right, Morag. You’ll see when we get inside’.
Christine, their mother, opened the door in response to the doorbell. ‘The mystery guest has arrived at last!’ she cried. ‘It’s good to see you, Morag! Have you packed yet? I’m sure you have! Everyone will be pleased to see you! The turkey’s just ready, so you’ve come just in time !’
‘I’m sorry I’m late, Christine. It was just that I was packing and…’
‘No excuses! Your’re here, now, Morag, so that’s the main thing. Now go into the kitchen, where the others are all waiting for you, including your Demos! Now get in there, all three of you, while I finish off here!’
‘You’ll have to excuse Mum. She always gets frazzled at this time of year’. Remarked Annie.
‘I’m not surprised, given the extra guests she’s got’.
She was greeted by a blast of heat as she walked into the kitchen. The Aga was going at full tilt. A spiral of steam rising by the side told her that Sniffer was in his usual place, on the floor.
There were already several people sitting around the large kitchen table. No candles had been lit so far, so the room was in shadow. At the far end, blocking out the thin light from the kitchen window, sat the huge bulk of Sister Teresa, the Jamaican nun, and former woman wrestler.
‘I understand that you leaving us, chile, to be police officer in Hyperborea’. Her voice was very sonorous, as if it was coming from deep inside her. Morag was never sure that when Sister Teresa relapsed into her native patois, she was not secretly laughing at her. But the large nun shook her head. ‘I not laughing at you, chile, and I not preaching at you. That is not my way. But always remember, Morag, He who lives up there, he will look out for you’, and pointed up.
‘I hope so, Sister, but I’m afraid I’m not very religious’.
‘It does not matter, chile. You still one of His chillun. And you can have my prayers as a bonus’.
‘Thank you, Sister Teresa, you give me a lot of comfort and strength’.
‘Remember, all His chillun got wings. And you can fly high, Morag. You can fly higher than anybody. Always remember that’.
Morag would always remember Sister Teresa’s formidable but kindly advice in the years to come. Already, she felt more relaxed and confident. At least, until she realised, that in the light of the large glowing candles Simon had just lit, and placed on the table, throwing every figure into silhouette, Ragimund and Helios were sitting on the same bench. She wondered, uneasily, if they had overheard her conversation with Sister Teresa. But Ragimund smiled at her warmly, and leant forward, holding out something in her hand. ‘I have brought you your badge of office, Morag’. She looked at the small blue badge of a dolphin, enamelled in bright blue leaping gracefully from a turquoise sea, that lay in Ragimund’s palm. ‘Is that it?’ she asked, rather stupidly. ‘Yes, with this you have the power of arrest, confiscate cargoes, and impound ships if necessary. It is recognised throughout Hyperborea’.
‘Very well’. Morag took a deep breath. She knew that once she had accepted the little badge, there was no going back. But she had made up her mind. She picked it up, and fastened it to her tunic.
‘You are now a marshal of Hyperborea, Morag!’ Ragimund said proudly.
‘Where’s my beat going to be?’ asked Morag, practically.
‘In the port of Druan, where I am based’. Replied Helios. ‘In fact, our offices are next to each other, in the marshals’ building, so that we can communicate more easily. Your apartment opens off from your office, behind it, just like mine’.
‘So I’ll be living on top of my job’.
Ragimund glared at her. ‘Is that a problem, Faery-sister?’
‘No, not at all. I wasn’t being disrespectful. Only it’s all rather new to me’.
Ragimund’s face softened. ‘I have spoken to my sisters at your request’, she replied, ‘and all is well. They will recognise your authority, and send their best wishes’.
Morag suddenly realised the reason for Ragimund’s flash of irritability. ‘I’m sorry, Ragimund. I understand that it must have been difficult for you to have to talk to your sisters. I’m really grateful to you’.
‘It was difficult. But I was willing to make the sacrifice for my faery-sister’. She smiled at Morag. They were interrupted by a cry from Christine. ‘Bring out the turkey, John!’ to her husband. He struggled manfully over to the Aga, and opened the oven door, releasing a great whoosh of heat, and then staggered back to the head of the table, bearing the great brown turkey, still sizzling.
‘What is that?’ exclaimed Ragimund, puzzled.
‘It’s the Christmas turkey. We always eat it at this time of year. Don’t worry. It’s just like a giant chicken, only tastier’. Simon had managed to inveigle himself on the bench next to her. Annie had to sit herself on the end of the bench, next to Helios.
‘What is Christmas?’ asked Ragimund.
‘Well, it’s a religious festival to mark the birthday of one our great religious leaders’, Annie replied. ‘Except that Mum treats it as an occasion for gathering friends and family together at the same time’.
‘We have no such festivals in our land, but having occasions to gather friends and family together is highly commendable’.
Morag looked around the room and dismally wondered whether this would be her last Christmas dinner.
‘Morag’. Ragimund leant forward again. ‘I have arranged for a wagon to come and collect your belongings, and you, the day after tomorrow from your present abode’.
‘Is that a cause of concern to you, Morag? We can always change the time’.
Morag shook her head. ‘No. it’s all right. I just wasn’t expecting it quite so soon. Honestly, Ragimund, I don’t mind. I’d rather get it over with as soon as possible’.
‘Our land is not as bad as you think, Morag’.
‘It’s not that, Ragimund, I don’t know whether I can live up to your expectations’.
‘You can and you will. Do not be afraid, Morag. I have faith in you’.
‘I wish I had more faith in myself’. Morag muttered under her breath.
By popular consent, the Christmas pudding was postponed to Christmas Day since everyone was already full to bursting. The turkey was widely held to blame, along with the roast potatoes, the honeyed carrots, and the brussels sprouts, with walnuts. Only Sniffer, contentedly still gnawing at his turkey leg, seemed oblivious.
‘Right, then. Sleeping arrangements’. Christine said abruptly. Simon and Annie groaned. They knew how officious their mother could be about such arrangements, but they also knew how important it was to her to see that her guests should be accommodated properly. To Christine, it was the test of a good household. So Simon and Annie kept their silence.
‘Right, so, Ragimund my dear, you and Mariko are back in the spare guest-room, if that’s all right. Mariko knows the way’.
‘Thank you, Christine. And thank you for the delicious feast’.
Christine beamed at her. Despite their awkward beginning, she had begun to feel real affection towards Ragimund. She had no knowledge of Ragimund’s battle –hardened past, or of her reputation as a fierce faery warrior, since Simon had decided to tell her none of these things. So she looked upon Ragimund with a benign eye.
‘ So, Simon, we come to you. You had better clear that floor of yours because Helios and Demos will be staying with you tonight’.
‘All done. Room’s cleared and hoovered. Beds are down and ready, Ma’am’.
‘Oh! Er, right, then. I must say, that makes a first’.
‘It’s true, Mum. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen his floor’. Annie put in.
‘All right, then. Morag, do you mind mucking in with Annie and her crew, in Annie’s room?’
‘No, I don’t mind at all. I’ll be glad of the company’.
‘Good. In your own time, then. John and I are retiring to the sitting-room for a thankfully received glass of brandy. Now, good night, and happy Christmas!’
And with that, she departed, leaving them all sitting in the kitchen.
‘I hope she’s not pissed off with us’. said Indira, nervously.
‘No, she’s not. Mum’s a traditionalist where Christmas is concerned. She’s probably stuffing our stockings at this very moment’.
‘Stockings! You mean, Christmas stockings! Whoopee!’ cried Indira.
‘I told you she was traditionalist. Which means she’ll come creeping around late at night to put them out. If she finds anyone still awake by then, she eats them. So let’s go to bed’.
They made their way upstairs in twos and threes, with many goodnights. So it was that Annie and her companions found themselves sitting on her bed late on Christmas night, Morag in a borrowed set of pyjamas from Annie.
‘What’s the matter, Morag?’ Annie asked abruptly as she passed around glasses of red wine as a Christmas treat. ‘You’ve lost your confidence. You cried on the way here. What’s wrong?’
‘I don’t know. I wish I did. All I can think about is that I’m going into the unknown. I won’t even have a mobile, let alone a computer! And no DNA samples! I just haven’t got anything to work with! I’m not condemning anyone to death, under faery law, unless I have positive proof that they’re guilty. I just can’t!’
‘Fine. How about turning it around? Being the cop you always wanted to be? The kind of cop that your mother always wanted you to be. Kind, compassionate and fair? Use your skills! Use your talents! You can do this, Morag!’
‘Annie’s right, Morag. You can do anything. Just believe in yourself! Just improvise and do your job!’ Indira put in. ‘And why not think about what good you can do? What about all the victims you can help. Don’t you think about them?’
‘Of course, I do! That’s what I’m a bloody police officer! I care about the innocent! What do you think I’m here for?’
‘Don’t forget, Morag, the faerys asked you to be a marshal. Not because you’re out of a job, but because they wanted you. Don’t you think that means something?’
‘Yeah, give it a go, Morag! You owe it to us!
‘I don’t owe anybody anything, and I’ll just do my best! That’s all I can do!’
Annie sighed. ‘Look, Morag, we’re not having a go at you. You do the best you can’.
‘ I will do. I promise you, Annie’.
‘That’s all we want, Morag’.
‘Look, I don’t want to seem ungrateful or anything, but I really want to do a good job. That’s not too much to ask, is it? After all, when you’re used to working with sophisticated equipment, it’s hard to go back to basics’.
‘It’s a challenge, Morag. You can do challenges, can’t you? After all, you slapped me around for calling you a coward. Don’t be one now!’ Indira said, forcefully.
‘ I ‘m sorry, Indira’.
‘Don’t be. Keeps me on my toes, so to speak’.
‘Morag, we’re all coming with you on Boxing Day’. Annie said. ‘And we’ll help you move’.
‘What! What for?’
‘Because we want to!’ said Annie, impatiently.
‘And because we’re nosy, and we want to see where you’re going to live!’ added Indira.
‘All right, especially if it means you help move my mothers chair’.
‘What! Not that tatty old thing!’ Indira cried incredulously.
‘ Yes, that tatty old thing! It means a lot to me! I’m not going without it!’
‘All right, all right!’ said Annie pacifically. ‘I’m sure we can manage that between us’.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to take the kitchen sink, as well? ‘ asked Indira, sardonically.
‘No, I don’t! I just want something there that’s familiar to me!’
‘What! An old armchair!’
‘You don’t understand, Indira. I know it sounds stupid, but that chair means a very great deal to me. It was my mother’s favourite chair, and as a small child, I used to curl up in her lap and listen to her telling me wonderful stories. It’s very precious to me, and where I go, it goes. I don’t care if it’s shabby. I’m keeping it! It’s the only thing I’ve got of hers, and I’m not going to leave it behind!’
Both Pei-Ying and Annie heard the note of tears in her voice. Pei-Ying said sympathetically,’It is entirely natural that Morag should seek to take something emotionally precious with her. She is going to experience a cultural shock, and she needs something to comfort her’.
‘OK, Ok, I get the message. Just me and my big mouth as usual!’
‘I’ m sorry, Indira, but I really need that armchair. I will be a comfort to me’.
‘All right! I’m not arguing! Take the damn thing with you!’
Morag bent her head down. She was close to tears.
‘Annie, I’m not being stupid. I really need that chair with me’.
‘Then you shall have it. No matter what anybody says’. She glared at Indira.
‘I said, all right! No need to get your knickers in a twist over a bloody old chair!’
Annie could sense that a full-scale row was about to start. Looking across at Pei-Ying, she could see that she had reached the same conclusion.
‘It’s my mother’s chair!’
‘Oh, it’s all about your precious mother again!’
‘You’re always going on about her! She’s gone, Morag. She’s dead and gone. About time you realised that!’
‘I know that! But she was the only parent I had, and she’s important to me!’
‘So’s mine. Except she’s worn out with child-bearing! I’ve seen my mother dwindle away to a withered old bundle who’s lost her looks and everything else! How do you think I feel, you bitch? You go on about your mother and how good she was! I never got the chance!
’Listen,Indira, I’m sorry....’
‘You’re sorry! Try and think about other people for a change! You selfish cow! I don’t want to hear about your precious mother again! My mother’s old before her time , because of us. How do you think I feel? Now piss off! I want to get some sleep!’ She threw herself down on her mattress, rolled herself in her duvet and turned her back on them.
Annie turned and saw Morag, her forehead pressed against the wall near the bedroom door. ‘Morag, are you all right?’ she whispered anxiously. ‘Yes, I am. Only I don’t want to leave this land leaving enemies behind’.
‘You’re not. It’s only one of Indira’s little tantrums. She won’t even remember it by the morning’.
They were both startled by a sudden knock at the door. Annie opened it. ‘What do you want?’ she demanded. It was Simon, with a mock-serious expression on his face. ‘Will you lot keep the noise down? We’ve got a very important game going on in my room’.
‘Marbles?’ There was an explosion of giggles behind them.
‘Grown men on their knees playing marbles on Christmas Eve? This I’ve got to see!’ Indira whisked past them, tying her dressing-gown. There was no sign of her earlier rancour. ‘There you are, you see’, Annie said to Morag, ‘She’s already forgotten about it’.
‘I hope you’re right’.
‘I know I’m right’.
They followed Indira and Simon into his bedroom, where they found, as they expected. Helios and Demos on their hands and knees contemplating the cluster of glass marbles in front of them. They hardly noticed as the others came in. Morag dropped on her knees beside Demos. ‘Hey, remember me?’ she whispered. Demos looked at her and smiled. “How could I forget you, Morag?’
‘Well, you seem to have! I don’t want to be taken for granted!’
Demos looked so woebegone, that she relented. ‘I’m not angry with you, Demos. I just want you to appreciate that we love each other. Now where have you got to in this stupid game?’
‘Helios and I have got one last marble to play each. He goes first. He will probably beat me’.
‘No, he won’t. Trust me, Demos. Where’s your marble?’
He opened his hand to reveal the small orange glass ball in the palm of his hand. Morag leant forward and blew on it softly.
‘What is that for?’
‘To bring you luck’. She replied, smiling. ‘Go on, you can do it’.
A sudden cry of delight made them both turn. Helios had bowled his marble, and sent Demo’s marble skittering under Simon’s bed. Demos groaned. Morag pushed him. ‘Go on, you can do it’. she repeated.
Demos got down on his knees, and slowly rolled his marble towards the dense cluster on the floor. Everyone held their breath. His marble seemed to slow down and then pick up speed again. It nudged aside Helios’s marble, and came to rest less than a quarter of an inch from the larger glass jack in the middle. Helios groaned this time.
‘ There, I told you could do it’, Morag said gleefully. Demos said nothing, but simply wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her long and passionately.
‘There, I told you that you could do it’. she gasped, breathlessly.
‘Yes, you did, Morag. You gave me confidence. Thank you’. Demos kissed her again. Across the room, Annie saw Morag’s face light up in a glow of happiness. She turned to Helios. ‘Wasn’t it worth losing a game of marbles to see that?’
‘Yes, it was. She will make a very good faery marshal, Annie. I can see that’.
‘I knew you would say that’. She waited a moment, and then said, almost timidly, ‘I love you, Helios’.
‘I love you too, Annie. I was hoping you would say that’.
‘Hey, I’m not that much of a dragon, I hope’.
‘No, you are not, Annie. You are truly beautiful’.
‘Keep going. You’re doing well, so far’. Annie smiled at him, and then kissed him passionately.
Across the room, Morag smiled in delight at Annie.
‘Oi! Can we get all this romantic slush out of the way, and go to sleep! I want to get my Christmas stocking!’ It was Indira, as usual. They all hastily made their farewells and departed to their beds, where they quickly fell asleep. All except Annie, who leant over from her bed, and gently stroked Morag’s silky black hair. Morag was already asleep on her mattress next to Annie’s bed. ‘Be happy, Morag’. She whispered. ‘Sweet dreams, marshal’. She rolled over, tucked herself into her duvet, and fell asleep herself, in the Christmas morning.
Frank Jackson 24/03/ 2013 – 9732 word count.