DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
It is Morag’s birthday, and she is expecting Simon, Annie and all her friends. But first, as a faery policewoman, she is faced with rescuing a group of young slave girls from a notorious slave trader, before she can enjoy her birthday. She has, however, made new friends among the faerys, and is looking forward to a new future in Hyperborea.
Morag stared down at the two-masted brig moored in the harbour of Druan. She was standing on the green hill behind the port of Druard, looking down at the crowded jostle of ships in the harbour below. The particular ship she was interested in was fat and rounded, as were so many merchant ships of her type. But she was chiefly interested in what she carried, hidden inside her hold.
Some days before, she had met her fellow marshals in Helios’s office next to hers. To her surprise, they greeted her warmly and with respect. They were a mixed group, some young, others older. The oldest of them was introduced as Ezekiel, who was enormous. Broad, tall and muscular, Morag estimated his height at something like six and a half feet. He dwarfed them all. Morag nervously got up and said ‘Please, I’d like to give you a demonstration, if you don’t mind’. To her dismay, Helios and Ragimund were also there, sitting amongst the other marshals. She had never felt so vulnerable in all her life. She swallowed hard, and prepared to confront them.
‘I want to introduce all of you to finger printing’. She said as boldly as she could. ‘Look at your own fingertips closely’. The faerys all looked at their fingers. ‘What do you see’ she demanded.
‘I see patterns, whorls and arcs’. One of the female faerys said, uncertainly.
‘Exactly. Those patterns are individual to every person. No one is the same.
‘Does that mean we all have individual ….fingers?’ said the same faery. ‘I did not realise’.
‘Yes, it does, and it means that we can identify particular suspects through their finger prints. We use it all the time in our world. Mariko, would you demonstrate?‘
‘Yes, pretend I am a slave smuggler and I am abducting Morag. I seize her arm and drag her like this’, she grabbed Morag’s bare arm and tugged her. Then we can take fingerprints and prove that she was violently molested, like this’. She picked up one of the brushes that they had put out earlier, and dipped it into the bowl of fingerprint powder that they had also prepared. She dusted over Morag’s bare forearm and stood back. ‘What do you see?’ she asked.
‘Are these fingerprints?’ asked one of the faerys, hesitantly. They had gathered round, and were looking at the dark prints on Morag’s forearm.
‘They are, and now to the next stage’..Morag said excitedly. ‘Look what Mariko can do!’ Mariko carefully applied transparent strips of paper to the prints on Morag’s arm and pressed them down. Then she removed them and sprayed each one with a small bottle that she had adapted from a faery perfume spray.
‘That is to fix it, otherwise the print will smudge’, she said. ‘And then you bring each print to me, so I can match them to our list of suspects. I and Morag will be fingerprinting each suspect from now on so that we can build up an archive to test each one’.
Morag looked around at the faerys. They all looked excited. Then one faery raised his hand. ‘May I ask a question’.
‘These fingerprints, they do not prove guilt or otherwise by themselves, do they?’
‘No’, Morag replied. ‘But the important thing is that they prove that a suspect was present at the scene of the crime, and therefore might be involved in it. It will make the task of getting a confession a lot easier’.
‘Can you get these prints from other surfaces as well?’ One of the women faerys asked.
‘Yes, you can. Virtually anything, including objects, such as vases, candlesticks and knives’.
There was an excited buzz of conversation around them. Mariko took out the folder with her own fingerprints and began to overlay the transparent papers over them, then stood back.
‘Now what do you see?’ she asked. The faerys gathered round and looked. ‘They are the same!’ cried the faery, who had asked the last question.
c‘Exactly. Now you see why it is so important to use fingerprints. You know from this evidence that I attacked Morag, and that I left traces of that behind’.
‘Another thing’, Morag said quickly. ‘Any crime scene should be investigated thoroughly. Every little clue can be valuable as evidence’. Her face fell suddenly. ‘Oh, no! I shouldn’t be telling you this! You’re all marshals already. I’m sorry! I’m being presumptuous! Please forgive me!’
The faerys all laughed. One of the older male faerys said ‘No, Morag, we need reminding. Your demonstration has proved that. Thank you for that. It proves that we need to learn’.
‘Thank you too. Mariko and I have provided you with everything you need. If you want them, that is’. She pointed to a small table on which she and Mariko had arranged the brushes and pots that the faerys would need. The faerys fell on them with genuine enthusiasm. Morag was delighted.
‘I hope that went well’. she said to Mariko, as the faerys left, still chattering to each other.
‘I think so. They took the equipment we provided, all of them’.
Ragimund and Helios joined them. ‘ Thank you both for your demonstration. It has been very valuable’.
‘Demonstration! That’s all I’m fit for, isn’t it!’
They both stared at her in astonishment.
‘I’m the only one that’s not done anything! I haven’t fought in any battles, or done anything else! I’m just a waste of space! My brother and sister have, and so have you! Even Mariko!’ Morag paused for breath. She hadn’t realised how vehement she sounded.
‘What is the reason for your anger, Morag?’
‘Because I’ve never fought in a single battle, like you all have! I haven’t done anything! I’ve been on the sidelines all of this time! I’ve seen what Simon and Annie have been through! I’ve done nothing! And you ask me why I feel angry?’
‘I understand your anger and frustration, my faery- sister’.Ragimund said mildly. ‘If you want to see what a battle is like, then you can accompany us on our raid..
‘Raid? What raid?’
‘The raid on the Circlassian port we have planned in three days. The Circlassians are our greatest threat in terms of smuggling slaves and other goods into our land. We are going to teach them a lesson’.
‘Did you say, slaves? Morag’s face grew hot with anger. She hated that trade more than anything else.
‘Yes, I know your anger, Morag. I feel the same. I will not have these Circlassians bringing their young slaves into my land! That is why your first case will be to investigate one of their ships, which I suspect is holding young slave girls. I will not have slaves in my land! I do not want these young girls exploited like this!’
‘Fine. Count me in!’
‘I take that is a yes’.
‘Yes, it is’.
‘I am pairing you with Ezekiel. He knows the port of Druard better than anybody. He is the best partner for you’.
‘I don’t need the muscle. I can look after myself!’
‘Ragimund means that he is wise. He knows the port better than anybody else’.
‘I’m sorry for my bad temper. Only, I feel so frustrated!’
‘I understand, Morag. Once you deal with your first case, you will feel less so. Give yourself some time’.Ragimund said kindly.
On that note, she and Helios departed. Morag looked ruefully at Mariko.
‘That didn’t go very well, did it?’
‘No, it didn’t, but Ragimund is right. Your time will come’. Mariko said, carefully.
‘I hope so. Soon’.
And so it was, that she and Ezekiel found themselves walking down the hill towards the port of Druard, towards the ship they wanted to investigate. They talked little to each other, but they had already established a rapport between them. They were like father and daughter, the father that Morag never had. He had taken her through the teeming port of Druard, sparing her nothing. She had seen the squalid quarter of the port, with its whorehouses, drinking dens and cheap dosshouses, and had learnt a lot about the diversity of life there, from the rich abodes of the wealthy traders down to the filthy hovels of the very poor. She had seen the homeless beggars crouching outside the homes of the very rich, selling what little they had on the pavement in front of them, to keep themselves from starving. From Ezekiel, she had finally understood both the wealth and the destitution of a great port.
They walked down the large quay, which was crowded with sailors unloading cargoes from the ships berthed there. Druard was the chief trading port of Hyerborea , and attracted people from all walks of life, even humans, to sell their wares and to haggle and argue. The atmosphere around them was boisterous and loud, as sailors unloaded and unloaded the ships moored there. They attracted many glances as they moved through the crowd, the pretty young woman and the tall heavy, older man with a ominous two-bladed axe across his shoulder. They arrived at last at the ship they had come to investigate. Morag walked up the rickety gangplank onto the deck, followed by Ezekiel.
She was confronted by a large burly man who carried a stick on which he supported himself. She was not convinced. The man carried the stick as it was a weapon rather than a walking stick. ‘Where is your owner?’ she asked, bluntly.
‘We are!’ She displayed her badge, as did Ezekiel.
‘Wait here! I will fetch him!’
They waited. Presently, he came back with an older, rather rotund man clad in an expensive red robe. ‘What do you want, woman?’ he demanded. Morag disliked him on sight. ‘Who are you?’ she demanded.
‘My name is Zanzibar. I am the owner of this vessel’. Morag furrowed her brow. Where had she heard that name before? Then she remembered. Simon had mentioned his name as one of the guests he and the faery Miranda had saved from the bombed hostel in Rhuan a few weeks ago.
‘We want to see your cargo’. Morag said abruptly.
‘The human cargo. The sort that you unfortunately overlooked’.
‘I don’t know what you mean. There are only a few boxes and barrels down there’.
‘Then you won’t mind us taking a look, then, will you?’
Grudgingly, Zanzibar nodded. He led them down the hatchway and down the narrow stairs into the hold of the ship.
Morag looked around in the dimness of the hold. Zanzibar had brought a lantern with him but it did not cast much light down here. But she looked suspiciously at the bulkhead in front of them. It seemed too flimsy for a ship of this size. She wondered what was behind it. The she heard a noise, on the other side. It sounded like a young girl’s voice, whimpering.
‘What’s behind here?’She asked,sharply.
‘Nothing’ said Zanzibar, glibly.
‘Then open that door!’ She pointed to a small door in the corner of the bulkhead.
‘No!’ Zanzibar retorted petulantly.
‘Do as the lady says’. Ezekiel said, quietly. His two-bladed axe rasped on the wooden side of the ship.
Zanzibar looked at Ezekiel and the axe and thought better of it. He took out a small key and unlocked the door, then stood back. ‘Ladies first’. He said, slyly. Morag did not trust him. But she slid through the doorway into the blackness beyond. At first she could not see anything, but as her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she could make the outline of a barred cage, that filled the entire space. The stench was dreadful. The whole of this dark space was filled with the acrid smell of shit and piss.
She turned on Zanzibar. ‘You lying fat bastard! You’ve been carrying slaves, haven’t you!’
‘So what if I have? They’re my property!’
‘They’re someone’s daughters! Not yours! You scumbag!’
Zanzibar finally lost his temper. He slashed at her with a long curved knife, that he had concealed beneath his robe. She ducked and slid away from him. He slashed at her again and as before, she avoided the blow. But now she was cornered between the cage and the disguised bulkhead. She drew her short-bladed stabbing sword. It was the only weapon she had in this confined space.
Zanzibar slashed again at her. This time she was ready. She blocked the downward blow with her left forearm and thrust her sword into his belly, with all her strength, with a deadly result. Zanzibar slid slowly down the wall, expiring like a slowly deflating balloon., his breath whistling between his teeth, clutching his wound. Blood trickled between his fingers. He slid to the floor and fell sideways. His eyes were still bulging with horror.
Morag looked down at him. He was the first man she had killed. She felt empty inside, but strangely satisfied. He had taken the lives of these young girls away from them, and now he had paid the price. She remembered Ezekiel, who was still trying to ease his broad body through the little narrow door. ‘It’s all right, Ezekiel, I have dealt with him!’
‘So I saw, lady. I am your witness. You fought back in self-defence! You are truly a faery! But what about these young girls?’
‘I’ll get them out of here. Ezekiel , get out of there! You’re too big to get in, Look, I’ll get the girls out, you go and organise some transport for them’.
‘Very well, my lady. I shall also call some faery soldiers to round up the rest of the villainous crew’.
Morag smiled to herself. Ezekiel always talked in an archaic way, but she knew, for all his appearance, he was a kind and gentle man, apart to his enemies. She could always rely on him. ‘Thank you, Ezekiel’ she called. He waved to her before he disappeared. Then she began to search Zanzibar’s body for keys.
Morag eventually found a large set of keys inside his inner robe. She tried several before she found one that seemed to fit the padlock on the door of the cage. She opened it and stepped gingerly in, avoiding the pools of oily liquid that lay amidst the thin layer of straw that covered the floor. Where had these girls slept? On this floor? She felt a sudden surge of anger. Who had the right to keep these girls in such conditions?
She moved slowly towards the group of young girls. She held out her hand towards the young girl who was crying. ‘Come on, love, it’s all right now. Let’s get you out of here’. She kept her voice as gentle as possible to avoid frightening the girl, who was now sniffling rather than crying. The others had crowded around her protectively. ‘It’s all right now. Let’s get out of this place’. She repeated, in her softest voice. The sniffly young girl reached out her grubby little hand and clasped Morag’s.
‘Right, come with me!’ she called, and still clasping the young girl’s hand, led them all out of the cage, and up the stairs to the deck. They stood in a little bedraggled group below the poop, blinking in the bright sunlight and staring around them. Despite the sunlight, they were shivering The young girl, whose hand she had clasped, started crying again. To Morag’s relief, a squad of faery soldiers was on deck, who had rounded up the crew next to the forecastle at the front of the ship. The faery captain joined her. ‘What has happened here, my lady?’ he asked.
‘What do you think? These young girls have been taken on board as slaves! I’ve just released them!
The young faery captain’s face grew red with rage. ‘Those damned Circlassian traitors! We all want to be rid of them!
‘I’ve got rid of one of them for you. You’ll find his body below’.
The faery’s face lit up. ‘That is excellent news, lady. One less of those trader scum is always good news’.
He glanced down at the girl and stiffened. ‘Lady, this girl has been badly beaten!’
‘What! Morag gasped. She knelt down by the girl and gently undid her smock at the back. She gasped in horror. The girl had dark red welts down her back and extensive bruising. She understood why the girl had been crying. She had been in pain. ‘Who has done this to you? Point him out to me!’ She made motions to show what she meant. The young girl understood and looked around. She pointed at the burly man with the stick in the crew.
‘Captain, arrest that man and keep him in custody. He’s the one who beat this girl!’
‘With pleasure, my lady!’
Within seconds of the faery officer’s order, the man was manacled and hustled swiftly off the ship. His stick was left on the deck. The other faerys were busy bundling the rest of the crew into the forecastle where they were locked in.
The faery returned to them. He looked down at the young girl. ‘She is cold and shivering, lady. Here’. He unfastened his woollen cloak and wrapped it around her. She smiled up at him gratefully. The other faerys had seen it, too. As they left the ship, one by one, they unfastened their own cloaks and wrapped them around the other girls. Morag thanked them for their kindness as they left the ship. The last faery to leave the ship turned round and said simply ‘They are guests in our land, lady, though unwilling ones. We have a duty to offer them hospitality’. He smiled at the girls and waved goodbye at them. Some of them even waved back. Their spirits had already risen, but Morag was reminded that she was responsible for them. She wondered what to do next. At that moment, there was a rumble and clatter beside the ship. She looked down over the ship’s side at the quay below.
There was Ezekiel, sitting beside a faery driver at the front of a large wagon, with hay-bales arranged each side as temporary seats. She looked at the young girls who had gathered around her, expectantly. She saw their dirty faces, lonely and forlorn. She knew she had to help them, to give them back their hope. She owed it to them. This was her job. ‘Right, girls. Your carriage awaits. Follow me’. She clasped the hand of the beaten girl and gently pulled her after her down the rickety gangway towards the quay. She looked back and saw, to her relief, that all the other girls were following. She beckoned to them and pointed to the wagon.
Ezekiel gently picked up each girl, and placed them in the wagon, carefully. Morag was reminded of someone placing little china dolls on a shelf. She wondered why he was so gentle with them, then she remembered. He had once told her that he had three young daughters of his own, who lived with his wife on their farm, two miles outside Druard. ‘You must travel with them, lady. They trust you’. Ezekiel said to her, shortly before he hoisted her onto the wagon. She marvelled at how strong he was. She sat down at the end of the wagon next to the beaten girl. She looked sideways at the girl. She sat upright, staring in front of her.She was crying again this time but soundlessly. The tears were still rolling down her cheeks. Morag decided it was about time that the girl had some comfort. She put her arm round the girl’s thin shoulders. ‘Don’t worry, love. We’ll get you washed and fed and into a warm bed, and take you home as soon as we can’. The girl smiled through her tears, the first time Morag had seen her smile. She cuddled the girl against her, heedless of her smell. The girl nestled against her, trustingly.
The cart rattled on through the streets of Druan, Morag listening to the other girls laughing and chattering now they were off that cursed ship. Their heads turned this way and that, as they took in the sights and sounds of a busy large port. Morag felt another surge of anger as she looked at them (Whatever happens, I’ll get these slaving bastards.I’m not going to let this happen again. And certainly not to this one) She looked down at the beaten girl, now lying across her lap, peacefully asleep. She stroked her wet dirty face, gently, to avoid waking her. ( I promise you, I’ll get these bastards who did this to you. But you’ll be scarred for life. I hope not.But I’ll get them. I promise you, darling ).Morag looked at the other girls. They all seemed excited at the sight of the port. But they had been through an ordeal as well. She called out to Ezekiel.
‘ What’s going to happen to these girls now, Ezekiel?’
‘The lady Ragimund has organised it all. First, you must take them to the bathhouse so that they can wash’, He wrinkled his nose. ‘ And then you take them to the cantina for something to eat, and then you take them to their accommodation so that they can sleep. That is all you have to do, lady’.
‘Oh, Thanks a lot. All right’.
The cart jolted to a halt outside their colonnaded headquarters in the square at the back of Druan. The beaten girl woke up in a fright. Morag soothed her. ‘It’s all right, love. We’ve arrived. I’ll take you in to get washed and dressed’. The young girl smiled up at her. The girl seemed to be recovering from her ordeal. Morag took her hand. The others gathered round her like small doves. ‘Come on. Follow me’. She said. They all followed trustfully after her. She led them down the corridor past her office and down to the bathhouse at the back of the building.
The girls all squealed in delight as they saw the huge sunken circular bath, brimming with scented hot water. Morag indicated to them that they should discard their cloaks by the door, then indicated to them that they should remove their dirty frocks and get into the pool. This they did with great zeal, leaving their tattered garments lying around. Morag pointed to the pool.’In you get’. She said. The girls all jumped into the pool with glee, apart from one. The beaten girl had stood back from the pool, and was trembling with fear. Morag knelt down beside her. ‘What is it, my love?’ she whispered. She realised that the girl was frightened of the large pool because it was so hot and she might get injured again.
‘Martha!’ she called. The lady of the bathhouse, as she was called materialised out of the steam beside her. She was tall and gaunt with streaks of grey in her dark hair. But Morag knew she was a kind and gentle lady who ran her bathhouse with loving care. ‘Would you do me a favour, Martha?
‘Of course, my lady’.
The faerys were still formal in addressing her, but Morag always felt that, sooner or later, they would begin to use her real name, or so she hoped.
‘How is she injured?’
‘She was badly beaten by Circlassian slave traders’.
Martha’s face grew red with rage. ‘Then you do not owe me a favour, lady! I will prepare a bath for this girl’s sake!’ She led the way to one of the small slipper baths along the wall of the bathhouse. ‘Put her in here’. she said curtly. ‘I will make a bath for her’. Morag understood. Martha was angry for the girl, and the way she had been treated. ‘You must look after her, Morag. I will look after the others’.
Morag realised that, for the first time, Martha had addressed her by her real name, which was a mark of real respect. She felt gratified. She indicated that the girl should get into the bath. The girl began to wash herself. ‘Here. I’ll wash your back’ Morag said, gently. The girl looked alarmed. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you’. She gently sponged the girl’s back. The girl whimpered slightly. Morag stared at the vivid red welts on her white skin. (I’ll get the bastard who did this to you. I swear to it, on my mother’s honour)
‘Lean back slightly. I’ll wash your hair’.She carefully washed and combed the girl’s hair. Like Morag’s, it was black, and silky. The girl smiled gratefully at her. ‘Come on, let’s get you dry, and then I must take you to the physician’. The girl took her hand and let her lead the way to the physician’soffice on the second floor. She left the other girls still splashing in the large pool, knowing that Martha would look after them. She took the young girl upstairs to the physican’s office. The girl looked up at her in gratitude as they walked up the stairs. ‘Come on, love, let see what the physician can do with your back’. She said softly to the girl. Now that she was clean, she could see that the girl was pretty. She felt even more angry than before. Who could hurt such a girl?
Luckily, the physician was in. Her name was Atalanta and she was tall and beautiful with a long mane of red hair. Morag had met her not long after she moved to Hyperborea, and liked her immediately. She was kind and professional and Morag trusted her. She was a friend, one of the few she had made in Hyperborea from the beginning. ‘Atalanta, could you look at her back, and see if there is anything you can do for her? It’s just that she’s in pain and very frightened. And she doesn’t speak our language’.
‘Of course. Let me examine her’.
She pulled the robe gently down from the girl’s back. Atalanta’s face froze in anger. ‘Who has done this to her!’
‘Circlassian slave traders. One of them is dead and another is arrested. I’m going to question him tomorrow’.
‘Good! It is time that those pigs should be driven out of our land!’
‘I agree. I’m going to be their nemesis and I’m putting a stop to this trading! But can you help this young girl, Atalanta?’
‘I can and I will’. Atalanta went over to a cupboard at the back of the room, and came back with a large jar. ‘This is an ointment which will soothe and heal her. But can I can do nothing about what is in her head’.She tapped her own head. ‘That will take time’.
‘I agree. She is, at least in our world, traumatised’.
‘Traumatised? That is a word I must remember. Morag, will you comfort her? She is rather frightened of me’. Morag looked down at the girl. She was trembling and her eyes were full of fear. She knelt down and held both the girl’s hands in her own. ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart’. She whispered. ‘She’s only trying to help you’.
The girl yelped when Atalanta first applied the ointment but settled down after that. Atalanta’s fingers were long and gentle, smearing the ointment softly over the girl’s wounds. ‘I owe you a favour’. Morag said softly.
‘The only favour you owe me is to look after this girl until she goes home! She is hurt both inside and outside, and she needs you! Do you not realise that! She trusts you’.
‘I know that! Don’t you think I know that! Don’t you shout at me, Atalanta!’
Atalanta relented at once. ‘I am truly sorry, Morag. It is only that I feel compassionate for this young girl, and what she has been through’.
‘And don’t you think that I am! I don’t mean to quarrel with you, Atalanta, but having to look after twenty young girls is beginning to wear me down!’
The young beaten girl burst into tears at their argument.
Morag went down on her knees, and cuddled the girl to her. ‘It’s all right, love, we weren’t quarrelling about you’.
Atalanta laughed. ‘I knew it! You are a kind and good faery, Morag! You are giving her sympathy and affection, which is exactly what she needs. But she is thin and half-starved. She needs some food, now’.
‘So do the others. Come on, poppet, let’s go and collect them and we can all have something to eat. I’m sorry, Atalanta, I didn’t mean any offence to you’.
‘There is no offence taken, Morag. Only look after this one. She needs it’.
‘I will. Thank you for your trouble, Atalanta’.
‘Here, take this’.She handed the jar of ointment to Morag. ‘She needs this to be applied once a day’.
‘All right. I suppose I’ll have to do it’.
‘If you care for her, Morag, then yes’.
‘I do care for her. Yes’.
She looked down at the young girl. ‘Come on, little one. We’ve got to get you something to eat’.
As they walked down the main steps towards the main entrance below, Morag was struck by a vision from the past. She saw herself walking down the main steps of the Natural History Museum in London, hand in hand with her mother. It was one of the happiest days of her life. She was just a child, then, just like the young girl who trotted beside her. Her mother had told her humorous and outrageous stories about the animals in the museum and she was still laughing as they came down the stairs. It was so poignant and vivid as a memory that she sank down onto one of the steps and burst into tears in remembrance of her mother. The young Circlassian girl sat down beside her, anxious and dismayed.
Why was this tall, beautiful young woman, who had been so kind to her, so upset? She decided to try to comfort her. She put her arms around Morag’s neck and drew her head down against hers. Morag gained comfort from the girl’s spontaneous gesture, and they rested their heads against each other for a few moments. Then Morag stood up and extended her hand to the young girl. ‘Come on, poppet. Let’s go and collect the others. Don’t worry. It was only a memory’. The girl stood up, relieved that the lady was herself again. She took Morag’s hand and they set off again towards the bathhouse. Once there, she clapped her hands together loudly. ‘Come on, girls! Time for something to eat! Dry yourselves with those’, She pointed to the bath towels by the side of the sunken bath. ‘Then put those on’. She pointed again to the piles of robes and sandals further on down. Luckily, the girls seemed to understand, and despite a bit of squabbling, got themselves dressed. Morag looked at them critically. ‘You’ll do’. she said at last. ‘Come on. Follow me’. She beckoned to them, and they all followed dutifully. Once outside, she counted them off carefully. They were all there, all twenty of them. They all looked thin and half-starved. None of them looked older than fourteen. They clustered around her, expectantly.‘Come on. Follow me’. She ordered, and led them off down to the cantina.
At the threshold, she stopped and stared. A large table had been laid against the left wall, with benches on each side. It was laden with food of all kinds. Flasks of water and glasses were also there alongside each place setting. ‘Spinola!’ She called. ‘Is this for us?’ The small rotund cook rose up like a genie from behind his counter, as he always did. ‘Yes, it is, Morag. The lady Ragimund ordered it’.
‘Good. Come on, girls! Sit on each side!’ She pointed to the benches beside the table. The girls behind her squealed with delight at the sight of the food. They all sat down on the benches and looked at Morag. She realised that they were waiting for her permission to eat. ‘Go on! Tuck in!’ She called. Instantly, the girls began to devour the food with delight. All, except one. The beaten girl sat staring miserably at her empty plate. Morag sat down beside her at the end of the bench. ‘What’s the matter, poppet?’ she asked. The girl just stared miserably back at her. ‘You must eat something, darling’. She realised that the girl was so traumatised by her beating that she couldn’t bring herself to even eat. Morag had an idea. She went to the counter and called Spinola. ‘Do you have any of your delicious vegetable stew available?’ she asked. ‘Of course, Morag, it is simmering even as I speak’.
‘Could I have a large bowl of it for that girl? Only that she won’t eat’.
‘She will eat my vegetable stew’. Spinola said darkly.
‘I’m sure she will’.
She carried the tray with the hot bowl of vegetable stew back to the girl, and set it in front of her. The girl looked up at her, bewildered and fearful. ‘Come on, love, eat up’. she said, encouragingly. The girl timidly picked up her spoon. She did not wish to be impolite to this young woman who had been so kind to her. She ate her first mouthful. Then she began to eat ravenously. Morag suddenly realised how hungry this child was.
‘I’ll get you another bowl’. She said to the girl. ‘Stay there’. She came back with another full bowl. The girl smiled at her with a radiant smile of gratitude. She devoured the second bowl but more slowly this time. She put her spoon down suddenly and put her arms around Morag’s waist, leaning her head against her hip. Morag smiled down at her, and stroked the girl’s hair affectionately. She knew that the girl was expressing her thanks in the only way she knew. ‘It’s all right, poppet. I’m just glad you’re eating again’. She looked around at the other girls. Most of them were rubbing their stomachs and yawning. It was time for bed. Looking out of the window at one side of the cantina, she realised it was already dark outside. She beckoned the girls to her. They all gathered dutifully around. ‘Spinola!’ she called, ‘Do you know where these girls will be sleeping tonight?’
‘Third floor, first door on the right’. a disembodied voice answered from beneath the counter. ‘Thank you, Spinola’. An arm rose up to acknowledge her. She smiled. Spinola knew everything that went on in this building. She had often wondered what he did beneath the counter, but soon realised that he was merely rearranging the cups and glasses that he kept there. Spinola was fastidious about his utensils.
‘Come on, girls!’ she said, and led them up the main staircase towards the upper floors. Some of the girls were flagging on the staircase, and Morag realised they were all desperately tired. ‘Not far now’. She said encouragingly. She had realised how dependent these girls were on her. They were strangers in a strange land, through no fault of their own, taken away from their own families, and left to seek help from those that would. Morag looked around at them. ‘Don’t worry, girls. I’ll look after you’. Though they didn’t understand a word she said, the tone of her voice seemed to reassure them. They all smiled back at the tall beautiful young woman who had been so kind and warm towards them.
They arrived at last on the third landing. There was a young woman faery guard standing outside the first door. She looked relieved when they arrived. She pushed open the door behind her. Morag entered and looked around. (Bless you, Ragimund. You’ve organised everything so well). There were twenty beds, ten on each side of the large room. Each one had a small wooden chair beside it and a nightshirt laid across the beds.
‘Yes, lady, through the door on the right’.
Morag opened the door and peered in. As she expected, there was a row of lavatoriums in the room. She beckoned the girls and showed them. They all nodded to show they understood. ‘Right now, into bed’. She said briskly. She pointed to their robes and sandals. ‘Take those off and put those on’. She pointed to the nightshirts on each bed. Fortunately, the girls seemed to understand, disrobed quickly and put on their nightshirts. They all stood by their beds quietly. Morag was bewildered. Why didn’t they get into bed? Then she realised. They were waiting for her permission. She felt moved by their politeness, and charmed at the same time. She clapped her hands and pointed to the beds. ’In you get, girls’ They all instantly climbed into their respective beds and fell asleep almost immediately. The room was filled with the soft swell of slumber. Morag turned to the beaten girl, who was still struggling to put on her nightshirt. ‘Let me help you, love’. She helped the girl to put on the garment without hurting her back, and put her to bed, turning her on her side carefully.
The girl held out her arms for a hug. Morag, on impulse, kissed the girl on the cheek. ‘Sweet dreams and flying machines, castles in the sun’. she whispered in the girl’s ear. It was a phrase that her mother always said to her when she was a small girl before she went to bed. Morag remembered it. The girl smiled at her and fell asleep. Morag looked around at the others. They all seemed to be asleep. She remembered that filthy ship and was not surprised that they were all exhausted. ‘Goodnight, girls’. She whispered and went out, closing the door quietly behind her.
‘My lady!’ The young faery guard said nervously, ‘ I have orders to lock the door, for their safety’.
‘That’s fine. Only, sit down once in a while. No point in you standing up all night’. She pointed to the benches that that ran along the corridor.
‘Thank you, my lady’. The faery said, gratefully. ‘I will not sleep on duty. But it will be good to sit down’.
Morag smiled at her then went down the stairs. She decided to report to Ragimund on her way down. Her office was on the second floor. She knocked on the door and walked in. Ragimund rose up from behind her desk, which was littered with rolls of parchment, and came round to embrace her. ‘My faery sister, how are you?’
‘Tired, after looking after twenty young girls! But they’re all bedded down now’.
‘Thank you, Morag. They trust you. Did you remember that it is your birthday tomorrow?’
‘Yes, I had forgotten!’
‘There is a letter for you, from the Watchers’.
Morag almost snatched it from her, in her eagerness. She untied the ribbon that bound the scroll together and unrolled it. It was written in her language, and she read it with delight. ‘They’re all coming!’ she cried.’Tomorrow evening!’ Her face fell. ‘Oh, but I haven’t made any preparations yet’.
‘I think you will find that Mariko has already started. I do not think you need to worry, Morag. Who is coming?’
‘Well, Simon, for a start’. She saw the flash of pleasure in Ragimund’s face. ‘And Annie, of course, and Indira and Pei-Ying. And you, of course, and Helios, too. But I’ve still got to interview those girls, tomorrow’.
‘You have time enough. Interview these girls in the morning, and then use the afternoon to do some shopping. Mariko will help you’.
‘Yes. I am buying you a birthday dress. Only you must choose it. Here, take this’. She handed Morag a leather bag which jingled with coins.’Buy yourself a dress tomorrow. Please accept it as a gift from me’.
‘But, Ragimund, I....’
‘ No excuses, buy yourself a dress. You need to look your best on your birthday!’
Morag gave up. ‘Thank you, Ragimund’ she said finally.
Ragimund waved to her from behind her pile of scripts. Morag left and walked tiredly down the stairs back to her own office. To her surprise, Mariko was still there behind her desk. For some reason, she had been given an enormous one and she always looked very small behind it. The top of the desk was littered with papers.
‘What are you doing, Mariko? You’re still here!’
‘Obviously. But I wanted to finish the fingerprint profiles’.
‘That can wait. Mariko, you must go home now’.
‘Wait. Tomorrow is your birthday. I will prepare a meal for you as my birthday gift’.
‘But the others are coming as well, and who knows who else!’
‘It is no problem. Set a table for fourteen, and I will do the rest’.
‘Mariko, can you come shopping with me tomorrow, only I need to buy a dress. I’ve never done it before’.
‘Never?’ said Mariko, incredulously.
‘No, never. Honestly, Mariko! I never have! Not on my own!’
‘I shall direct you to a faery dressmakers, who will look after you. You must have a dress for your birthday!’said Mariko, sternly.
Morag felt like a young girl being told off. ‘You’re right, Mariko’ she said meekly.
‘ Please don’t think I am chastising you, Morag. I am not. I know you have performed good deeds. Please give a good deed to yourself. You deserve it’.
‘Yes, you’re right, Mariko. You usually are’.
‘Do not worry, Morag. I will prepare your birthday feast for you. Except it will be Japanese. I will prepare my special noodle soup followed by sushi and a fresh fruit salad. Is that all right?’
‘It sounds wonderful, Mariko. Thank you’.
She walked through into her apartment and gazed around. She was proud of it. It was big, so big that she could fit her old apartment into it, and still walk around it. She had never had so much space to herself in her life before. As usual, she walked around it, as if reassuring herself that it was real. She noticed that Mariko had pinned sweet-smelling climbing roses around the room. It was a large room with columns on both sides, between which were small bedrooms. On one side, was the kitchen, with its wood-burning stove, and the bathroom and lavatorium. In the centre was a small fountain, set in a circular pool. A young girl was pouring a bucket into a well. Morag loved the tinkling of the water as it trickled out. At the far end, was a small stone altar, where she had put the ornaments she had managed to bring with her. On each side were window alcoves. One looked over to the port of Druard, but the other looked over her favourite view. Just below was a small valley through which a small stream plashed and rundered. Beyond was a range of grey hills and white mountains, behind which lay the lake of Mila. Morag liked this view, and that is why she had set her mother’s chair in this alcove, facing out. It was an enormous Victorian ballooned-back chair, shabby now, but she still loved it.
It was an image of her mother, now gone but still present in this large room. She remembered her mother still. She remembered sitting on the chair, in her mother’s lap, as a small child, listening to her mother’s wonderful stories, about the world. She took a duvet from her bedroom and curled up in her mother’s chair, looking out at the moonlit view, then fell fast asleep.
She was awoken by a furious knocking at the door. She groaned and got up. It was a young faery boy. who acted as a messenger as part of his military service. ‘I am sorry to disturb you, my lady, but the sentinel upstairs sent me. She says that one of the girls is crying’.
‘All right. I’ll come’.
She traipsed up the stairs again in the wake of the young faery boy. The faery guard turned to her nervously. ‘I was sorry to disturb you, lady, but I did not know what else to do’. The faery unlocked the door and Morag walked in. As she expected, the beaten girl was sitting up in bed, sobbing bitterly. Morag sat down by her on the bed to comfort her. She felt a sudden flash of anger at the brutal way in which the girl had been treated. The girl saw it and cowered away from Morag. She feared another beating. ‘It’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you’. Morag whispered. She felt her own eyes well with tears. The girl looked at her with alarm. Why was the tall young woman crying? Was it something she had done? The beaten girl reached out her arms and hugged Morag to her in an attempt to comfort this beautiful young woman who had been so kind to her, and who was now remembering some terrible loss of her own. Morag realised what was happening, and kissed the girl on the cheek again. She knew that the girl was trying to comfort her in the only way she could. ‘Thank you, poppet, thank you very much’. The girl was already fast asleep, again.
Morag walked out to the sentry. ‘She’s all right now. Just a nightmare’.she said. The young woman sentry looked relieved. ‘It is small wonder, lady, after what that poor girl has suffered’. Morag walked down the stairs again and wondered what to do next. She was wide awake now. The sky was lightening in the east. Why not get something to eat and watch the sunrise?
She settled down again in her mother’s chair with a plate of cold sushi that Mariko had prepared the day before, and watched as the sun, as it rose, flaked the distant mountains with gold. She saw the sunshine ripple over the hills and down towards the valley below her, stippling the rushing stream with tiny points of reflected light. She was so entranced that she forgot to eat, and sat there with a piece of sushi in her hand, halfway to her mouth.
There was a knock at the door. It was Mariko. ‘Have you forgotten that you are going to interview these girls? Happy birthday, Morag’. It is good that you see the sun rise on the day that you were born. I have a favour to ask of you’.
‘Of course, Mariko’.
She was still unused to Mariko’s habit of making several points at once. She waited.
‘I wish to bring another guest to your party’.
‘Of course, you can, Mariko. Bring who you like. Who is he?’
‘Please, I would rather not say at this moment’.
‘Oh, all right, Mariko. I shan’t take it personally’.
‘Please, Morag. I do not want to quarrel with you’.
‘Nor do I. But I don’t understand the secrecy!’
‘Please.You will understand everything later’.
Morag had to be content with that. She didn’t want to quarrel with Mariko but was still mystified. Who was this mysterious guest and why wouldn’t Mariko tell her who he was? Never mind, she would find out, eventually. She focussed her mind on what she had to do now. She resolved to interview her girls one by one, in her office, after breakfast.
One by one, they told their stories, as they related as how they were abducted.It made sorry listening. Some were abducted on the streets, other literally torn from their parents’s hands. Mariko took notes and Ezekiel translated. The last to come was the poor beaten girl. ‘What is your name?’ Morag said kindly to her. The girl sat nervously, her hands between her knees. ‘Actea, lady’.
‘What happened, Actea?’
The girl swallowed and gulped.’They pulled me away when I was standing with my mother and father. They stole everything I had and put us all into that cage on that ship! Then he held me down by the neck, lady, and beat me! It hurt so much! All I asked for was a little more food’.
‘All right, Actea. You can go now’. Morag said kindly. The girl got up and scuttled off through the door
‘Bring that bastard in, Ezekial’.
Ezekial marched him in by the scruff of his neck and deposited him on the chair.The man glared at her sullenly.
Morag glared back. ‘Did you beat that girl?’
‘Of course I did. The greedy little bitch had the cheek to ask for more food! I wasn’t having that, from some little slave!’
‘You took away her life! You abducted her and then beat her until she was nearly dead! Because she asked for more food! You bastard!
‘She was a rude little slut! She deserved her punishment’.
Morag did something she had never done before. She lost her temper. She thought of that sad little traumatised girl who had been so cruelly beaten. She walked around her desk and hit the man in the face with her fist as hard as she could. She hit him so hard that he fell off his chair. Ezekial chuckled through his beard. Mariko stared in shock.
‘You faery bitch!’The man said, rubbing his sore and bleeding face.
‘Shut up! Ezekial! Get him out of my sight!’
‘With pleasure, my lady’. He picked up the man, again by the scruff of the neck, and literally threw him out of the door to the waiting guards outside.
Morag breathed hard. The man had not shown the slightest trace of remorse. She felt ashamed yet gratified at the same time. Serve him right!
Mariko still looked dismayed. Morag glared at her then looked at Ezekial. He chuckled again, saying simply, ‘If I were questioning him, lady, I would have his head by now’. Morag said ‘We’ll let faery justice take its course’. Mariko nodded approvingly, which Morag was glad to see. She had no wish to quarrel with her, especially since they were going shopping together that afternoon.
They set off after lunch, down to the market at the back of the port.
Morag pushed the small door open, it’s bell tinkling on the inside. The shop was very dark and she could see no sign of clothes or dresses. A tall faery lady materialised from the door at the back.
‘Can I help you, lady?’
‘Yes. I want to buy a dress. Only I’ve never done it before, and I….
‘I understand, lady. Follow me’. The faery lady led her into a large brightly lit back room, filled with stacks of rows of dresses. At the back, underneath large sunlit windows, young faery seamtresses sat, altering various garments. Their chatter filled the room with a cheerful noise and bustle.
‘What colour do you prefer, lady’ asked the faery woman.
Morag thought hard for a moment. ‘Green’. She said. It was her favourite colour.
‘Then come with me’. She led her to a row of green dresses on a rail in the corner of the room. Morag gazed at them helplessly, and forlornly began to rummage through them. Then she saw it. It was the dress she’d always dreamed about from her childhood.
‘That one’. she said. “I want that one’.
‘An excellent choice, my lady. It will set off your raven hair’.
‘Can I try it on?’
‘Of course, lady, in here.’. She ushered Morag into a tiny alcove, and drew a curtain across. Morag put the dress on and stared at herself in the mirror, entranced. It was the dress of her childhood, the one she had always dreamed of. It fitted her like a glove. She loved the feel of it against her skin. She regretfully took it off, and dressed again. She walked out in to the main room, carrying it with her.
‘It’s perfect, lady, It’s just right. It’s almost as if it had been made for me’.
‘Perhaps it has, lady. It was just waiting for the right owner. Who knows?’
‘Anyway, I’ll take it, please’.
Morag walked out feeling like an excited young girl again. She held the parcel firmly under her arm. It was the dress of her childhood, so she went in search of Mariko, to tell her. She found her at a fishmonger’s stall, haggling over a large brown trout. Mariko won the battle, turned and saw Morag. ‘You look so happy’. she said seriously.
‘I am. I’ve just bought the perfect dress of my childhood. I’m so excited!’
‘I am pleased for you. It is about time that you had some happiness in your life. Can you help me carry this basket, please? It is rather heavy’.
‘Of course, Mariko’.
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Mariko said, ‘Is it really true that you have never bought a dress for yourself before, Morag?’
‘Yes, it is. Mariko, I know you think I’m naïve and stupid, But I’ve really had no time or opportunity to go out buying dresses or even to wear one over the past few years’.
‘I understand, Morag. It does not matter. I do not think that you are naïve or stupid. On the contrary, I think you are a beautiful young woman who is both kind and good-hearted. That is why we all love you. But I think that you have been unhappy for years ever since your mother was killed. It is time to put that aside now and enjoy your birthday. Let us take this basket back so that I can begin cooking’.
Morag was so amazed by this unexpected compliment that she remained speechless until they plumped the heavy basket on the kitchen table.
‘Is there anything I can do?’ She asked awkwardly.
‘Yes, you can go and lay the table. And then you can wash and put your new dress on, so that you are ready for your guests. I prefer to cook alone’. And with that she was dismissed.
She began to lay the table, putting out pairs of chopsticks beside each plate. Then she went to have a hot bath, combed and brushed her hair, and applied a little judicial make-up. She walked into her bedroom, where she had laid out her dress, and picked it up lovingly. She put it on tenderly. For some reason the dress had a special meaning for her, almost as if had she had finally come of age at last, dividing her life between what gone before, with all its troubles, and the future with all its bright promise. She was interrupted by a loud knocking at the door. She rushed to open it.
‘Annie! Simon!’ she cried. She hugged them both. She had not seen them since her move to Hyperborea a few weeks ago. ‘Indira! Pei-Ying!’
‘Morag! You look so beautiful!’ Annie exclaimed, excitedly.’ And your dress is wonderful! You look so good in it!’
Morag suddenly sat down, feeling dejected. ‘That’s just it, Annie. I never bought a dress by myself until yesterday. I’d like to feel it’s a new beginning, but I think it’s just an indulgence on my part’.
Annie sat down beside her.
‘Listen to me, Morag. Just for once you’ve done something for yourself. Enjoy it. You deserve it. Perhaps it’s a symbol of a better life ahead. You know I’ve always wanted you to be happy again, after all that’s gone on. Please, enjoy it’.
‘I hope you’re right, Annie. Because I do want it to be a new beginning. Starting with the dress’.
‘It will be. Start enjoying life, Morag, instead of just coping with it. You know I want you to be happy’.
‘Hey! Morag! Is all this yours?’ It was Indira, who was wandering around the apartment. ‘You’ve even got your own fountain!’
‘Yes, it is, Oh. I haven’t even offered you refreshments yet! Excuse me a moment’.
She dashed into the larder in the kitchen and reappeared with a host of small glasses filled with a faery liqueur on a tray. She handed them around, feeling self-conscious about being a host. Annie noticed and came across. ‘Here, let me do this, Morag. You’re the birthday host’. She took the tray firmly from Morag’s hands, and began distributing the drinks.
‘Here, this is for you, Morag’. Simon handed her a small square box.
‘Open it and you’ll find out’. So she did and drew out a small glass bowl, beautifully cut and carved. ‘Oh, It’s my mother’s bowl, the one I thought was smashed when I was kidnapped! Oh, thank you, Simon!’ She placed it carefully on her little altarpiece of treasures at the end of the room. “How did you repair it, Simon?’
‘Well, I didn’t, but I know a man that does’.
She received a lovely little pair of earrings from Indira, in the shape of small bright yellow butterflies, that suited both her dress and her hair perfectly. From Pei-Ying, she got a set of delicate gold and silver bangles, that she wore on both wrists. She looked at herself in the mirror with satisfaction, though she dare not admit that these were the first pieces of jewellery she had ever owned. Just then, there was a thunderous crash outside the door. She ran to open it. ‘Demos!’ she cried out joyfully. She had not seen him since she had moved to Hyperborea. She had missed him badly, but they were both too busy to meet. ‘Morag!’ he cried. ‘You look so beautiful! I brought you these. Happy birthday!’ He gave her a large bouquet of faery flowers that spread their fragrance through the room. ‘Thank you, Demos’ she said, and put them into a large glass vase filled with water and set them on one of the side tables, where they continued to spread their fragrance.
‘What’s in here?’ she asked, pointing at the large wooden box that Demos had just dragged into the room. ‘This is the second part of your birthday present. Let me show you’. He prised off the wooden lid. Morag peered inside, and gave a cry of delight. ‘Oh, Demos, you remembered! Come and look, Mariko!’
Mariko gave a squeal of pleasure. ‘It is a large microscope. It is just what we need, Morag!’
‘Yes it is. Bless you, Demos, for remembering. How long did it take you to get here with that thing?’
‘About two and a half days. I had to hire a horse and cart, so I was a bit slow’.
‘You came all the way from Rhuan for my birthday?’
‘Of course. It is your birthday, and I wanted to see you again’.
Morag smiled at him. ‘Come here, you’. She put her arms around him and kissed him long and passionately. There was another loud knock at the door. This time, Mariko ran to open it. They heard a low whispered conversation outside, then Mariko returned, leading a tall stranger by the hand. Annie and Simon leapt to their feet in delight. ‘Paravar!’ they both cried in unison.
‘Annie! Simon! Well met! It is a long time since saw each other! How are you both?’ The three of them shook hands. As she looked at his handsome features with close-cropped beard and moustache, and his long dark hair tied neatly behind in a bun, Morag decided to go into her second sight to see where she knew Paravar from. She closed her eyes for a few seconds. She saw a bright image of Annie, Simon and Paravar sitting around a low table, drinking tea in a large tent. Annie looked up and said ‘Morag?’
She awoke with a start, back in her own apartment. Annie was frowning at her. ‘This isn’t the time for second sight, Morag’.
‘I know, but there’s something about Paravar that I can’t quite remember. I’m sure we’ve met before.
‘Where? He’s king of the Barbarossi now!’
‘He is? But I still know him from a long while ago’.
‘Well, never mind now. Mariko wants us to settle down and have supper’.
They gathered around the table. At Mariko’s insistence, Morag sat at the head of the table, with Demos next to her. She kept looking at Paravar, trying to recall her memory. It came to her in a sudden flash. ‘Paravar’, she called down the table, ‘Do you remember staying with my mother just before you went up to Oxford?’
‘Yes, I do’. Paravar said slowly. ‘Moran was kind to me and offered me shelter until the term started. I was still nervous, and she offered me reassurance’.
‘Do you also remember the nine-year old girl who kept you company sitting on the front step, talking about the world?’
‘Yes, she was pretty and she had large dark eyes….’ He broke off suddenly. ‘It was you, wasn’t it, Morag? I always had my meals in my room, I was so shy. The only time I saw you was in the evenings sitting on the front step. At the time, I thought you were one of her waifs and strays. Little did I know! Your mother even had to tell me which train to take for Oxford’.
Morag smiled. ‘I didn’t mind. You were good to talk to’.
‘I agree, Morag. But those were the days of innocence, when a nine-year-old girl and an incredibly shy young teenager could sit together and put the world to rights. Those day are long gone, I’m afraid’.
‘No, they’re not. We can still do it, Paravar’.
The food arrived and for a while the air was filled with the sounds of conversation and serious eating. Then Simon put down his chopsticks and cried ‘Speech! Speech!’ The other joined in, slapping their palms on the tabletop. This was the moment Morag had been dreading. She slowly got to her feet. There was an expectant silence.
‘I don’t what to say, except this, you’ve all become my family, my brothers and sisters’. Her voice almost broke. ‘You’ve always been there for me, as I’ll be always be there for you. Yesterday, I bought a new dress, something I’ve never done before. It may seem a small thing to you, but it was a big step for me. You see, I’ve never done that before in my life. Her voice was spun with emotion. ‘You don’t know what it means to me, but I think it means the beginning of a new life, a new future. I think tonight is a time for love and reflection, for all of us. I don’t know what else to say, I really don’t’. She sat down, feeling rather stupid. Applause broke out. Annie leaned over and squeezed her hand.
‘That was a lovely speech, Morag’.
‘No, it wasn’t! It was a mess. I’ve got no social skills whatsoever!’
‘Listen to me, Morag! Look around you! Do you think we’re all here to measure your social skills? We’re here because we love you, Morag, for your kindness and goodness, and because, well, you’re you. So stop giving yourself an inferiority complex! All right?’
Morag nodded meekly. She looked down the table at all her friends and family gathered around her. They were all cheerful and exuberant. She felt a sudden thrill of happiness. They were all here for her. Annie was right. She had spent too much time in the last few years wallowing in grief and self-pity. It was time for a new beginning.
As they arose from the table, Morag noticed Demos beckoning to her from the window alcove overlooking the stream below. She joined him, putting her arm around his waist affectionately. ‘Look out of the window, Morag. What do you see?’
She looked and gasped. It was bright outside, for the light of the full moon, that seemed twice as large as normal, highlighted each facet of the landscape below, casting hard-edged deep shadows. The grass slope and bank of the stream had turned silvery. It was an enchanting sight.
‘It is an old faery custom, that if one dances barefoot under the full moon, good fortune will follow for the rest of the year’. Demos whispered in her ear. Morag did not have to hear any more. She turned to the others and clapped her hands loudly to draw their attention.
‘We’re going outside’ she announced. ‘It’s a full moon and I’m told it will bring us good fortune to dance barefoot underneath it. So please, join me, down there beside the stream’. She pointed down through the window.
‘That’s a wonderful idea, Morag’. exclaimed Annie. The others all looked enthusiastic too.
‘There is a door at the end of the corridor outside which leads out directly above that spot’. Helios suddenly said, ‘I can open it, if you like’.
‘I do like’. Morag replied. ‘Lead on, Helios’. They all walked through Morag’s office and out into the great vaulted corridor. Helios turned left and led them along it through the breadth of the building itself. Just before the corridor turned right, there was a small door set in the outside wall, hardly bigger than a postern. It stood barely five feet high.
Helios bent down, unlocked the door and pushed it open.
‘Do you want to go first, Morag?’ he asked.
‘Yes, please!’ She bent low and clambered through the door. She found herself at the top of a long shallow grassy slope that led down to the bank of the stream which was level, the perfect place for dancing. As the others clambered out after her, Morag felt like a mischievous little girl again. ‘Come on, let’s run!’ she shouted, seized Demos’s hand, and dashed down the slope towards the stream. ‘Let’s have a race!’
They ran as fast as they could down the slope, still hand in hand, until they reached the bottom. Morag couldn’t stop, but Demos seized her around the waist and spun her around just in time to prevent her from running right into the stream. She was still flushed and giggling by the time the others reached them.
‘Blimey, Morag, I thought you were in for an early bath then!’ Simon cried.
‘No, Demos saved me’. She smiled at him. ‘Demos, will you teach me to dance under the moonlight?’ she said almost shyly. Demos looked at her. She was flushed and radiant, looking like a young girl again. He thought he never loved her so much as in that moment. ‘There is nothing to teach, Morag. All we have to do is hold each other tight and move around slowly. But first we have take off our shoes’.
‘Right’. she said. She leant on Demos, while she peeled off her sandals, throwing them to one side. ‘Oh, it feels wonderful, Demos!’ as she felt the cool soft grass under her bare feet. They danced together under the full moon. She could sense the other couples gliding past them. She felt so happy that she had forgotten all her cares and difficulties of the past. The she heard Simon’s voice again. ‘We’ve got an audience’. He called. She looked up. Silhouetted in the large dormitory window in the building at the top of the slope, she could see a group of small figures watching them. She waved and all the small figures waved back. ‘Are those the girls you rescued?’ whispered Demos. ‘Yes, they are. My girls’.
After they were all tired of dancing, they sat in a row on the blankets that Ragimund had thoughtfully provided, in order not to spoil their dresses, dipping their feet into the cold water of the stream. Tiny silver fish darted and flitted around their feet as they paddled in the water. Morag gathered her new-found happiness around her like a cloak. It was a new sensation, which she held onto tightly. ‘We’d better get back. It’s late’. She said quietly. She looked at the dormitory window, but it was empty.The girls had all gone to bed. She smiled At least they were safe. They trudged back up the slope towards the small wooden postern door, and back to Morag’s apartment. Couple by couple vanished into the bedrooms, after wishing Morag good-night and a happy birthday. At length only Morag and Demos were left. Demos began to put on his jacket. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ demanded Morag sharply.
‘Morag, it is a long drive home. I had better start now while it is cool’.
‘You’re not going anywhere. You’re staying here with me tonight’. She said firmly.
‘But, Morag…why?’ Demos stammered.
‘Because I want you to’. She moved closer to him and took his hand. Without another word, she led him into her bedroom. The door closed softly behind them.
Frank Jackson (5/08/2013) Word Count -11832