DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Go hence, thou!
Annie and Simon, brother and sister visit an art exhibition. Before that, their new sister, Morag, formerly a policewoman experiences her first taste of war in an engagement on a former enemy. Meanwhile, Annie and Simon rescue a doll belonging to a former enemy. The week culminates in a picnic, which goes disastrously for Annie. They are left with deep decisions to follow.
The two triremes surged on across the calm green sea, , leaving a translucent sweep, rolling a little in the calm swell despite the best efforts of the rowers beneath them. Morag braced herself on the cane supports of the canvas covering to protect the captain from the midday heat, but now taken down in the dark twilight of the evening. The beating of the oars kept the two ships level with each other. Morag hung on against the rolling of the trireme. These were not designed as sea-going ships. She understood that now! She saw lights on the horizon, and realised they were close to their target.
The oarsmen rowed as quietly as they could, so as not to give any alarm to the sleeping port. Two long curving jetties enclosed the harbour, each with a fortified tower on the end, overlooking the narrow entrance. From an embrasure on the top of each protruded the evil long black snout of a cannon. ‘This is the most difficult part of the operation’. Ragimund, the instigator of this action, whispered to her. ‘We must not alarm the sentries’. Morag looked at the forward deck, packed with faerys of the boarding parties. They crouched, tense and anxious, armed with swords and bows. She dreaded to think what would happen if those cannon opened fire. The trireme nosed gently through the entrance into the harbour. All was quiet.
This expedition was in retaliation for the slavery that the Circlassians had practised in the land of Hyperborea, the faerys’ land. The faery force intended to sack the main Circlassian port of Lazario, hence their presence tonight. Morag, who had witnessed the Circlassians’ cruelty to their slaves, had been asked to accompany this raid. She felt no fear, but looked up apprehensively at the two towers as the trireme gently nudged its way into the harbour. There had been no sound from either tower or the trireme, as it eased its way through the entrance. Now the trireme moved alongside the central quay, again without noise or scraping. The faery oarsmen shipped their oars as the ship came alongside.
Instantly, the faerys on board vaulted over the railings bearing the shields on each side of the trireme, and jumped onto the jetty. They quickly split into two groups. The faery captain held her hand up and made a swift chopping motion. Both groups of faerys turned and made swiftly for each of the fortified towers. ‘What’s happening? She whispered to Ragimund. ‘We have to get rid of those damned fire-eaters in those towers, before they blow us up on the way back’. Ragimund whispered fiercely back. She knew Ragimund’s antipathy towards firearms of any kind, so she just nodded. She looked back at the quay again. The faery landing parties had made their way noiselessly right and left down the main jetty and were entering the doors of the fortified towers. One by one, they disappeared inside. There was a minute’s dead silence, then Morag saw a flurry of swords on top of the tower, around the cannon, their blades shining in the darkness, as the faerys cut down the sleepy and hapless cannon crews. Making no pretence at silence now, the faerys simply rammed the cannon through the embrasures and toppled them into the harbour below. The cannon turned over and over, their polished snouts still gleaming, until they hit the water below and vanished with a loud splash.
In a moment, the port was in uproar. Aroused by the large splashes of the cannon, the entire port had arisen. Half-naked women ran around, still dazed by what had happened. Circlassian soldiers in their knee –length grey chain mail appeared from the doorways of the tumbledown thatched one-storey dwellings that fringed the main jetty, still buckling on their sword-belts. They were immediately cut down ferociously by the faerys, slashing with their long curved swords. One Circlassian soldier was cut almost in two by an enraged faery. Dripping blood, he pitched forward and fell into the dark waters of the harbour, where he disappeared like a stone. One of the women, her arms out-stretched in her dishevelled clothing stood transfixed by an arrow in her back, and tumbled forwards on her face onto the ground. The whole port was now in uproar. The shrieks of the women, and shouts of the men mingled to create a hubbub of noise which was almost deafening, through which the faery soldiers drove their way back towards the waiting trireme, lighting the wicks on their small incendiary pots and hurling them onto the thatched roofs and through windows and doors. Some threw them onto the ships moored in harbour, which immediately caught fire. Morag saw a main-mast flare up like a giant match, and topple over, its spars and rigging also aflame, onto the next ship, which caught fire almost straight away. In the light of the flames, Morag saw the frightened shouting faces and glimpsed at last something of the terrible face of war. But she noticed something else as well.
A small female faery was fighting desperately on the jetty against a horde of mail-clad Circlassians who were driving her back towards the edge of the jetty. The trireme, with her comrades safely on board, was already edging its way out of the harbour towards the entrance. The young faery made her decision and leapt into the dark waters. She came up, spluttering and gasping, and tried to swim towards the retreating ship. But, weighed down by her boots and armour, she began to flounder. ‘Stop, for pity’s sake!’ Morag cried frantically. ‘Can’t you see she’s drowning!’ She looked back at the small pitiful figure struggling in the dark water. ‘Ragimund!’ she cried again.
‘I cannot risk the lives of my men and this ship for one faery!’
She turned the faery over on her back, and cupped her hand under her chin to hold her face out of the water. ‘Come on, love! She said desperately. She began to haul the faery behind her, who was now a dead weight. She was unconscious. Morag swam on, kicking her feet hard, to support the faery, and to make her way towards the trireme, which had now stopped and lay across the harbour entrance. She swam desperately towards it, towing the inert faery with her. She was a dead weight but Morag was determined to rescue her. She swam on, feeling exhausted, when she heard the swish and pliff of arrows around her in the water.The Circassians were shooting at her and the faery! She kicked her legs harder, hoping that they were small targets and difficult to see. She heard the whirr of larger arrows above her head, going in the opposite direction. The faerys on the trireme were shooting back!
Finally, Morag got to the ship and held on to one of the oars. Trying to haul the now unconscious faery up, she realised she was too tired. ‘ Help me! Help!’ she cried. Almost immediately three large male faerys bounded down towards her over the oars. Two of them picked up the small faery, while the third extended his hand to her. ‘Take my hand, lady’. Morag gratefully stretched out her own hand.
Grasping her wrist, as she grabbed his, he hauled her up over the oars and onto the side deck of the trireme. She scrambled over the railing onto the main deck where she fell onto her hands and knees next to where the young faery lay. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ Morag demanded.
‘She has gone, my lady’
‘No, she hasn’t! Not on my watch!’ Morag decided to pump on the faery’s chest. ‘Come on,love, come on!’ After about a minute, the faery gasped and choked, then her head turned aside as she puked a stream of sea-water. ‘That’s it! Again, my love!’ cried Morag in delight. She pumped again on the faery’s chest. ‘Come on, love’. She was soaking wet, but still tended to the faery. She pummelled her again, and this time the faery choked and spluttered and opened her eyes. ‘Where am I? she muttered, faintly.
‘You’re on board ship! Morag whispered back. ‘Don’t worry!’ It was enough for Ragimund, who gave the order for the ship to turn and head out for the open sea. The trireme spun round and made for the harbour entrance. Morag tried to get up but failed. She fell on her hands and knees again. She was just too tired. ‘Here, lady, let me help’. said a faery voice. She looked around the faery boots around her which was all she could see. ‘Which one of you said that?’ She was still on her hands and knees. ‘Here, lady. Let me help you’. She was picked up by a large faery in his arms. ‘Take her down to the hospice, where she will be looked after. Do it now!’. The voice was Ragimund’s, now sharp.
‘Don’t shout at him!’ Morag said feebly. ‘Take her down stairs! Now!’ Ragimund’s voice had risen to a shout. As the faery carried her down the stairs, Morag fell into darkness.
Annie and Simon walked along Hanover Terrace, in Brighton. They were looking for a house, but had no idea of where to find it. ‘Let’s ask’. Annie said suddenly. She had noticed a thin young man in a scruffy black tee-shirt and shorts ferociously mowing his small lawn. His legs and arms were covered in blue tattoos. ‘Excuse me!’ Annie called. The youth glowered at her. ‘Yeah, what?’ His tone was both unpleasant and suspicious. ‘Have you seen a young woman with red hair and green eyes? She lives around here, and we’re trying to find out where she stays’. She was unprepared for his reaction. He glared at her in fury. ‘That stuck-up bint! Bet she’s on the game! What do you want with her, anyway?’ he asked challengingly.
‘She’s got something of ours that we want back’. Annie replied. She didn’t like this man.
‘I knew it! Thieving little tart! Anyway, she lodged with old Mrs Suddaby over there!’ He pointed to a run-down terraced house across the road, with a garden that desperately needed weeding.
‘Thank you’. Annie said calmly. Inside, she was seething. She did not appreciate cruelty or insults in any form, and certainly not from this man. Simon understood and pulled her away. ‘I’d like to smash his face in!’ she muttered furiously under her breath to her brother.
‘It’s not worth it, Annie! Let’s just get on and do what we have to do!’ Simon muttered back. ‘He probably tried to come on to her and she blew him away! Anyway, she certainly didn’t make any friends around here. What a surprise!’ They walked up the small cracked concrete path to the grimy, wooden front door. Simon rapped the letter-latch handle loudly, since there was no doorbell. They heard a shuffling inside, then the door opened. A small rat-like figure appeared. Her small pointed, wrinkled face looked exactly like a rat, to the extent that they expected her to have whiskers. The rest of her was cocooned in a variety of old shawls, that made her shapeless. Even her voice sounded squeaky.
‘What do you want? If you’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, then get lost!’ she said, testily.
‘ No, we’re not. Mrs Suddaby, We’re looking after the interests of one your tenants, a girl with red hair and green eyes’.
‘ Oh, her! What’s she done now?’
‘Nothing. She’s dead’.
‘Dead! Oh, no! Does this mean I can rent her room out again?’ Mrs Suddaby rubbed her hands together in a distinctively rat-like way.
‘Can we see her room? It’s that we want to pick up some things to remember her by’.
‘ I suppose so. Up the stairs and it’s the door facing you. Mind you don’t mess things up!’
Simon looked after her as she shuffled off to the kitchen.
‘Come on, Simon!’ Annie said impatiently.
‘All right! All right! I was just looking for her tail!’
Annie suppressed a grin, and led the way up the stairs and opened the door. They looked around wordlessly.The walls were papered in soft yellow, with painted tendrils of blue and green jasmine cascading down it from the ceiling. In the centre was a huge bed. There was no other furniture apart from a small wooden bedside table. The room was lit by two large windows, which overlooked the small garden below.
‘Annie, there’s nothing here!’
‘Yes, there is! Look under the bed!’
Groaning, Simon got down on his hands and knees and peered under the bed. In the twilight underneath he could faintly see the outlines of a clothes chest and two or three other boxes. He selected one and pulled it out. ‘Here she is!’ he cried triumphantly. Annie opened the box. There was Lucia looking innocent and trusting on a bed of cotton wool. ‘What can we do with her?’ she cried despairingly. ’I don’t want to keep her!’
‘Look. Why don’t we take her back to Bill and Louise’s? After all, she came from them, didn’t she? Let’s walk up there’. Annie agreed. ‘That’s a really good idea, Simon. We’d better tell Louise that her sister’s dead though’.
‘Oh, yes. I hadn’t thought of that’. Simon said rather glumly.
They walked sadly down the stairs and out onto the street, not even saying goodbye to Mrs Suddaby, who was scuttering around in the kitchen. They walked down the main road into town, and up Saint James Street. It was a long walk uphill and they were both panting when they reached Bill’s little shop. Simon rang the bell and they entered. The shop was the same as they remembered- a showroom on the right, with stairs on the left, down which Bill came bounding. He was the same tall, dark-haired faery that they both recognised. He was a restorer by trade and had settled in their world. He was married to Louise, Venoma’s former sister, who was human, whom he loved very deeply. They both liked Bill, for his kindness and compassion, though they had only met him once before.
‘Hallo, Simon! Hello, Annie! Well met!’
‘Hallo, Bill! Is Louise in?’
‘Yes she is, upstairs with our new child’.
‘Oh, Bill, that’s wonderful! But we have some really bad news for her!’
‘Is it about her sister? Do you want to tell her or should I?’ Bill asked directly.
‘I think we should’. Annie said.
‘Then why should you not go and see her? I will make some tea. She will be happy to see you’.
‘I hope so’. Annie said, under her breath.
They trod up the stairs, despondently, and tapped on the door to the right.
Louise was standing up, rocking a wooden cradle, slimmer now, and wearing her blonde hair down, so that it framed her pretty face. Annie ran to her. She looked down and saw the young child, sleeping and yawning at the same time. ‘ She’s so beautiful, Louise.’
‘Yes, she is. We’ve named her Isabelle after my sister’.
This was the moment they had both been dreading. Annie looked appealingly at her brother, who swallowed hard, then said ‘Look, Louise, there’s no easy way of telling you, but your sister’s dead’.
‘Dead!’ Louise sat down heavily on the chaise longue behind her. A single tear rolled down each cheek. She looked shocked and saddened. ‘How did it happen?’ she asked quietly.
‘Quickly’ Annie said. “She didn’t suffer, Louise. But I don’t want to go into details now. We have something of hers that you might like to keep’. She laid the box on Louise’s lap. Louise looked at it, mystified, then took the lid off. She cried out in delight. ‘Oh, it’s Lucia, my sister’s doll! You brought her back!’
‘Yes, we did. We thought Lucia was the only link that you had left between yourself and the sister you once had’.
Another tear splashed onto the cover of the cardboard box.
‘Thank you, both of you. But can I ask you a great favour?’
‘Of course, Louise. What is it?’
‘Well, with my sister now gone, my daughter hasn’t got any relatives, not in this world. We’ve got Bill’s family, but they’re in Hyperborea. But, if anything happened to us, I want her to be protected. I wondered, if you could, be god-parents to my daughter, at least here, and make sure she’s looked after. Please, it would take a great weight off my mind’.
‘Because we trust you. Bill says you’ve become part-faery, and faerys keep their promises, don’t they? Besides, I trust both of you’.
Bill returned with the tea-things.
‘I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be pushy. But it would mean a great deal if we have someone to trust, like you’. Louise said.
‘It would mean a great deal to both of us’. Bill added.
Despite his truculence, Simon agreed, much to Annie’s relief. She knew he liked them both.
‘ I should like you to have Lucia back, as a reminder of the sister you have lost’. She said, so softly, that only Louise could hear her.
‘ I know, Annie, and I appreciate it. I would like to keep her, for my sister, whoever she became’. Louise whispered back.
Annie nodded. Then she had another idea. At all cost, this child would be protected against Doctor Wrist.
‘When was the last time that you and Bill went out together? Just the two of you, I mean’. She asked abruptly.
‘Not for months, have we, Bill? What with me being pregnant’.
‘How about next week? Simon and I can look after little Isabelle for you. Can’t we, Simon?’
‘I suppose so’.
‘In fact, we’ll take her over to our house, with your permission. It would be safer, and I can guarantee that she’ll bag herself a couple of new aunties, not to mention a grandmother!’
‘ You think our daughter could be in danger?’ asked Bill uneasily.
‘Not necessarily, but I don’t want to take any chances. Trust me’.
‘I do. And thank you, Annie, for your kindness’.
‘Not at all. I promise you both we’ll guard little Isabelle with our lives’.
Morag woke up. At first she did not know where she was. The only light came from a small lantern suspended from the ceiling. A figure moved towards her. Morag drew her legs up and clasped her hands around her knees in fright, exactly as she did when she was a child.
‘Morag, Do you not recognise me! It is I, Ragimund’.
‘Ragimund! Where am I?’
‘You are still in the trireme. This is the hospice on board. I undressed you because you were soaking wet. I hope you don’t mind’.
Morag looked down at herself. She was wearing only a nightshirt.
Ragimund smiled. ‘Don’t be alarmed, Morag. I undressed you myself. I was worried about you. You were wet and shaking’.
‘Thank you, Ragimund’. Morag lay back again on her pillow. ‘Have you watched over me all night?’
‘Of course. You are my faery-sister’.
‘Where is the girl that I rescued?’ Morag asked, quietly.
‘She is in the bed opposite you. Look,she is beginning to stir’.
‘Go and get some rest, Ragimund. I’m all right now’.
‘Very well. I’m glad that you have recovered, Morag’.
‘Thank you again, Ragimund. I’m fine’.
Ragimund rose and departed. Morag looked over at the young faery she had saved. ‘Are you all right, love?’ she asked gently.
The young faery raised a tear-stained face from her pillow. ‘You must hate me, Morag!’ She buried her face in the pillow again.
Morag was bewildered. Why should this young faery say that? She got up and padded across, in her bare feet, to the other bed, and sat down on it. ‘Sit up’ she said. ‘Now tell me why I should hate you’.
‘You should have let me drown!’
‘No way! Besides, it’s my job to save lives, not to ignore them!’
‘My name is Danae, Morag. Do you not remember me?’
Morag was silent. She remembered that day when Haga the faery had spurned her, and the small figure that accompanied him, when her new brother, Simon had struck him down.
‘Tell me, Danae, did you want to die yesterday?’
‘I did not care what happened to me, Morag’.
‘Well, I do. Did he cast you out?’
Danae nodded miserably.
Morag felt sorrow for this young faery girl, whose heart had been broken, remembering her own grief.
‘You’re better off without him. Find someone who’ll love and value you for yourself. You’re young and attractive. You won’t have any problem’.
‘Tell me, Morag. Do you have someone else now?’
‘Yes, I do. His name is Demos, and he’s incredibly handsome, though he doesn’t recognise it, of course. But he is a very good person, though his timekeeping leaves a lot to be desired’. Morag felt a warm smile cross her face as she thought of Demos.
‘I wish I could meet someone like that’. Danae said, wistfully.
‘You will, love. Just give it time’.
There was a tap on the door. A female faery stood there, with a neat pile of clothes in one hand and two pairs of boots in the other. ‘The lady Ragimund sent these down for you, and asks if you are well enough, will you join her on deck?’
‘Thank you, and yes, we will see her on deck’. Morag said firmly.
They quickly dressed, glad to be out of that stifling little cabin, and followed the faery up the stairs and onto the deck above. Ragimund was talking to the captain on the aft deck. She broke off and embraced Morag warmly, and nodded to Danae, then pointed to the shore. ‘ Our port, Druard, Morag!’ Morag looked and gasped. She had never grasped how many ships there were, but from seaward, she suddenly realised how big a port Druard was. She saw a forest of tall masts, criss-crossed with spars and furled sails, and hulls of many ships, the tall-sterned galleons and the round, tubby merchant vessels alike, all bringing their goods and cargoes into Druard. She could hear the hubbub of noise even from the trireme, as it edged towards the port.
‘Morag, we are going to a sculpture exhibition tomorrow’.
‘What!’ Then she realised. ‘The master Meriadias is dead!’
‘Yes. He is gone. Morag, will you come with me?’
‘He was more than an uncle to you, was he? He took the place of your dead father!’
‘Yes, he became my new father!’ Ragimund’s eyes welled with tears. ‘He became my father, and now he is gone!’
‘I understand, and I’m truly sorry’.
‘Will you come with me tomorrow?’
‘Yes, I will. I’d love to come’.
‘Very well. You might like to know that Simon and Annie will be there, and also Demos’. She smiled at Morag’s obvious delight.
‘Ragimund, now that the master is gone, you have no family. Will you not make peace with your sisters? Now is the time, surely? The master would have wanted it’.
‘Do not interfere in my matters, Morag! But I will consider it’.
With that Morag had to be content. She turned to Danae.
‘What are you going to do now, Danae?’
‘I am going to see my mother and father, to ask their forgiveness’.
‘I think that would be a good idea, Danae’.
‘Goodbye, Morag. Thank you for all that you have done for me’. She darted off, down the gang-plank which had just been laid, and into the milling crowd of merchants, seamen and others who thronged the quayside. She was soon lost to sight. Morag felt saddened. She had really liked the young girl.
‘Morag!’ She turned and found Ragimund looking at her anxiously.
‘Are you sure you are well, Morag?’
Morag realised her legs felt weak and she was beginning to feel giddy. She smiled at Ragimund. ‘I must say I’ve felt better before now’.
‘That is enough. You two, find a litter for her and bring it back to the ship!’ Ragimund said, pointing to two large faerys on the deck beside her.They immediately ran down the gangplank and disappeared into the jostling crowd below. They reappeared a few moments later, bearing what to Morag seemed a large palanquin, elaborately decorated with golden dolphins and porpoises. It was a large covered wooden structure mounted on two long wooden poles that provided grips for the bearers at each end. Small curtains covered each side.
‘ These two will take you back home’. Ragimund said, indicating the two faerys. ‘Really, there’s no need!’ Morag protested.
‘Do not argue with me, Morag! You are still exhausted from last night! It is my duty to ensure that you get home safely. You have a long ride tomorrow’.
Feeling foolish and embarrassed, Morag stumbled down the gangplank and stepped into the palanquin, sinking gratefully into the soft cushions of its interior. Her legs ached and she was relieved that she was going to be carried home. Like a princess, she thought. She drew the curtains, afraid that someone would see her and scoff.
She felt the palanquin stir and sway, as the two faerys lifted it, then the steady rhythm of movement as they trotted through the crowd. She settled back on the cushions, enjoying the ride. She could hear and smell the crowds outside. A few minutes later she felt the palanquin being set down. A sharp tap on the wooden wall indicated the end of the journey. She got and looked around. The two faerys had brought her right to the front door of the customs building at the back of the port. Inside was her own office and apartment.
She smiled at both faerys and thanked them. ‘May I ask you a question, my lady?’ the smaller of the two said.
‘How is it, lady, that you brought that girl to life again? We all thought she was dead!’
‘Just a simple matter of resuscitation. Anyone can do it’.
Both faerys looked at her admiringly.
‘It was truly a miracle,lady’. Said the other faery. They made their farewells, and Morag entered the building, still marvelling that though the faerys swam like fish, they were so ignorant of basic life saving techniques. There were huge gaps in their knowledge.
She walked through her office, and opened the door to her apartment. As usual, she was impressed by its size. It was more like a substantial Roman villa, but she had come to love it. But she was also ravenously hungry. She went into the kitchen, set on one side of the great open living space, and through into the cool larder at the far end.
Here she found several large wrapped parcels, which she began to open. One contained a large slab of the local cheese, which tasted like very sharp cheddar, and was delicious. Next, was a smaller parcel containing slices of fresh ham, from one of the local villas behind the port. It looked fresh and juicy. There was also fresh bread, cooked in small loaves, still warm to the touch.
Bless you, Mariko, Morag thought. She’s been to the market, and brought me back some food. Oh, bless her. She carved off a large hunk of cheese, together with two large slices of ham, and a small dish of the local luscious olives, put them on a tray, and carried them to the small table next to her mother’s huge balloon-back, somewhat threadbare chair. It was large, big enough to allow her to curl up inside it. She felt like Alice in Wonderland. (Oh, Mum. I wish you were still here! But I still want to see you again, at least for one last time! At least, grant me that!)
She curled up underneath a blanket, with a tray of food on her knees, in her mother’s old chair. It was set in the window alcove, overlooking the bank by the stream where she and Demos had danced, along with the others on her birthday. She smiled affectionately at the memory. It had been a wonderful evening. Now, she wanted to do nothing more than eat, sleep and rest for a while. She watched the sunset for a while, then fell asleep.
She was awoken by a violent tugging on her arm. It was Mariko, who looked at her with concern. ‘Are you all right, Morag?’
‘Never better’. It was true, she felt much more healthy.
‘We were concerned about you. But I have packed your things, including your dress, for the exhibition. Ragimund is waiting for you outside’.
‘Just give me a moment’. She rushed into the bathroom, washed her face, and combed her hair. She reappeared to find Mariko still there. ‘Is that better?’
‘Much better. Oh, Morag, I have been so worried abut you!’
She hugged Mariko to her. ‘Don’t worry about me, love. I’m all right. Let’s get going, shall we?’
They found Ragimund waiting for them outside with the horses. It was barely daylight and the sun had not yet arisen. She looked anxiously at Morag. ‘Are you well enough to ride?’
‘I told you I’m all right! Please stop fussing over me!’ Morag snapped. She was looking forward to this ride.
The miles sped under their hoofs, the sun now high and hot upon their backs. At length, Ragimund put up her hand to stop them. Their horses, panting, skittered in the road. ‘There is a caravanserai a mile up the road’. she said. ‘We can change the horses there, and have something to eat’. Morag was feeling desperately hungry, so she was pleased. Ragimund suddenly turned her horse off the main road and down a narrow but well-paved path to the right. It led down through a coppiced wood of young trees and up again to the entrance to the caravanserai, where they dismounted, and unsaddled their horses, who immediately trotted over to the large circular water trough in the centre of the courtyard, drinking greedily from the fresh, clean water.
Ragimund watched them for a few moments. ‘We must have them fed and housed, before our own comforts. It is the faery way’. They led their horses over to the stable bays on each side of the caravanserai walls. Morag hung up her saddle on the hooks by the door and rubbed down her horse vigorously, then brushed him. She reflected on what Ragimund had said. To look after your horse before your own comfort. It made sense, since the faerys were so reliant on their horses. Not for the first time, she wondered how it was that faerys could display such kindness, and at the same time be so ferocious in war.
They rejoined each other, walked arm in arm into the cantina, and sat down at a table under the overhanging roof. The cantina, or small restaurant, was open on three sides, with the kitchen at the back, cool and airy out of the sun. Morag asked for a large vegetable omelette. The other two ordered large salads, with side dishes of sliced cooked potatoes with herbs. The food, when it came, was excellent, succulent and well cooked. Morag ate with gusto. She was really hungry.
‘You have recovered your appetite, Morag’. Ragimund said with a smile.
‘Absolutely! This is wonderful! But, Ragimund, I thought that faerys didn’t employ servants’.
‘We don’t. The people here are soldiers still, who have volunteered for this duty as part of their training in citizenship, which in turn is also part of their military service’.
‘No, you do not see! We maintain these caravanserai at our own cost, for the benefit of travellers! How we do that is none of your business!’
She got up and stalked out of the cantina. Morag stared after her despairingly.
‘What have I done?’ she asked Mariko, who was still sitting at the table.
‘Believe me, you have done no wrong. Ragimund is grieving for her lost father. Seeing this exhibition will be an ordeal for her, which is why she asked you and I to be her companions. Ragimund has now lost two fathers and she is upset. Please do not blame yourself, Morag. You have done nothing wrong’.
Ragimund returned and laid her hand on Morag’s shoulder. ‘I am sorry. I should not have laid my wrath on you. Please forgive me, Morag’. She looked up at Ragimund, dismayed. She had been crying, and her face was still tear-stained.
‘There’s nothing to forgive. But don’t you think this is a good time to make peace with your sisters? You need your family around you now, and I’m sure that your uncle, I’m sorry, I mean your father, would want that’.
‘Perhaps. Let us see what happens at the exhibition’.
Ragimund led the way to their new horses. Morag found herself mounted on a shy, dappled grey mare called Mary, who, unlike the other horses was quiet, and not inclined to gossip. The three of them rode in silence. Ragmund seemed preoccupied, and both Mariko and Morag did not want to disturb her. But Morag was worried about Ragimund, because she seemed so melancholy, even if she had lost her second father. She wondered what the real cause was.
They reached the outskirts of Elsace by early evening, cantering down the curving road that bordered the lake, past the two great institutes of learning that seemed to be floating in Lake Tabitha itself, past the harbour warehouses, the city market, and down onto the Path of Venus, where they could see the palace, sparkling like a jewel in the early evening sunshine. Outside the main entrance, they dismounted and unloaded their horses.
‘We will be lodged here tonight, in the palace. We can wash and change here, then walk to the museum and art gallery. Ragimund still sounded despondent. They walked up the grand stairs from the hall with its austere kouroi- like figures, and entered the same large room that they had lodged in before. Two figures were already in the room, busy dressing.
‘Annie! Simon!’ Morag shouted in delight.
‘Morag! Ragimund! Mariko!’ Oh, we’re so glad to see you at last!
Annie ran across to Morag, and hugged her. Her dress was still flapping at the back.
‘Let me do you up, Annie, and make you look respectable’. She buttoned up the back of Annie’s dress. ‘Now I’d better wash and change, myself’.
Presently, they were all ready. Ragimund wore a tight-fitting dark blue dress, and Mariko a kimono dress decorated with yellow chrysanthemums. They descended the stairs like a flock of brightly coloured butterflies, carefully crossing the Path of Mars, another major road that ran though the city. Then they were on soft grass as that made their way towards the museum and art gallery.
Morag tugged at Simon’s sleeve, as they walked down to the exhibition. ‘Simon, I have something to say to you’.
‘Of course, what is it, Morag?’
‘That girl I rescued from drowning. Her name was Danae’.
‘Yes. But, oh, Simon, she was so brave! She fought off a dozen Circlassian soldiers before she had to jump in the water. I saw her, Simon!’
‘I’m so glad that you were able to save Danae. I would never wish any harm to her’.
‘I know. She told me that you spoke kindly to her’.
‘Demos is already here. As a favour, I’ll go and find him for you. He probably won’t find you on his own’.
Morag cuffed him lightly on the side of his head. ‘Don’t be so cheeky about Demos. Anyway, I can’t believe he’s so early. He’s always late’.
‘We’ll see about that. Wait here, Morag. I’ll find him for you’.
He disappeared into the crowds of spectators, then reappeared a few minutes later with a tall figure behind him. He was followed by another. Morag felt a thrill of joy.
‘Demos!’ she cried.
‘Helios!’ Annie shouted behind her.
Both Morag and Annie were swirled off their feet by their paramours. Morag shouted furiously ‘Put me down at once, Demos! I’m not a piece of baggage!’
‘And you too, Helios! I don’t like to be whirled around!’ Annie snapped.
‘And why have you managed to be so early? It’s not like you, Demos’.
Demos and Helios looked down at their feet, looking suitably abashed and ashamed. ‘Morag, I wanted to impress you by being early’ Demos said sadly.
Morag’s heart melted.
‘Oh, come here you! she said affectionately.
She hugged and kissed him. ‘You’re forgiven’. She whispered tenderly. ‘Let’s go and see this exhibition’. Arm in arm they walked amidst the newly created statues, followed by Annie and Helios, also reconciled. Annie looked around in delight. The solid imprisoning slabs of masonry, from which the figures had tried in vain to extricate themselves, had gone. The youth that had been so vainly trying to free himself now poised himself on twin sculpted bars, his legs swinging free to begin his acrobatic display. The girl who had reached out her arm imploringly from her stone prison, stood naked, a discus clutched in her right hand, about to throw. The last rays of the evening sun glistened on smooth outstretched limbs. Every statue seemed to revel in their new-found freedom. The spectators, too, were caught up in the air of exuberance, drifting around each sculpture, in their finery, to celebrate the legacy of Meridias, the master.
Annie turned around and around in delight, her dress swirling round her. ‘This is marvellous! They’re all free from their stones! How wonderful!’ They all smiled at her childlike enthusiasm.
‘Annie!’ A small figure came rushing up to them, through the crowds. ‘Annie, you came! I’m so pleased!’
‘Hallo, Andromeda’. Annie said, smiling at the young girl they had met at Meridias’s house, who had been a pupil there.
‘Annie, you must come with me and see my work! It is important!’ She tugged at Annie’s hand. ‘Please!’
‘All right, but what’s the hurry, Andromeda?’
‘You will see when we get there. Please come, now!’
Annie allowed herself to be dragged along by the eager young girl to the circle of dancing girls carved by Meridias himself and to the statue which had been placed in their centre. She walked around it slowly. It was a wonderful statue, of a young girl, poised on one leg, half-turning behind her, beckoning others to follow. Her left arm was thrown forwards, while the other was thrown back appealing to the unseen others to follow her. Her left leg too was thrown back. She looked like a girl who was about to take flight, the folds of her tunic fluttering around her. Annie turned to the small figure of Andromeda.
‘She’s wonderful. But how did you get her to balance so perfectly?’
‘Oh, it was so hard, Annie! But the master helped me! With all the calculations about mass and weight, I would have been lost! But he gave me advice, so I was able to create her!’
Annie looked up at the girl’s face and gave a sudden start. She turned on Andromeda accusingly. ‘Why have you given her my face?’
‘I wanted to honour you, Annie’. The girl replied miserably. ‘Please, I meant no disrespect. It’s just that, that I owe this commission to you, and I thought that I would honour you’.
Annie looked up again at the girl statue’s face. She felt surprisingly flattered. ‘She’s wonderful, Andromeda, she really is. And I don’t mind at all. It’s a great compliment’.
‘You really mean it, Annie ? Honestly, I did not wish to insult you’.
‘Well, if I’m going to be remembered, I prefer to be remembered like that’. Annie said, pleased to see the bubbling exuberance return to Andromeda’s face. The girl was small for a faery, barely coming up to Annie’s shoulder, but she was pretty, clad in a bright yellow dress for the occasion. She made up for her lack of height with an intense enthusiasm and a born skill as a sculptor. Annie genuinely liked her, more used to seeing her in a dirty, dusty old smock, with a chisel and hammer in her hands, than in a dress.
For no particular reason, she turned to look at Ragimund. To her horror, she saw that Ragimund was frozen. Her brother had a tight grip on her arm, so hard that it hurt.
Approaching them through the line of Meridias’s dancing girls, were four figures. They wore dresses but they were also carrying bared swords, lowered to the ground, much to Annie’s dismay. Ragimund stood like stone. One by one, the figures laid the swords on the ground in front of her. Annie recognised them now. They were Ragimund’s four remaining sisters - Gloriana, Britomart, Mercilla and Lucifera. They stood behind their fallen swords in the centre of the dancing girls, underneath Andromeda’s sculpture.
Gloriana spoke first, in the sudden silence that had fallen. ‘Do you hate us so much, Ragimund? We have laid down our swords, as tokens of our word. We acknowledge that we have done you great wrong in the past, but surely, here, now, you can find in your heart to forgive us. Please, I am begging you! Make our sisterhood whole again! Her sisters were silent, as was Ragimund. Her head turned as she slowly looked, not at her sisters, but at her father’s dancing girls around them. Then she looked directly at her sisters. Various emotions crossed her face – first rage, anger, disbelief, and finally acceptance
‘I forgive you, my sisters’. She said in a loud, clear voice.
Their bowed heads came up immediately. Gloriana’s face glowed with joy. She ran forward, heedless of the swords under her feet, and paused before Ragimund, extending her arms out to her.
‘Am I allowed to embrace you, my sister?’ she said, mournfully.
‘You may, sister’. Ragimund smiled at her.
Gloriana joyfully embraced her. Her sisters came up one by one and did the same. They picked up their swords from the ground and carefully sheathed them. They moved off together into the exhibition.
‘I like that! said Annie indignantly. ‘Never a greeting to us! Just typical! Bloody faerys!’
Simon knew that Annie was on the verge of one of her famous ‘rants’ in which she lashed out at all and everyone.
‘Annie’. he said, desperately trying to stop it. ‘Please’.
Annie glared at him. But there was a tumult behind the dancing girls, and Gloriana swept through, followed by Ragimund.
‘Annie! Simon!’ she called, then fell on her knees before them. Annie felt shocked and embarrassed.
Annie, her anger forgotten, reached out her hands and drew Gloriana to her feet. She seemed very distressed. ‘I am so sorry to both of you!’
‘Why? Whatever for?’ Annie asked, now worried.
‘I have broken the rules of courtesy and hospitality to my friends and guests! I did not greet you as I should have done! I ignored you! Please forgive me, Annie!’
‘There’s nothing to forgive, Gloriana. Is there, Simon?’
Simon wisely decided to ignore his sister’s outburst of a few moments ago, and simply nodded.
‘Come and join us. It is time I saw the master’s work’. Gloriana added ‘Besides, I have something to ask you both’.
‘Come and join us’. she added. ‘All of you’. looking down at Andromeda.
Andromeda was not short, but she was smaller than the other faerys. She trotted along with Annie and Simon, until they joined the others. Andromeda took over charge of introducing her fellow students to the faerys and pointing out their achievements under Meridias. Annie looked in admiration at the figures which the students had created from single blocks of marble, and how they had made the figures almost cry out with joy at their liberation.
Andromeda proved her worth by introducing them to fellow students, who explained to them the purpose of their work. Annie could see that Gloriana was more and more impressed by the work. She herself was captivated by the figures, released from their stone prisons, exulting in their freedom. She was particularly enthralled by the sight of a young girl tiptoeing out of her stone prison, her arms outspread in joy, her lips parted in pleasure. Andromeda nudged her. ‘ That is Demetrious’s work’. She whispered. ‘ He has taken over the old studio from the master’. Annie remembered him – the young man with long muscular arms and a ready smile, clad in a dirty smock.
‘I’m glad about that’. She whispered back. Unlike the others, Demetrious had kept the original stone from which the young girl was carved. It made the whole sculpture more poignant. She knew the studio was in safe hands.
Finally, they came to Andromeda’s statue. The faery sisters exclaimed delightedly over it, particularly Gloriana.
‘I should like to buy your sculpture from you on behalf of our land, and these’ glancing around, ‘ too. They can be situated here, outside the art gallery, where they are now. What do you say to that, Andromeda?’
‘I should be delighted!’ said Andromeda. She had never dreamt of this. Gloriana smiled down at her , then bent lower so only Andromeda could hear.’Go hence thou, into the world with your talent, child, and create more works like this. May you make your master proud, and our land’.
‘I shall, my lady’. Andromeda said sincerely.
‘Now I have another errand to do. I shall join you all later’. Gloriana disappeared into the crowd of guests around the statues.
Andromeda rejoined Annie and Simon and told them what Gloriana had said, her small round face beaming.
‘That’s wonderful, Andromeda!’ Annie exclaimed, ‘She does you honour!’
‘ Andromeda! Annie! Simon!’ Another small figure came running up to them. It was Demetrius, but clad this time in a fine tunic, rather than a dusty smock. ‘I just spoke to Gloriana, who told me that she wishes to buy the whole exhibition! For Hyperborea! And she told me that I must be the new master of the old studio at Rhuan!
‘Oh, Demetrius!’. Andromeda cried, and flung her arms around his neck.
Annie and Simon looked at each other. Evidently there was more between Andromeda and Demetrius than they had realised.
‘That’s really good’. Annie said finally. ‘What will both of you do now?’
‘I shall carry on the master’s studio. I shall take over the running of it, and take in new students. Now that our work will be seen throughout the city, there will be many anxious to study and work there’. replied Demetrious, proudly.
‘And I am going to start my own studio, here in Elsace’. Said Andromeda in triumph. ‘Gloriana has promised me a suitable building near the student quarter here in Elsace, where I can set up and live. I can carry on the master’s work’.
‘I wish you both well’. said Annie warmly. Suddenly, Gloriana appeared, with Ragimund behind her. ‘Annie, will you and Simon join us for a private meal upstairs in your lodgings? You, Andromeda, and you too, Demetrious. Annie, I still have something to ask you’.
They gradually made their way through the ever-increasing crowds towards the palace, where they entered the great hall, and ascended the steps leading up to the grand room that was their accommodation for the night. The faery sisters were there already, as were Andromeda and Demetrious. They rose up like golden butterflies as Annie, Simon and Morag walked in.
‘Please, come and sup with us’. Gloriana called. She came and sat by Annie while she ate from the bowls of food heaped on the low, small table around which they sat, cross-legged on cushions in the window alcove.
‘What did you want to ask me, Gloriana?’ Annie said, when she had finished eating.
‘Can we have another pic-nic again?’
Annie wasn’t expecting this. ‘Is that all? Of course, we can have one, But why a picnic? I thought you were going to ask something more serious’.
‘Oh, Annie you don’t understand. You see, the last picnic was one of the happiest days of my life’.
‘Why? I don’t understand’.
‘Because I was a child again. It brought back my childhood, which I never wanted to lose, as you do not either’.
‘I lost my childhood long ago, and I’ll never get it back!’ Annie said bitterly. ‘I’ll never be a child again!’
Gloriana looked at her, concerned. ‘Do not say that, Annie. You have a right to your childhood’.
‘Not me! I lost it long ago!’ She got up and went to her room, slamming the door behind her. The others fell silent, startled by the sudden outburst.
‘I am sorry if I have offended your sister, Simon’. Gloriana said, gently.
Simon looked at the door that Annie had just slammed.
‘ I’m certain it’s nothing. But I’ll go in and make sure’.
Simon screwed up his courage and tapped on the door.
‘Annie? Can I come in?’
There was no answer, so Simon turned the handle, and walked in. His sister rose up from the bed on which she had been lying. Her eyes were wet.
‘What do you want?’ she snapped.
‘Annie, what’s all this about? We grew up together. Of course you have a childhood!’
“Not any more. It’s gone, Simon! I’ve only got the present and future!’
‘That’s rubbish. You’ve got a childhood, Annie, only you’ve chosen to deny it! Now come out with me, and apologise for your tantrum!’
He took her hand and hauled her off the bed. ‘Come on’. He said firmly.
Annie reluctantly led herself be led back into the main room, Simon holding her by her hand.
‘I’m sorry, Gloriana’. She said, timidly.
‘No, it is I who am sorry, for causing you distress. Please sit down and eat with us’.
‘I’ve forgotten what childhood is like’. Annie said, miserably.
‘You will remember, Annie. Trust me. I will look forward to our pic-nic’. Replied Gloriana warmly.
A Week later
‘Here they come! Simon shouted. He ran towards the line of riders that had suddenly appeared on the old hillfort above the golf course. They had set out the tablecloth in the same place as before.
The four Fingers of the Hand, elderly gentlemen in grey overcoats, had provided their own unique variety of sauces and condiments. Simon and Annie had brought a variety of pies cooked by their mother, cheese, bread and fruit.
The faery sisters too, Gloriana, Mercilla, Lucifera, Britomart and Ragimund, dressed in their finery, had also brought bulging packs of faery provender. So it was to prove to be a veritable feast.
Simon gallantly handed down Ragimund from her horse. She smiled at him and gave him a kiss. ‘Thank you, Simon I am not used to riding in skirts!’ Next he handed down Morag, who had accompanied the faery sisters. ‘Well, I never! A gentlemen at last!’
As he handed her down, they felt the bond between them, born out of sorrow and grief. Morag clasped his shoulder. ’It’ll be over soon, Simon, and then our loved ones can rest in peace’. She whispered to him.
‘I hope so. But I’m worried about Annie. She’s been really despondent for a week now’.
‘You and she have been on a long journey together for last four years. You’ve both been on a……odyssey, in a way. Perhaps she’s just tired’.
‘But we still have unfinished business. It’s not over yet, Morag’.
‘No, but until it is, then let’s enjoy our picnic. A fleeting snatch of happiness’.
Simon nodded, and they joined the others. The feast was joyous and memorable.
Adrian padded around, enjoying his role as scavenger, while Sniffer lay happily gnawing on a chicken leg. Gloriana was in her element, mischievously pelting the four Fingers and her sisters with bread rolls, laughing as she did. But Annie sat sombrely aside, contained in her own thoughts, eating little. Simon decided to sit by her.
‘Annie, what’s the matter? Please tell me’.
‘I’m just war-weary, Simon. I’ve had enough’.
‘You can’t give up, now, Annie. After all we’ve been through!’
‘I’m not giving up! I just wish there was an end to it! But I don’t know how!’
‘Come on, Annie and just enjoy the picnic!’
She sat down and did her best to enjoy it. But, try as she could, she could not engage in the jokes and banter that were going on. Not even the presence of Helios and Demos, who had ridden up last, could alleviate her gloom.
At last, she got up, and walked to the edge of the ancient hillfort, where she could see the blue ribbon of sea beyond Brighton. She still felt miserable and depressed. She felt a hand around her shoulders. It was her brother, Simon.
‘Are you all right, Annie?’
She felt another arm around her waist. ‘Are you unwell, Annie?’
It was Gloriana, who looked concerned.
‘No, just I feel sick at heart of this bloody war we’ve been waging against those damn Wrists!’
‘I knew it! You are war-weary, Annie.You have had a long journey, and a quest. Do you not think that there might be an end to all this? You must finish it. You have brought our sister back to us, and I thank you for that. We have missed her’.
‘That’s all right. Will you tell Helios that I’m sorry, but I really do want to be on my own for a while. Will you do that, Simon?’
‘Yes. Annie, are you going to be all right?’
‘I’ll be fine. I just need to go home’.
Simon looked anxiously at her retreating figure as she descended from the hillfort, and began to cross the golf course below. Gloriana looked at him and understood his grief.
But Simon stayed on the edge of the hillfort unitil he saw the small solitary figure of his sister pass into the bank of woodland that bordered the allotments below.
‘I promise you, Annie. We’ll finish this war once and for all, and very soon, for your sake. I promise you’. he said to himself, and turned to rejoin the picnic behind him.
He didn’t see the small figure turn to wave at him.
Frank Jackson (18/12/ 1013) Word count- 9644.