DR FRANK JACKSON 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
The Boat House
Morag, the half-faery marshal, receives an unexpected invitation to her fellow marshal’s house, that turns out to be built out of an overturned ship’s hull. Captivated by this structure, she meets her partner’s eldest daughter, who makes ships in bottles, and who is a budding playwrght. She reluctantly agrees to help the girl in her ambition, to stage her first play, though she knows it will be difficult to do so. However, she is distracted from this by news of a dangerous hostage situation, which attempts to defuse, but is wounded in that endeavour. She also has to face going on an expedition to find the place where an imminent attack, which they have been warned of, by Annie, might take place.
Morag was bored and miserable. She sat at her desk in the marshals’ office, outside her own apartment, in the customs house in Druard, the busy main port of Hyperborea, looking through some of the latest fingerprint reports that the other marshals had brought in. Across from her, Persephone was busy filing and cataloguing a series of similar reports on her large desk, a task which she did not seem to mind. But Morag did, and she was bored. Her mind was still on the news that Annie had brought with her, about the possible attack on her new land by the legions of Hell. They did not know as yet, where the attack would take place or when, and such news was incredibly worrying. Her faery husband, Demos, was at this moment, engaged in a meeting with her faery-sister, and sister-in-law, Ragimund, to discuss an expedition to try to find the whereabouts of where the attack might take place.
Her mind was not on her tasks, therefore, and when the door to the office opened and shut, she looked up with some relief, expecting to see one of her marshals. Instead, it shut behind a thin figure with a virulent shock of red hair, perched atop a pleasant, snub-nosed open face. He edged up to Persephone’s desk diffidently. ‘Excuse me, ma’am, but I am to report to the lady Morag. The lady Gloriana sent me’. His voice had a soft Scottish accent to it. Persephone looked a little startled at his accent, but replied to him politely. ‘What is your name, sir?’
‘Oh, yes, I think the lady Morag has been expecting you. She is at her desk over there’. She indicated with her hand where Morag was. Morag looked up as he came over to her desk. She thankfully slid aside the papers she had been working on. ‘What can I do for you?’ she asked, in her best professional manner. ‘Och, I’ve been sent by the lady Gloriana. She thought that I might be of use to ye’. Morag blinked, but his accent and manner of speaking was quite likeable. It reminded her of her own world.
‘Take a seat, Alembo’. she indicated the chair in front of her desk. He sank down into it gratefully. ‘Tell me about yourself’. She directed.
‘Well, I’m Scottish, as you well know. I did my degree at Edinburgh in psychology and social work, then I worked for the police there’.
‘So you’ve had police experience!’ Morag cried with delight. She could understand now why Gloriana had thought he might be useful.
‘Aye, I worked for the Edinburgh police as a profiler, and as a general skivvy’.
‘What did you do as a profiler?’
‘I built up profiles of potential killers and rapists, to determine who they might be, including eyewitness accounts, if possible, so that we could determine where they might strike next, and, if possible, who they might likely to be. Then we could narrow down the search for them’.
‘So if I had a likely serial killer on my hands, you could make a profile of him that we could look for?’
‘Aye, lady, that’s right. But I can do more. If you have eyewitness accounts, I can draw him for you. I catch a good likeness’.
‘That’s excellent! We could really do with that! But we need multiple copies! How can you do that?’
‘Aye, lady. I use lino-cuts here’.
‘Aye, it’s the stuff you lay on floors that ye do here, before you put carpets down. The upper layer is soft, so ye can cut it away. I can ink my original drawing then press it down onto the soft surface to make the marks, then I cut away to reveal the profile of the drawing. Then I can make prints from it. It’s not ideal’.
‘No, but it’s better than nothing’.
‘I can make twenty or thirty copies at a time’.
‘That’s more than enough. By the way, what’s your human name?’
‘Alex. Alex Macintyre. That’s my real name, lady’.
‘Please don’t call me lady. My name is Morag, and I’m proud of it’.
‘Aye, I will and gladly, Morag’.
‘And another thing. Where’s your wife? I gather you’ve been newly-wed’.
‘Aye, she’s outside. She said she couldn’t come in, because you might not want it. She says that you and her know each other, and because she said you might not want to see her. I’m baffled, Morag. I don’t know why’.
‘So am I. Where is she now?’
‘Outside. Sitting in the corridor, waiting for me’.
‘What!’ Morag said, scandalised. ‘You’ve left your newly-married wife sitting out there on her own! Bring her in! Now!’
Alex hurried off to the door, suitably chastened. Morag sat down again, wondering who this mysterious wife was and how she could possibly claim to know her. The door opened again, and Alex reappeared, pulling an unwilling small figure by the hand behind him. Morag stood up to welcome her, but her face dropped in surprise. ‘Allow me to introduce my wife, Marshal Morag’. Alex said formally ‘This is Danae’.
There was a short silence. Then Morag said, ‘Please, sit down, Danae,’ and smiled at her. Reassured, the girl sat down on the chair Alex considerately brought over for her. ‘It’s a long time sine we last met, Danae’. Morag said, carefully. She didn’t know how much to say in front of the girl’s husband. But Danae took the hint. She turned to her husband. ‘Alex, the last time the marshal and I met, she saved my life, during a raid on the Circlassians’.
‘What!’ Alex cried. ‘Oh, that’s grand!’ He turned back to Morag. ‘Morag, I have you to thank for saving her. If you hadnae, we would never have met!’
‘Where did you meet?’ Morag asked, curiously.
‘In Edinburgh’. Alex said at once. ‘She was sitting on her own, in this pub, looking so miserable. I went over and started talking to her. I couldnae forget her, she looked so sad. We started meeting regularly, just to talk, you know. But before I knew it, we had fallen in love. Then she said that she had to return to her own country. I was heartbroken, you see, so I said I’d go back with her. So here I am, with my bonny lass, and very happy too’.
‘I’m very glad to hear it’ Morag said, smiling.
‘Och, you think I’m stupid!’
‘No, I don’t, Alex. I think it’s very gallant and kind of you, to be willing to stay with the woman you love’.
‘It is’, said Danae, softly, reaching out her hand to his. At the same time, her eyelids flickered towards Morag, appealingly. She realised that the girl was asking to talk in private with her.
‘Alex’, she said, quickly, ‘Why don’t you go off and talk to Persephone over there? She can brief you on what she wants you to do, and you can look at our unsolved cases to see if you can unravel any of them’.
‘Aye, I’ll do that, Morag’. Alex said cheerfully. ‘You stay here with the lady, lass, an’I be back shortly’.
They waited until Alex had sat down with Persephone, and was talking with her, animatedly, before they resumed their conversation. Danae leant over the desk, and spoke in a whisper, so that her new husband could not hear. ‘Please do not tell him, Morag’.
‘Tell him what, Danae?’
‘That I was the mistress of a villain and a murderer, and that he treated me like the whore I am!’ whispered Danae, bitterly.
Morag leant even closer, so that her mouth was close to Danae’s ear. ‘Listen, you’re not a whore! You are a newly married young woman who has made some bad mistakes in the past! That’s all, Danae!’
‘You do not understand! What if he casts me off! I cannot bear to be rejected again! I cannot lose this one chance of happiness that I have!’
‘If he really loves you, he won’t! But it’s your choice, Danae. You have to decide. I can’t advise you’.
Danae was silent for several moments. ‘I promise I will tell him when the time is right. But not now! At least let me have some happiness at this time! Promise me you will not tell him!’
‘I promise. But its best if it’s you who tells him, Danae. I’d far rather that both of you are happy’.
‘I agree. But not now, Morag!’
‘All right, but please bear it in mind. Persephone!’
‘Yes, Morag?’ Persephone looked up from her desk, behind which she and Alex were seated. ‘Could you find out where Alex and his wife’s accommodation is, and conduct them to it, so that they can get settled in? It looks like Alex will be working with us for quite a while’.
‘Of course, Morag’. Persephone rose up from behind her desk, and beckoned to both Alex and Danae. ‘Please come with me. I shall conduct you to your quarters’. They both left with many thanks to Morag, who gazed after them, with a slight frown. She hoped they would not prove a trial.
Morag settled down again to her paperwork with a sigh. There was a knock at the door, and another figure walked in. It was Annie.
‘Annie, what are you doing here?’ She asked, startled.
‘I’ve come to see you’.
‘Because of all of us, I thought you might understand how serious Armageddon is!’
‘Why should you think that, after that venomous display you put on last night!’ I’m ashamed of you, Annie! Just because Nicholas Flamel told you?
‘It’s true! I’m sure it’s true! You can’t afford to be complacent!’
‘We’re not! Even as we speak, my husband, whom you claim I’ve cuckolded, who apparently deflowers virgins, and Ragimund, that murderous thug, are planning a series of expeditions to find this supposed gap in the fabric of time, except that they’re probably wasting their energy! That was cruel of you! What’s happened to you, Annie? You never used to be like this! You come back from your holidays full of doom and gloom and insult us all, and then expect us to believe this ridiculous tale about an invasion from Hell? It’s a figment of your imagination, Annie, and I, for one, don’t believe a word of it!’
Morag paused for breath. Annie stared at her.
‘Even you, Morag, even you? Well, you can all go to hell, for all I care!’
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the office, slamming the door violently behind her.
Morag sighed and put her head in her hands. She did not like quarrelling with Annie, but she was just being too ridiculous not to. The door opened again, quietly this time, and Persephone sidled in. ‘What is the matter with Annie?’ She asked, plaintively. ‘She just brushed past me, without a word of acknowledgement! And why was she so fey last night? She made me cry!’
‘I don’t know, love’. Morag said, sympathetically. ‘She’s just in a bad temper, that’s all. What did you think of Alex?’
Persephone considered, her head on one side. ‘He was very polite and courteous, and he certainly knew what he was doing. But, Morag, I could not understand what he was saying sometimes! His accent and the words he uses!’
‘That’s because he’s Scottish’. Morag could see that Persephone was still puzzled, so she explained. ‘Alex comes from the far north of my original country. They have their own language, because they are descended from a different culture’.
‘What culture is that?’
‘Celtic, I think’. Morag said, cursing her own ignorance.
‘You mean, like the faerys?’
‘I suppose so. You’d be better off asking Demos’.
‘I will do. But, Morag, isn’t it time for your morning patrol with Ezekiel?’
‘Yes, it is’. Morag said, with a start. ‘But where is he?’
Just then, the door was flung open, and Ezekiel came in. He marched straight towards Morag’s desk, flinging a greeting of ‘Good morning, little one’ towards Persephone as he approached. Persephone blushed, but she answered readily. ‘Good morning, Ezekiel’. She adored him. He was so tall and huge, with muscles bulging in every direction, despite his middle age. He carried his customary two-bladed axe on his shoulder.
He came straight across to Morag’s desk. She looked up at him. ‘Daughter’, he said, in his deep voice, ‘Will you do me the honour of supping with me this evening, at my abode?’ Morag looked up in surprise. It was unprecedented for Ezekiel to invite someone back to his house for a meal. Normally he jealously preserved his privacy and to invite a fellow marshal was unusual, to say the least. But she hid her surprise, and said politely, ‘Thank you, Ezekiel, I would be honoured to accept your kind invitation’. ‘Good. I shall await you outside the main entrance at six of the clock this evening. But you and I have our regular patrol to do’.
‘I’ll be out in a moment’. Morag replied. She started to shrug on her sword harness. Ezekiel nodded, turned and swept out of the door, standing aside for a moment to allow two more figures to enter. They were her husband, Demos, and her faery-sister, Ragimund. She ran round the desk and kissed her husband affectionately, no matter what Annie had said about him. Ragimund stood aside politely for a moment, respecting their affection, as polite faerys normally did. Their clinch over, she resumed talking again.
‘The griffins have reported some strange activity in a large fissure underneath one of the mountains in their land. They are perturbed, and wish us to investigate. If Annie was indeed right, it may be the portal which the Ancient Ones used!’
‘And also the portal from which the fiends of Hell might emerge!’ added Demos, cautiously.
‘We do not know that for certain!’ snapped Ragimund. ‘But we must find out! I propose an archaeological expedition to that site. Morag, I would like to take you and one or two of your marshals as witnesses to what we might find’.
‘No problem’. Morag replied promptly, ‘I already know who’ll volunteer for it’.
‘Good’. said Ragimund. We will ride the day after tomorrow to this place, with food and camping equipment, We will take two pack-horses to carry them. Be prepared to leave at first light’. With that, she left, swiftly, through the door.
Morag sighed again. ‘It looks like another camping trip! Still, if you’re going too, we can share our tent together’.
Demos smiled. ‘Of course we can. Who else would I share it with?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps one of the many lovers that you’ve had, since you met me’.
‘Morag!’ Demos exclaimed furiously. ‘You know that’s not true!’
‘I know’. Morag said, sweetly. ‘I’m only going by what Annie said’. She grinned as she said it. Demos caught the grin and laughed.
‘You are teasing me!’
‘Yes, I am. But honestly, Demos, I couldn’t bear it if it was really true, which I know it isn’t’.
‘Nor could I, if I thought you were being ravished by half of Hyperborea!’
Morag laughed, gaily. ‘Well, I’m not, if that’s what you’re thinking!’ She put her arms around his neck, tenderly. ‘I do love you, Demos, very much’.
‘And I you’. he said gently.
She pulled her arms away suddenly. ‘I’ve got to go on patrol! Ezekiel will be waiting for me!’ She grinned again. ‘Oh, I’ve got a date tonight so don’t wait up for me! I’m going to Ezekiel’s for supper!’
‘Ah, you have become one of the privileged ones! It is rare that Exekiel invites guests to his house. I think only Ragimund has been invited before’.
‘I’m quite looking forward to it, Is his house something special?’
‘Yes, it is. You will see when you get there’.
With that, she had to be content. Nor was Ezekiel, when she joined him outside, any more forthcoming. A normally taciturn man, he wasted little time on the frivolity of conversation. They walked in companionable silence down to the harbour front. Morag enjoyed these patrols. She loved the bustle and clatter of the quaysides and the tall ships with their forest of masts and spars. She loved the tang of sea, mixed with the smell of new tar, and the pungent aroma of spices. Above all, she liked the sound and the cacophony of the port – the shouts, the oaths, the whole welling disorder of sound around her. The whirl and tumble of a busy port, sounded in her ears. She listened to everything - the clump of pulleys, the ‘cliss’ and clatter of rigging far up above in high masts, the soft thump of sails tightly curled. It was the smell of ships about to put to sea.
At this time of year –early autumn – it was still the sailing season, and the port was packed with ships of all kinds. Huge sea-going carracks with their massive bulwarks, jostled smaller, sleeker galleons with their elaborately carved poops and sterns, golden decoration flashing in the surface of the water. Further along, large cogs and hulks caressed each other in the soft swell of the huge bay, with a creak and groan of timbers, as they lay moored in the harbour. Along the main quayside and jetties that ran from it, crowds of dockers, seamen and stevedores flocked in crowds around the ships and wooden cranes that lined the cobbled surfaces, greasy with damp and spilt olive oil, congregating around the vast piles of crates and bales that had been offloaded from the ships’ holds, piled high on wooden pallets. Small knots of disembarked passengers, in rich robes, or travel-stained clothes, gathered in bewildered groups, lost in the furious activity of cacophonous yells and shouts around them. Morag and Ezekiel rescued them, and directed them to the nearby customs hall. After that, they had to break up a fight between two drunken carters, both of whom had refused to give way to each other’s wagon. It was just another typical day in the life of the port.
When they got back to the office, Morag slumped in her chair, weary. ‘Morag?’ squeaked Persephone from her desk. ‘What, Persephone?’ she groaned. ‘Please, may I go with you on this archaeological visit? Please, Morag! I have seen so little of this country! Please?’ Morag had not the heart to refuse. ‘But who’ll look after the office in your absence?’ She complained. ‘Alex will. He has been in all afternoon getting used to my systems of doing things. He can take over while I am away’.
‘Oh, all right. You precocious brat!’ She replied affectionately. Persephone grinned back, knowing she had won Morag over. ‘I can ride, too’. She added. ‘I have been riding camels and horses since I was a small child’. ‘All right, I get the message! Morag said, laughing. ‘I’ll go and see Ragimund and tell her to get another horse for you’.
She decided to go upstairs straight away and clear this new arrangement with Ragimund. She found her in her office on the first floor and told her about Persephone’s request. To her surprise, Ragimund was receptive to the idea. ‘In Mariko’s absence, we need a new scribe. Persephone is very capable. But’, She added, ‘She is but a child still, and you will have to bear responsibility for her’.
‘All right’. Morag said. ‘Agreed’. She left to tell Persephone the good news. Persephone was of course delighted. At last, she was going on a real expedition, with her friends and companions. She left her feverishly gathering together pens, ink and paper in preparation for the journey, and went to wash and change for the visit to Ezekiel’s house. She met him outside at exactly six o’clock, where he was waiting with a chariot.
Morag did not particularly like chariots, finding them both uncomfortable and rattlesome, but she was to be pleasantly surprised. For one thing, Ezekiel pulled down a folding wooden seat set in the side of the chariot and even provided a cushion for her to sit upon. For another, they proved to be travelling on well-prepared country roads, which provided a relatively smooth ride. What she was not prepared for was the darkness of the countryside. Brought up as a city dweller, she was unaware of the sheer smothering blackness of the country, where there were no lights to orientate oneself, which seemed to her, impenetrable and frightening. Outside the chariot, lit as it was by two small covered lanterns, one on each side. she could only see the dread blackness. She had no idea where they were in this smothering darkness, as black as charcoal. The ‘whisp’ of unseen insects brushed her face. Ezekiel was no more than a dark shape alongside her, the horses ahead only dim black shapes. They seemed to know where they were going. Without warning, they swerved right onto an unseen smaller road. ‘Not far now’. Ezekiel grunted.
They were passing through pasture-land, but the only way she could tell was through the dank smell of cows around her. Then they passed into areas of vegetable growing. The smells were sharper and cleaner, somehow. Then she caught her first glimpse of Ezekiel’s house. The front door was brightly lit by enclosed lanterns each side, and by their light, Morag could just discern the vast bulk of the house itself, At first, she was puzzled by its curved shape. Ezekiel offered to drive her around the house, with a mysterious smile, in the darkness. Morag was still puzzled. The house seemed to grow narrower as they drove along, culminating in a point. The walls seemed to curve inwards more sharply. When they got to the pointed end, the truth finally dawned on Morag. ‘Ezekiel!’ She exclaimed in surprise. ‘It’s a boat! Only turned upside down!’
‘Not a boat, but a ship. a merchant ship, to be precise’. grinned Ezekiel. ‘I once sailed in her’. Morag’s mind was filled with unspoken questions, that she wisely decided to leave until later. They proceeded on the circumnavigation of the boat house. The stern end was square, with a row of windows across it, which Morag guessed were the windows of the original ship, now shuttered on the inside, so she could not look in. They came round to the front door again, and this time Ezekiel stopped the chariot, and courteously handed her down in front of the door.
A tall figure, that of a woman, stood framed in the doorway. ‘Good evening’. She said in a deep, though musical voice. ‘ You must be Morag, daughter of Moran’. ‘Yes, I am’. Morag replied, feeling somewhat overawed by this formidable lady. Though she was considerably older than Morag, she bore herself with the grace of a young girl. Her hair was black, stringed with grey, but her face was still full and pleasant. The older woman chuckled. ‘Do not be awed by me. I do not bite. I am Megalyn, Ezekel’s wife. Welcome, Morag, and come and join us’. She indicated with her arm that Morag should enter, which she did. The room that she entered was obviously the main living-room, very tall in its proportions, like the hall, and brightly lit by numerous candles, all encased in long glass tubes, to lessen the risk of fire. The room was dominated by a huge, freestanding, stone fireplace, beside the right wall, in which logs were burning cheerfully, filling the room with warmth. Its chimney stretched up to the vaulted ceiling and through it. Here, as in the hall, the walls were built of planks of wood, but burnished and varnished until they shone like dark gold. The whole house was polished until it looked like honeyed amber. It was a beautiful colour, The faces of the girls seated around the large circular table opposite the fireplace gleamed in the light reflected from the fire, and from the glow of the walls. There were three of them, all differing in age. These were Ezekiel’s daughters, and their mother introduced them one by one.
‘That is Anastasia, our youngest’, She said, pointing to the smallest girl, with blonde tresses around a child’s chubby face. The girl did not speak, but bobbed her head in courtesy. She continued to stare at Morag with the natural curiosity of a child, her mouth half-open. ‘And this is our second child, Chloe’. She pointed again to the second eldest child. This time, Morag got a slight smile and a muttered ‘Hello’. Morag needed help in winning these girls’ trust. She found it when she was introduced to the eldest girl, Petrina. This girl, tall, solemn, dark-haired like her mother, was busy on a delicate task. On the table before her, lay a number of instruments and a large glass bottle, mounted on a wooden plinth. ‘What are you doing, Petrina?’ Morag asked, wandering over to the table in curiosity.
‘I am making a ship in a bottle’. Petrina answered, shortly.
‘Really? Morag exclaimed in delight. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by those! How on earth do you get them into the bottles?’ The girl’s face lit up with pleasure at having an interested audience. ‘I can show you, if you would like to sit beside me’. She invited. ‘I’d love to’. replied Morag, and sat down beside her. ‘I am just about to add the main deck to this ship, and then I shall raise her sails’. Petrina explained. ‘I have had to divide the ship into sections so that they will fit inside the bottle’. She pointed to a jumble of small masts, spars and rigging on the tray in front of her. ‘I am just about to complete it’. Morag watched, fascinated, as the girl carefully inserted the top deck, complete with masts and sails, through the neck of the bottle, and onto the hull already in place inside, with a pair of long tweezers.
‘How do you raise the masts and sails?’ asked a curious Morag.
She pulled gently on a long thread with her tweezers. Instantly, the masts rose into place complete with sails and rigging. Petrina, still using the tweezers, prodded and turned the spars and sails into place. turning them so that the sails appeared to be bellying with an imaginary wind.
‘That’s wonderful!’ Morag said sincerely.
‘Petrina, my dear’, Her mother said briskly. ‘Clear away your things now. I want to lay the table. Your father will be back at any moment’.
‘Yes, Mama’. Petrina replied meekly. She loaded her various instruments onto the tray with the bottle and carried it over to a corner of the room, where she deposited it on top of a low cupboard built into the wooden wall.
‘Can I help?’ Morag said. She knew it was faery courtesy for the guests to offer to help with the meal.
‘Thank you, Morag’. Megalyn beamed. ‘Perhaps you could help Petrina bring the main dishes in and set the table’.
‘Of course’. Morag replied, happily. She trooped after them into the kitchen. She paused, taken aback, by the strange shape of the large kitchen. The planking and ribs of the hull were left exposed here, curving over and around, tapering in, to culminate in the sharp main beam of the bow, in front of which stood a huge stone fireplace. The sides and upper face of the fireplace were dotted with alcoves, from which Petrina drew out the warmed plates for their meal, which she passed back to Morag, who took the opportunity of looking around the kitchen.
On one side, stood a large wooden table, with benches on each side, evidently where the family would eat more informally. On the other side, a long line of dressers, with cupboards below, and shelves above, were built in against the curved walls. Decorative plates were ranged along the shelves, gleaming palely in the candlelight from the lanterns around the kitchen.
For a moment, she felt she was back in Alice in Wonderland as she saw the huge pie taken out, with the others scurrying with plates and dishes in this house made from a giant boat. Megalyn manhandled it to the wooden table, where she deposited it on a mat, with a sigh of relief. Like the house, it was a work of art. Vapours of steam rose aromatically from small apertures in the domed golden brown crust, the very smell of which made Morag’s mouth water. It truly was a magnificent pie. ‘Shall I help you carry it to the table? She volunteered. Megalyn beamed at her. ‘That would be very helpful, Morag’. They both wrapped cloths around their hands, and picked up a handle each of the large iron pot that the pie was in. They carried it through into the main living room, where Ezekiel now sat at the table, back from the stables. He sprang to his feet as soon as he saw them, and relieved them both of the pie, which he carried to the table, hoisting it effortlessly onto its surface.
‘Papa! Papa!’ His daughters cried, and ran to him. He gathered them into his arms, and hugged and kissed them, affectionately.
‘Well, we do have a guest tonight. And today is the seventh anniversary of the completion of this house’.
‘That is true. I had forgotten. But I have not forgotten our guest’. He smiled at Morag. ‘Welcome to our humble abode, daughter of Moran’.
‘It’s not a humble abode at all’. said Morag, looking around and above her. ‘I think it’s wonderful!’
Ezekiel positively beamed at her. ‘I am happy you think so’.
‘Yes, I am. Ezekiel, you must tell me how you built this lovely boat house!’
‘Later! After supper! I suppose that I shall have to bear hearing this story again!’ But Megalyn smiled as she said it.
‘Yes, tell us again, Papa, please!’ the girls chorused.
‘After supper, as your mother said!’ Ezekiel said in a mock-severe voice. ‘And now let me serve it!’ He cut into the pie with a large knife. He ladled out a large slice, and passed it down to Morag. Her mouth watered at the sight of the rich, succulent gravy and the rich hunks of cooked meats and vegetables that were cooked so perfectly, still firm and luscious, that tumbled out of the slice, in rich, delightful gravy.
But Ezekiel had a serious question. ‘ What is the source of your anger with your sister?’
‘With Annie? Its nothing but….’ She proceeded to tell them about Annie’s provocative but intemperate remarks about her and Demos. Both Ezekiel and his wife remained silent for some moments after she had finished.
‘That settles it’. Ezekiel said, finally. ‘She has been badly frightened by something. I will accompany you on the expedition. If she troubles you again, she will have me to deal with!’
Morag privately thought that that would be a sufficient disincentive, even for Annie, so she chose to change the subject, quickly.
‘Please tell me about how you built this house’. she said politely instead.
‘Only if my wife lets me!’ Ezekiel said, mischievously.
‘I suppose I do not have any choice in the matter’. Megalyn said, primly, but with a smile on her face.
‘Please tell us again, Papa!’ the three girls chorused.
‘Oh, very well. I suppose I must, to please my children and our guest’. The first great problem was to get the hull here. I borrowed a great platform on wheels from the shipyard in Druard, hired a team of twenty oxen, and transported it here over the fields, because it was too big for the roads! Then there was the task of overturning it to provide our home. That was a perilous undertaking with so large a structure. I built a wooden engine to lower it gently to the ground, or so I thought. But…calamity!
‘What happened?’ asked Morag, anxiously. She was already fascinated by this story.
‘Two of the pulley ropes snapped under the strain! For a moment the whole hull teetered on its side, then came down with a resounding crash, on the foundations which I had dug for it!’
The daughters all let out a resounding gasp, even though they must have heard this story many times before.
‘The crash shook the countryside around!’ chucked Megalyn. ‘Even the birds fluttered away in fright!’
‘That’s awful!’ exclaimed Morag, ‘Was anyone hurt?’
‘No, Morag. No-one was injured. When we saw it was about to fall, we all scattered and ran for our lives!’
‘What happened then?’ asked Morag, curiously.
‘Well. it came down in exactly the right place, fortunately. The next task was to cut a doorway into the hull, so that we could see what it was like. That is now our front door, Morag, where you came in’.
‘It was as dark as night! We had to light torches to even see! But I must admit I fell in love with the boat! It felt so protective, so secure!’ added Megalyn, smiling fondly at her husband.
‘It’s certainly a wonderful home’. Said Morag looking around. ‘But it must have cost you a tremendous amount of work’.
‘Alas! It did! It did! But it was all worth it in the end. The next task I had to perform was to build the big stone fireplaces that you see. They came from a derelict farmhouse nearby, so that they did not cost me anything. But I had to dismantle them, stone by stone, and transport them here and rebuild them. That was a big job!’ He added, feelingly.
‘But it was worthwhile, was it not, husband?’ Megalyn said proudly. ‘At last we could cook and warm ourselves properly, and it began to feel like our home!’
They smiled at each other fondly, reflecting on their memories. Morag smiled as well, thinking about their determination to build this boat house, together. ‘But how did you build the walls in here?’ Morag persisted. ‘It must have been a huge task!’
‘Indeed, it was’. Replied Ezekiel. ‘They are made from the planking of the decks of stripped-out ships from the boatyards in Druard, but each plank had to be cleaned, and sanded down before it could be used, and shaped to fit the contours of the hull above. After that, they had to be varnished and polished. It took me many months of hard work. But it was all worth it in the end, was it not, wife?’
‘Indeed, it was, Ezekiel. And do not forget, Ezekiel, that you had much help and assistance from our neighbours. You remember that neighbour that laid our tiled floor and built our lovely mosaic inside the hall?’
‘I do, indeed, wife. Indeed, I do’.
Megalyn looked at Morag, whose face was a mirror of confusion.
‘It is the way of the countryside, Morag. We barter our skills for the good of the community here. No money is paid, but we reciprocate a favour by doing one in return. Ezekiel repaid his neighbour by repairing his roof for him, which he could not do himself. That is our way’.
‘I see. So you barter your individual skills between you so that all the jobs that need doing are carried out, without any money exchanging hands?’ Morag said, secretly proud of herself for summarising it so neatly.
Ezekiel beamed at her. ‘ Exactly so. It is a matter of principle that we do not pay each other for work done. For example, I repaid the neighbour who built the window frames for me, by building some outhouses that he needed, for him, which he could not do himself. He was not skilled to take on such constructional work. So we were both grateful to each other’.
‘Mind you, they all called it Ezekiel’s Folly at first’. Chuckled Megalyn. ‘ But once they realised he was serious, and the hull was in place, they all rallied round to help. We were very grateful to them’.
Morag was secretly impressed by this evidence of community help and co-operation on such an ambitious undertaking. She looked around again at the highly-polished, honey-coloured walls and ceiling, and marvelled at the patience and effort that it must have taken to create such a warm feeling of comfort and security in such a unique environment. They fell to talking about each other. Ezekiel spoke of his earlier seafaring days as captain’s mate on board some of the large merchant ships he had sailed upon, which was enthralling, and Morag, in turn, talked about her childhood with her mother and her earlier police training in her own world, which she looked back on with some bitterness. She had suffered various humiliations during that period, at the hands of her supposed colleagues, and did not like to remember them. But she did say how valuable her police training had been, and how committed she had been since then, in upholding the law.
Ezekiel nodded with approval, as she said this, though he had growled when he heard of her treatment by her erstwhile colleagues. But in the end, he nodded to his wife. ‘Morag is a very fine marshal. Her mother taught her well’.
‘Yes, she did. But, husband, give Morag some credit for her success. She has moved from one world to another, and introduced this, this finger-printing, which has been such a boon to you all’.
‘Yes, that is true. It has saved us a great deal of work. Do you have something to say, daughter?’
He addressed his eldest daughter, Petrina, who was squirming on her seat, in a mixture of embarrassment and eagerness.
‘Please, Papa, may I take Morag to see my vignettes? I would very much like to see what she thinks of them. Please, Papa!’
Ezekiel groaned theatrically. His wife and the second daughter, Chloe, rolled their eyes to heaven. Then he smiled affectionately at his eldest daughter, leant across and ruffled her hair.
‘Go on then, but not for too long! I will return Morag safely home shortly, back to the arms of her beloved husband. Go with her, Morag, and behold her toys!’ He grinned at his daughter.
‘They are not toys!’ Petrina replied, furiously.
‘I should very much like to see them, Petrina’. Morag said, anxious to stop any family quarrel breaking out.
‘Oh, thank you, Morag! Please come with me!’ Petrina cried, gratefully, and seized her hand. She literally tugged her off her chair, and ran with her to the door. She pulled her across the hall, and through the door opposite, then down a corridor that led to the stern of the upturned boat. The roof was much flatter here, where the aft end of the boat curved out to the rear. Petrina led the way into a second corridor, which ran across the corridor they had come down. Petrina opened a door facing them on this corridor, and beckoned Morag in. ‘This is my room’. She said, proudly. Morag walked in, and looked around. It was a large room, with a small bed standing proudly in the middle. On the right-hand wall stood a small desk, with a chair. The desk was covered with half-open books, and, above it, was a bookshelf, filled with many more books. At the far end of the room, was a row of shuttered windows, which looked out from the stern of the upturned boat. Petrina was busy, lighting more lamps across the room, in tall glasses, which now began to illuminate the interior. As she did so, Morag began to make out the shapes of small wooden boxes on the shelves around the room.
To her astonishment, each box was open, framed by a miniature carved proscenium as if it were a small stage. Inside, were dramatic scenes, as if from a play in progress, all in meticulously detailed interiors. In one, a young couple, a handsome young man and a pretty maid, clad in rundown, dirty clothes were kissing passionately behind a torn curtain, in the corner of the scene, oblivious of the drunken rowdy scenes in the rest of the stage set, where a celebration was going on, performed by drunken yokels, playing a card game. One of them, was teetering on the edge of falling backwards in his chair, his arms spread wide in panic. His companions around the table were roaring in laughter at his predicament, slapping their hands on the table in merriment.
What impressed Morag was how realistic these small stage scenes were. She could see them on a real stage in real life, so accurately were they depicted, and so well. She looked at Petrina. The girl’s lips were parted in delight, and she had lost her sombre look. She looked alive and pretty.
‘My play is called The Lost Prince: it is a tale of two young lovers, Florizel and Perdita. who are not what they seem. Everyone thinks they are just a stable hand and a serving wench that have fallen in love, but really they are in disguise. Really, he is a king’s son, still loyal to his father, who has been deposed. This is unknown to Perdita, who loves him only for himself. Likewise, Florizel does not know that Perdita is the only daughter of a rich Duke and supporter of his father. So all is well for a time. But a rich set of courtiers suddenly descend upon the country inn where they are lodged. Their harmony is disrupted. The courtiers are rude and arrogant, and earn the enmity of the locals. Even worse, one of them, Ippolyte, spies Perdita, and determines, thinking that she indeed is a lowly serving wench, to seduce her, for his own lust. But she rebuffs him, and Florizel, furious, challenges him to a duel. But this is his undoing, for no mere peasant can challenge a lord in this way. Ippolyte recognises him as the deposed king’s son, and has him thrown into prison, where he pines for Perdita, who is now left defenceless. She appeals for help from the locals, who promise to defend her against the courtiers, with the help of clubs, sticks and old saucepans, the only weapons they have. But before bloodshed happens, another figure appears, with a contingent of soldiers. It is Florizel’s father, who has now regained his throne, together with Perdita’s father, who has come to bring her back. The two are united again, and the kingdom is resolved. All’s well that ends well’.
‘Of course, Morag. Please allow me a moment’.
She rummaged around in the top drawer of her desk, and finally withdrew a rolled sheaf of papers tied with string.
‘This is a spare copy of my play’. She said, proudly. ‘Would you read it, Morag? I would like your opinion, as to whether it is of any value or not. Please, Morag! I want to please my Papa! I want to show him that I have not been wasting my time on toys!’
The girl’s vehemence startled Morag. But she understood that this girl had been labouring on this for a long time, and it was precious to her. Besides, she liked the girl, and she was Ezekiel’s daughter.
‘Wouldn’t you like to see your play on stage? That would be the best thing’. asked Morag.
‘But where? And how?’ the girl replied, bitterly. ‘There is no cast of players used to such things, and it would require money to stage such a play. Perhaps Papa was right, after all. I am wasting my time on toys and dreams’.
‘Not necessarily!’ Morag said, hotly. I’ll tell you what, I’ll read your play, then I’ll pass it on to some other people who are better qualified than me to judge, and see what they can do’.
‘Oh, you would do that for me, Morag! Thank you! Thank you so much!’ Petrina cried joyously. Her face really was radiant now, so much so that she looked really pretty in her joy. But Morag held up a warning finger.
‘Wait! I can’t promise anything! But if your play’s any good, I’ll do my best to see it gets staged’.
‘That is all I ask, Morag. Please do your best for me’.
‘I will, I promise you’. She hoped it wasn’t a rash promise, but it pleased Petrina, who leant over and gave her a kiss on the cheek in gratitude. Then she held up her own finger. ‘I can hear Papa calling you!’ She said in a sibilant whisper. ‘We must go, immediately! He will take you back!’
‘Oh, all right, then’.
Petrina seized her hand, ‘We must go!’ She said urgently.
They ran out of the door, not without a few backward glances from Morag at the other boxes of scenes that she no longer had the chance to see properly. They arrived back in the tall living room, to find Ezekiel already wrapped in his cloak, and anxious to be off. ‘Ah, Morag, I must return you to the arms of your husband, alas! I trust that my daughter has not bored you with her toys!’
‘No, she hasn’t! I think she is very talented. I’ve promised to read her play. I’m sure it will be very good’.
Petrina smiled at her, gratefully. Morag smiled back, and turned to Megalyn, Ezekiel’s wife. ‘Thank you for having me’. She said. ‘The pie was the best I ever tasted’. Megalyn beamed at her. ‘Thank you, my dear. You must come again, but in daylight this time. Then you can see our house properly’. She said goodbye to the three daughters, who bobbed their heads to her in unison. As she looked back at them, she saw Petrina’s face, now alight with expectation and eagerness. She would do her best for the girl, she hoped.
On their way back, riding through the darkness of the countryside, Morag tried in vain to get her bearings. But it was no use. She was still as lost as ever. It was not until they reached the outskirts of Druard, that Ezekiel spoke. ‘I love my daughters, Morag. If Petrina wishes to pursue her foolish dream, of staging her little play, then I shall support her, with your help’.
Morag felt quite touched by this. ‘She wants you to be proud of her, Ezekiel. She told me’.
‘Then I will be. Farewell, my new daughter’. He smiled at her in the light of the lanterns outside, and began to turn the chariot around. ‘Thank you for having me!’ she shouted after him, but he simply waved a dismissive hand. She watched him disappear into the darkness, and turned into the entrance of the customs hall, towards her office and apartment. It was dark in the entrance hall, and she had to fumble her way to her door. It was dark inside her office too, and she looked around for a lantern. At that moment, she saw a light under her apartment door, and heard voices inside, then the sound of laughter.
Instantly, she felt panic rising up within her. What if Annie had spoken the truth, and her husband was truly seducing his next victim, while she was away? She couldn’t bear it! She flung the door open, and shouted as loudly as she could. ‘Demos!’
‘Demos! Demos!’ she cried, almost tearfully, this time. Two figures rose up from a candle-lit table at the other end of the apartment, and came towards her. Her eyes were so blurred with tears that she didn’t recognise them immediately. Then she recognised Demos as he came closer. ‘Oh, Demos!’ she cried, and flung her arms around his neck. ‘I didn’t know what to expect, after what Annie said! I’m sorry, I’m being stupid!’
‘Why are you so distressed, my love? Did you not have a pleasant evening?’
‘Playing chess with Simon’. He indicated the figure behind him, and the chess set laid out on the small table in the window alcove.
‘Oh!’ Morag said, weakly.
Simon grinned. ‘Morag thought that you and I had taken advantage of her absence to pick up a pair of painted doxies from the port, and bring them back here to have some fun’.
‘What!’ Demos cried, scandalised. ‘You did not think that surely, Morag?’
‘No, I didn’t!’ She cried, almost tearfully, again. ‘I wouldn’t think that of you, Demos! It’s just that…after what Annie said…’
‘My sister has got a lot to answer for!’ Simon growled.
‘Please don’t blame her for that! Perhaps she was just trying to warn us!’
‘Against what! Some Armageddon battle! I just think it’s in some branch of Annie’s fertile imagination!’
‘Anyway, where’s your better half this evening, Simon?’ Morag said, anxious to head off any argument.
‘Ragimund? She went off to a meeting with her sisters, to plan this expedition we’re all going on, to seek out this hell-hole, or whatever it is. So both Demos and I were at a loose end, deprived of our womenfolk. We decided on a quiet evening in, to play chess, instead of going out to chase some skirt, as you thought!’
‘Apology accepted. I must be getting back. Ragimund’ll be home now, wondering where I am. By the way, how was your evening, Morag?’
‘Like a fairy tale, honestly. There I was, dining on a giant pie, with a genial ogre and his wife and their three daughters, in their house made out of an upturned ship….’
‘What! A Desperate Dan cow pie! Wish I was there!’ Simon said in delight.
‘Haven’t you got some one you’d like to be with, Simon?’ Morag said, pointedly. She wanted some time alone with her husband, and ask his advice about Petrina.
Simon took the obvious hint. ‘Right. I’d better be on my way, then, before Ragimund comes looking for me’. He carefully packed away the chess set that Paravar had given him, and turned to leave. Morag went to the door with him to see him off, and kissed him on the cheek, affectionately. ‘I’m really glad it was you, and not some painted doxie!’ She whispered.
Simon grinned at her. ‘Demos would never do that! Even though he did beat me six times in a row at chess! Goodnight, Morag’.
‘Good night, Simon’.
She shut the door, and turned back to her husband. ‘Will you do me a great favour, Demos?’
‘Of course, my love. What is it?’
‘Read a play with me. We can sit in my mother’s chair and read it together’.
They sat down together, and read Petrina’s play, turning over each page between them. They sat for an hour reading through it, each mouthing the lines that the imaginary actors spoke. Neither spoke to each other until they had finished reading. Then they looked at each other. ‘What do you think?’ Morag asked, tentatively.
‘I think that it is an excellent play. The actors’ roles and the language they use is perceptive and indeed beautiful’.
‘I thought so, too’. Morag said, delighted. ‘It was also very funny. The country rustics are hilarious!’
‘Indeed. The author has written with great wit and sophistication’.
‘Do you think it’s worth staging as a play?’
‘Undoubtedly. But the problem is that it has never been done before in Hyperborea’.
Who do you think I should speak to ensure it gets a showing?’
Demos hesitated a moment. ‘I think the lady Gloriana. She is the overall governor of this land, and she alone has the purse-strings to finance such a staging. Persuade her and it will happen. Take this copy of the play and show it to her to convince her of the author’s talent’.
‘Prithee, good sir, that is what then I shall do’. She grinned at him. ‘And now, sirrah, off to bed with us!’
‘Gladly, good wench! Lead the way!’ Demos replied, entering the spirit of the game. So they retired to bed, happily.
However, next day, she found she did not have time to get in touch with Gloriana. Alex came in that morning and presented her with a number of lino-cuts that he had prepared, of a gang of burglars, who had murdered two of their victims in the vicinity of the port. Now they had likenesses of them, thanks to Alex.
It soon paid off. That afternoon, a small dark man sat in the office, clasping his soft cap between his nervous fingers. He sprang up as soon as Morag entered from her morning patrol.
‘Please calm down, Mr….’ She looked across at Persephone.
‘His name is Capstanoplos’. Persephone supplied, with a worried glance at the little man.
‘What is the problem?’ Morag said, not even bothering to pronounce the name.
‘My wife and two young children are being held hostage by those bandits that I saw in your posters!’ The little man said almost tearfully. He spoke in her human tongue, the common language of merchants. ‘They say they will slit their throats unless I return with all my money!’
‘What! Where are they?’
‘At the Runnel Inn, in the port. They just barged in, and took everybody’s money! They would have taken mine, except I had already placed it in a bank. Please save my wife and children, Marshal!’
‘I’ll do my best. You stay here’.
She walked out of the door, buckling on her sword as she went. She could feel the small man’s frightened eyes following her. Once outside, she broke into a run, towards the Runnel Inn, a short distance away, at the entrance to the port. When she reached it, she saw a large crowd outside the front, held back by faery soldiers. The inn was a small black- painted small, robust building, clean and comfortable enough to attract small merchants and their families. In appearance, it looked rather beetle-browed, due to the large stone overhangs above each window. She looked around the faery troops outside the front entrance. To her relief, she saw the blonde hair of her friend, Amelia, a fellow marshal, amongst them. She called out. ‘Amelia!’
Her friend saw her, waved, and spoke to a faery soldier next to her. He ran across, and courteously lifted up the rope barrier that the faerys had put up around the entrance to the building,
‘What!’ Morag cried, furiously. ‘We can’t let them get away with that!’ She quickly made up her mind. ‘I’m going in there’.
‘You can’t, Morag!’ Amelia cried in horror. ‘They are murderous criminals! They will kill you!’
‘Not if they think I’m a faery negotiator for their safe passage. Then I’ll find some way to get the hostages out’.
‘How? They could just murder you!’
‘I’ll think of something. They must all be terrified in there. If they think there’s a way of saving their miserable lives, I’m sure they’ll take it’.
Amelia shook her head. ‘I do not like this plan. What if something goes wrong?’
‘I’m sure it won’t. Don’t worry, Amelia’.
‘Wait! You must not go in there without a weapon of some kind. Here, take my knife. Tuck it down the side of your boot where it will be invisible, like this’. She pushed the knife, still in it’s scabbard, down the outside of Morag’s right boot, where she could still reach it.
‘All right, here I go’. Morag took a deep breath, and began to walk across the open space, towards the door of the inn. She was being watched. Behind her, she could hear Amelia giving whispered instructions to the faery soldiers. But all her attention was focused on the door. Would they even let her in? She hammered loudly on the door.
‘Who are you?’ A rough voice asked.
‘I’m a faery negotiator, sent here to arrange your safe passage’.
The door opened partly. Rough hands reached out and dragged her in. She heard the door shut behind her, and the sound of it being locked again. She was roughly pushed through an open doorway to her left. She found herself in a small sitting room, which seemed to be full of people. There were six gang members, including the one she had seen at the window, who was now scowling at her.
She looked around at the others. Unlike their truculent leader, these were frightened men, desperate to extricate themselves from this situation. Two of them were short and stocky, obviously seafaring types. Two others were equally short but thin, with rat-like faces. The remaining member was younger, no more than sixteen years old, with severe acne. His hair was closely cropped, so that his ears stuck out like jug-handles, each side of his head. Like the others, he was glancing apprehensively towards the window and the great crowd outside.
In a corner of the room, she also saw a small, plain plump woman, whimpering, clasping her two children tightly to her. One of them was the small girl she had seen earlier, still dabbing tearfully at her neck with a piece of cloth. The other was a small boy, even younger. She felt compassion for this mother and her two small children, caught up in this senseless situation.
She pointed to them. ‘I want those three out of here before we make any negociations’. She said firmly. The leader laughed derisively. ‘You hear that, boys?’ He spoke in her own language this time. ‘She wants to save our hostages! So much for our safe passage! You lying bitch!’ He suddenly seized her, and turned her around so that she was leaning back, with his sharp serrated knife at her throat. Morag fought back, unexpectedly. The bloodlust fell upon her, and she twisted, kicking and gouging with her fingernails, at him. But he was too quick for her. He seized her left hand and twisted it expertly. Morag screamed in pain, as she felt her wrist break. She fell to her knees, sobbing in agony. The gang leader hauled her up again by her hair, causing her to cry out again in pain, But she had not forgotten Amelia’s knife. As he pulled her backwards towards the window, the knife again at her throat, She raised her right leg, and grasped the knife hidden in her right boot, firmly in an underhand grip in her undamaged right hand. She plunged it backwards into his belly, right up to the hilt! The man roared in pain, and clutched his stomach.
He let her go, but he was not finished yet. He lurched towards her, slashing with his knife. She held up her left arm instinctively to ward off his blows, She screamed again as his knife slashed into her arm just below her broken wrist!
The man stood upright for a moment, looking down at the blood bubbling between his fingers, then moved a step or two closer to her. The knife dropped from his hand onto the floor with a resounding clatter. His knees buckled and he crashed, face down, onto the floor and lay there, dead, his blood beginning to well in a pool beneath his body. Morag still knelt on the floor, clutching her left arm, sobbing in pain and shock. She became aware that blood was trickling down her fingers. No-one else in the room had moved. It was silent, apart from Morag’s sobs of pain, and the hostage mother’s whimpers.
Suddenly, there was a furious pounding on the front door of the inn, followed by a set of heavy rhythmic blows on the door itself. The faery soldiers outside were going to break in, no doubt alerted by Morag’s screams. The door would not hold much longer, and the gang members panicked. ‘Out the back, everyone!’ One of them yelled. Three of them did. They ran out of the door and towards the back exit at the end of the entrance corridor. They were the two stocky men and the youth.
Behind her, the front door crashed open, and faery soldiers poured into the inn. They seized the two remaining gang members, forcing them onto their knees, while they manacled their hands behind their backs. Amelia joined her, kneeling beside her, and looking in consternation at her wounded arm. ‘What has happened here, Morag?’ She asked anxiously. For answer, she pointed to the dead body lying in front of them. ‘He was going to cut my throat. So I slew him with your knife’. She said, unemotionally.
‘Morag! You are wounded! I shall summon the physician for you!’ Amelia rose up, and went to the front door. ‘Physician! Physician! Come here! A faery marshal is wounded and needs your assistance! Now!’
An elderly grey-bearded physician in a robe came in answer to her call. He examined Morag’s wounds carefully. ‘This bleeding must be staunched’. He said at last. ‘I can do nothing for your broken wrist here. You must be taken to the infirmary for that. But allow me, lady’. She winced as he dabbed at her gash with some liquid from a bottle he took out of his satchel. Then he pulled out a thick wad of cotton, and told her to hold it tightly against her gash in her arm. ‘I have sterilised your wound, my lady, and now it needs dressing’. He removed the old blood-stained wad with a new one, and wrapped it round tightly with bandages. ‘That is all I can do for now, lady’.
‘Thank you’. Morag said, politely.
‘Thank you, Amelia’. Morag said again. Her injured wrist throbbed painfully. She got up, stiffly, and went outside to the wagon. To her surprise, she found the hostage mother and her two children already ensconced on the hay bales in the wagon, ready to be taken back and reunited with their father. She had to be helped up into the wagon by the faery driver; her left arm was out of action. She ground her teeth in annoyance and frustration.
But the little girl smiled at her, in gratitude. Morag smiled back at her, grateful for that gesture, at least. Finally, the wagon rolled away to the customs building and Morag’s office, where the father was waiting. She got down with some more help from the driver, who also helped the woman and her two to alight. She escorted them to her office, where the little dark man was still sitting patiently. He leapt up with joy when he saw his wife and children, and hugged them to him. He turned to Morag to thank her, but she had already gone, on her way to the infirmary.
When she arrived, Atalanta was still there. Atalanta was one of the best faery physicians in Hyperborea. Morag had had minor differences with her in the past, but that was over now. She respected Atalanta as a physician and would abide with whatever treatment she recommended. But she was still disappointed by her diagnosis.
‘It will have to be put in a cast’. She pronounced, after examining Morag’s wrist. ‘I will do that now’.
She watched glumly as Atalanta daubed plaster over the bandages she had already applied around her wrist and lower hand. The cast, when it had dried, felt enormous and heavy, even when her arm was put in a sling. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance of riding a horse, is there?’
Morag looked so woebegone, that Atalanta took pity on her. She got up and went to a cupboard, returning with a bottle and two glasses. She poured a generous measure into each, and offered one glass to Morag. She took one sip, and immediately spluttered and gasped. ‘What is this? It tastes like liquid lava!’
‘Ah, that is my special plum brandy. It is the best painkiller I know’.
‘I bet it is’. Morag said. She cautiously tasted another sip. It still felt like liquid fire down her throat. But she didn’t feel any pain any more. She thanked Atalanta and made her farewell, and walked back down the corridor to her office, feeling distinctly conscious of the weight of the cast on her arm.
In her office, she found a number of people, Simon, Ragimund, Amelia, and her husband, Demos., who rushed up to her and embraced her as best he could. ‘What have they done to you, my love?’ Persephone rushed up to her and embraced her around the waist. ‘Oh, Morag, you are injured!’
Simon and Ragimund were looking at her with concern and anxiety. ‘Are you well enough for our expedition tomorrow, my faery-sister?’ Ragimund asked, anxiously.
‘No’. Morag replied forlornly. ‘The physician told me not to ride for another month’.
‘No matter. You can ride in our baggage wagon, Morag. We will make a comfortable space for you’.
‘As part of the baggage! Thanks!’
‘We need you, Morag’. Simon explained. ‘You have second sight, and we might need that’.
‘Please come, Morag’, pleaded Ragimund. ‘You are my faery-sister and I would like you to come with us’.
Morag could not refuse this plea. ‘ All right. I’ll come as part of the baggage’.
‘Good. That’s settled then’. Simon said. At the door, he turned back and laid his hand on her shoulder. ‘Morag, I wanted to tell you, that…well, after Annie beat you up, and I threw you against a wall, and after Haga, and so on, we never wanted to see you hurt again. I’m not saying this very well, but I think you know what I mean’.
‘Yes, I do, Simon, and I really thank you for it. I really do. But don’t blame Annie. I really think she was trying to warn us’.
‘Well, she didn’t make a very good job of it, did she? But I suppose that she makes mistakes like everybody else’.
‘Yes, she does. Don’t blame her for everything, Simon’.
‘I suppose not. Goodnight, Morag’.
They closed the door at last. But Morag remembered that Persephone was still in the office, still at work. ‘Persephone!’ she called. ‘Come and join us for supper!’
Over supper, Persephone excitedly asked about the expedition the next day. She was really looking forward to it, Morag realised. But she still didn’t know much about it. So she looked towards Demos for advice. He pulled out a small map of Hyperborea from his satchel and put it out onto the table.
‘In Elsace! Oh! I have never been there! I would so much like to see it! And will there be mountains capped with snow?’
‘Oh, yes. Plenty of them!’ Morag said, laughing at the young girl’s enthusiasm.
‘Oh, that is wonderful! I have never seen snow before’. Persephone said, wistfully.
‘Well, you will now. Where do we go from Elsace, Demos?’
‘We go westwards, along the same road that we took to Morag’s cave, between the forest to the north, and the Griffin mountains to the south. The crevasse we seek is before that, about halfway along. Ragimund knows it’s exact location’.
‘Good. Persephone, you had better get off to bed. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow’.
‘Morag, you shall not ride alone in that wagon tomorrow. I will ride with you in it’.
‘What?’ She stared at him. ‘You would do that for me, Demos?’
‘Yes, I would. I could not bear to see my beautiful faery wife riding alone in that wagon’.
‘That’d be wonderful, Demos! She was delighted. ‘You can tell me some more about archaeology on the way’.
‘If it does not bore you too much, my love’.
‘It won’t. I’d love to hear your stories’. Morag said, now delighted. With the company of her dear husband, she was suddenly looking forward to this expedition, despite her injury.
Frank Jackson- 16/03/2016 – Word Count – 12247