DR FRANK JACKSON 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Annie, her brother, Simon, her new sister, Morag, and her faery husband, Demos, their friends, Indira and Pei-Ying, and others, including Ezekiel, a marshal, Ragimund, sister to the ruler of Hyperborea, Gloriana, have come to investigate a mysterious cave in the Griffin Mountains. But they find it is a portal from the region of Hell, a repository of all things evil, and are forced to confront their worst fears and nightmares, in the battle of Armageddon.
‘Remember, kill these scum!’ hissed Ragimund. ‘Show no mercy! They will not show us any, from what we have seen!’
‘We will not!’ Retorted Morag, savagely. She thought of Persephone, that innocent young girl, and what would happen to her if she fell into these foul creatures’s grasp. It was almost too much to bear, and she gripped her sword even more tightly with her right hand.
Their eyes remained fixed on that dread black hole at the back of the cave. To Morag it represented the gaping mouth of a ferocious daemon ready to pour out fiends from hell to attack them. They waited in suspense for the devils to attack. When it came, it was no surprise. The scuttering and scraping became louder and louder, until a host of devils burst out of the black hole and attacked them They poured out, little thinking of the ferocity that they would face from the humans and faerys that they confronted. They were armed with small tridents, that they used to jab at their opponent’s legs with the intention of disabling them. But they met with furious resistance, from the faery and human warriors, who cut them down without mercy, with their long, curved swords, in fury. The devils shouted and yelled around them, but they continued to hack them down, until the remaining devils ran screaming back into the dark hole.
They leant, panting. on their swords. It had been a short but vicious battle yet no-one on their side was even wounded. But the devils had fared badly. The floor of the cave was strewn with their dead bodies, dismembered and decapitated. The humans and faerys had dealt savagely with them. Morag looked around for Persephone.
She looked around. There was Persephone, running towards her from the entrance to the cave. She was pale and trembling, as was Jezuban, who ran with her. She hugged them both to her.
‘Oh, Morag! we were so worried about you! In that battle, I mean. With your injured arm, we….. ‘
‘No, I’m all right, little one’.
‘I have never seen a battle before. It frightened me’. Persephone said, sadly.
‘I hope you never have to see another one’. Morag replied, equally sadly.
‘I wouldn’t bank on that’. Simon said, practically. ‘There’s something else about to come out of that black hole’. As he spoke, they heard a rumbling and crashing from deep within its dark recesses.
‘What new horrors are they going to inflict on us now?’ Ragimund shouted, desperately. They formed a defensive line across the main entrance to the cave, gripping their swords tightly.
As they looked at the dark hole, they could see large conical shapes moving towards them.
‘What are they?’ asked Indira, shocked.
As they emerged, they could see they were tall bulbous shapes, that bulged with unseen things inside them. They were surmounted by some sort of stopper, which consisted of a decaying human head that seemed to be still alive, They were blackened and decomposed, but they screamed obscenities of the most foul kind at the humans and faerys below. Ezekiel had had enough. He leapt forward, and slashed with his axe at the nearest thing, which was a virulent yellow in colour, ripping it open. It fell onto its side, the head still spouting obscenities, until Ezekiel hacked it off, and kicked it aside, contemptuously. Then he sprang back in horror. From the great rent he had made in the side of the thing, poured a cascade of giant fish, silvery and oily, that rose up and moved on two human feet and legs that they seemed to have grown from underneath their bellies. Opening their great jaws wide, they rushed upon the warriors at the entrance, who hacked at them with their swords desperately.
‘Ugh! They’re horrible slimy fish! And they smell! How revolting!’ Indira cried as she slashed at one large fish, literally cutting it in two, as it tried to attack her. Nobody answered her, because they were all engaged in fighting off these terrible fish on legs. Morag almost gagged as she stamped on the last small fish and felt its pulpy flesh underneath her boot.
‘Ugh! Those fish almost made me want to throw up!’ Gasped Indira. ‘I can’t stand fish, except to eat, of course!’
‘I’m glad you didn’t. It would make the whole place much smellier’. Retorted her friend, Pei-Ying.
‘Oh, thanks very much. You skinny punk’. Indira grinned at her friend.
Pei-Ying replied equably. ‘That’s all right, you fat cow’.
Morag laughed. She knew that these two liked to trade mock insults with each other. It was part of their friendship. Simon grinned too, but then frowned as he looked again at the black hole. ‘I wonder what else is going to come out of it? Those things have certainly retreated’. There was no sign of further activity in the black cavern at present, but they could still hear rumblings from its dark interior. These sounds gradually became more measured and louder, almost like the tramp of marching feet.
‘I don’t like the sound of that’. Simon muttered.
‘Why?’ asked Indira.
“Because this cave is too encumbered with corpses now to make a battle ground!’ replied Ragimund, heatedly. ‘See for yourself!’ She swept her hand around. The stone floor of the cave was indeed littered with corpses of both devils and fish, some still flapping in their death throes.
‘I see what you mean’. Indira said, unhappily.
The tramping got louder. ‘We must leave!’ Ragimund repeated, urgently. They needed no urging. They retreated to the mouth of the cave, their eyes still fixed on that evil black hole within. As they looked around outside, they all gasped with amazement. Though it was only late morning, the landscape outside was as black as night. Looking up. they could see why. The sky was entirely filled with great billowing thunderclouds, pregnant with incipient rain, that totally blotted out the sun. Jagged forks of lightning flashed out of the clouds, followed by great thunderclaps that almost deafened them. Against the black sky, the bright green grass of the valley became vivid and luminescent, glowing in the fiery landscape.
But the thunderstorm was not the only thing that surprised them. Arraigned around them, in a semi-circle surrounding the cavern’s entrance, was a phalanx of faery troops, armoured and bearing shields, all painted with the All-Seeing Eye, that gleamed against the black sky. ‘Gloriana has arrived with her troops!’ exclaimed Ragimund, delightedly. Gloriana herself came forward to meet them. ‘I see you have already been in battle’, she remarked, looking at their stained and dented armour and clothing. ‘What is that terrible smell?’ ‘Fish. On legs’. Said Indira, quickly. ‘They were horrible! But we saw them off. I’ll have to wash my hair for a week to get rid of the stink!’
‘Fish? With legs? Are you joking with me?’ said Gloriana, incredulously.
‘No, we’re not. They were disgusting things!’ Simon said, vehemently. ‘But they’re not the only things that are coming out of that hole! There’s an army inside ready to come out, and I think there’s a lot of them!’
‘Did you see them?’ asked Gloriana.
‘No, but we heard them coming’.
‘We shall see what they bring out. In the meantime, sister, your little band must retire to the rear for a rest. You have fought one battle already. My troops are fresh. We will deal with whatever comes from that cave’.
‘We can fight!’ retorted Ragimund, indignantly.
‘I shall call upon you when I need you’. Gloriana said softly. ‘Until then, rest and save your strength’.
They retired behind the faery lines, Ragimund still fuming.
‘I do not go into battles to be told to rest!’
‘Gloriana was only suggesting that because she is not sure what she’s up against, as yet’. Suggested Morag.
‘Nor am I ! But I refuse to be told to retire and take a rest!’
‘Wait! Something’s happening!’ Simon said, loudly.
A strange host had begun to march out of the cave. Indira gave a small shriek. ‘ They’re skellingtons! How horrible!’
‘They’re skeletons, all right’. Simon agreed. ‘And they’re all armed!’ Each skeletal warrior carried a long scythe-like sword on its bony shoulder. They paused when they saw the faery warriors surrounding them, and prepared for attack. They raised their standard, bearing it aloft. A low groan of anger spread through the faery ranks as they caught sight of it. On a crude wooden X- frame, a human corpse had been nailed by its hands and feet. The eyeless body was borne like a trophy on the crude frame, gleaming red in the darkness.
‘Ugh! Its been flayed! Cried Indira in utter horror.
The sight of the poor body certainly inflamed the faery soldiers. Several had to be restrained by their comrades from attacking the skeletal horde there and then. But Gloriana kept control of her force. She drew her sword. ‘No quarter! No quarter!’ She cried.
The skeleton horde poured out from the cave entrance, to be met with utter ferocity by the faerys, who attacked viciously, smashing bone and crushing skulls, in their desire for vengeance. The bloodlust was upon them and they gave no quarter. But it was close hand-to-hand fighting, and those dreadful scythe-like blades took a toll of the faery host, who, eventually, forced the surviving skeletons to flee back into the cave, leaving their grisly standard lying on the muddied ground.
Gloriana surveyed the battle ground. The grass was churned up into mud, littered with shattered bones and skulls, but also with the bodies of her own troops, fallen in the battle. She turned to look at the cave. Inside, she could see more skeletal troops massing, rank upon rank of them, their domed heads glistening in the poor light Lastly, she looked up at the sky. It was still black, and lowering with thunderclouds, rumbling with thunder and shot through with lightning flashes. She made up her mind and came to a decision.
‘Ragimund!’ She called.
Ragimund trotted up. ‘What is it, sister?’
‘We must retreat. Back to the high ground up there’. She pointed. ‘We cannot withstand another assault down here. I do not want to be trapped here in this valley’.
‘I understand, sister. We can evacuate our wounded from there also. Our wagon is not far from there. We can use it to carry those too badly wounded to ride’.
‘Can you ensure that my daughter, Jezuban, and her new friend, Persephone, go with them? I do not want them to stay here’.
‘Of course, sister. I will find them and tell them of your wishes’.
Gloriana switched her attention to her troops. ‘We will retreat to the upper slopes!’ She shouted. ‘Bring the wounded! Help those able to walk, up! Those unable to walk, use your shields as litters! Hurry now! We must ascend these slopes as quickly as possible!’
Her soldiers hurried to do her demands. She watched, satisfied.
‘Mother! Her daughter, Jezuban, ran up to her. ‘Mother, don’t send me away!’
‘I fear for you! You will be killed here! Mama, I cannot bear to leave you! Please come away with me!’
Gloriana blinked hard to keep her tears away. Her daughter had never called her “Mama” since she was a young child. She knelt down to cuddle her daughter to her. ‘Please, Mama!’ Jezuban whispered, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck.
‘I cannot, my child. I cannot abandon my soldiers now! Nor my duty to my land and my people. Do you understand, Jezuban?’
‘Enough! Go now, and find your friend, Persephone. She will need your help with the wounded. Go!’
Jezuban released her mother’s neck and trotted up after the faery soldiers, then she turned back to gaze at her mother. The sight of her tear-stained face almost broke Gloriana’s heart.
‘Go on now, child!’ She called after her. The little band of companions stayed silent. They had witnessed this little drama and felt deeply moved by it. Gloriana walked over to them, her eyes still moist. ‘This is not your fight. Please feel free to depart. If you ride now, you will be in Elsace by nightfall’.
‘We’re not going’. Annie said, emphatically. ‘I’m staying, and I think everybody else is too!’
‘But you cannot! It is certain death if you stay here! If they come up here in force, there can only be one outcome! Go back with the wounded! It is your only chance!’
‘No!’ Annie replied, firmly. ‘We are not leaving you to fight this foe alone! We are staying with you!’
She turned aside so that they would not see her tears. She hastily wiped her eyes. ‘Thank you’. Was all she said.
They all turned to walk up the slopes of the valley to join the rest of the faerys. As they reached the top, they looked back down. Simon gave a cry of dismay. ‘Oh, no! There’s thousands of them’. They looked down in silence. Eight phalanxes of the skeletal hordes had already emerged from the cave, and more were pouring out. Each phalanx was headed by more of those dreadful standards, a mutilated and tortured human body nailed across a timber frame.
‘Ugh! Those bastards!’ Simon muttered. As he watched, another phalanx had formed up. ‘ That’s nine so far. And there’s still more coming. We don’t stand a chance’.
Morag turned to her husband urgently. ‘I want you to do something for me’. ‘Anything, my love’. He replied.
If there’s any chance that they could capture me alive, then I want you to kill me! Promise me, Demos!’
‘You must!’ Her voice hardened. ‘ Or would you rather listen to my screams of agony as they rape and torture me, and mutilate me before I die?’
‘No, I could not bear that’.
‘Then promise me!’
‘Very well, I promise’.
Morag heaved a sigh of relief. At least, she was promised a quick death, not that that was much consolation. The others in the little band had overheard their exchange, and began their own negociations with their partners and comrades. Morag overheard Indira and Pei-Ying.
‘I want you to finish me off quickly’. Indira was saying. ‘A quick knife in the back would do’.
‘Oh, don’t worry. Do you know, I’ve always wanted to do that’.
‘What! Stab me in the back?’
‘Yes, particularly before one of your “salons” as you call them’.
‘What’s wrong with my salons?’
‘Everything!’ Pei-Ying snapped. ‘You never let anyone else get a word in edgeways!’
Morag never heard Indira’s rejoinder, because she had knelt down on a tussock of grass, and was crying bitterly. After all they had been through, and it had come to this! She had looked forward to a long and happy life with Demos, and possibly children of their own, and it had all come to nothing! Nothing but a quick death, if Demos remembered. Somebody knelt down beside her. Underneath her blur of tears, Morag didn’t recognise her at first, But when she heard her voice, she did, instantly. ‘Annie!’
‘Don’t cry, Morag. It’ll all come out all right. Trust me’.
‘How can you say that? We’ll be slaughtered, Annie, or worse’.
‘No, we won’t. I’ve got a plan in hand’.
‘The plan to get rid of these hell-hounds!’
‘Be patient and you’ll see’.
Morag stared at the serried ranks of the skeletal warriors in front of them. What plan could Annie possibly have? For the life of her, she could not see a way out. They were all going to die, on this accursed hillside! Just then, she heard a small, shrill voice. ‘Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, let me through, please! I must speak with the Lady Gloriana!’
Gloriana looked with astonishment as a small, rotund elderly man with a bald head and beard, pushed his way through the faerys towards her. ‘Lady Gloriana?’ He asked, anxiously.
‘I am she’. She replied, loftily, though she did not know who this little man was.
‘Doctor Flamel!’ Gloriana turned round at the exclamation. ‘Annie, do you know this…gentleman?’
‘Yes, I do. Gloriana, permit me to introduce Doctor Nicholas Flamel, a famed philosopher and alchemist. Doctor Flamel, this is the Lady Gloriana, who is head governor of this land of Hyperborea’.
‘I am pleased to meet you, lady,’ He said, politely.
‘Likewise. But what are you doing here in my land?’
‘I have come to do you some service, lady. Annie invited me here’.
‘What service? We are about to be besieged by fiends from hell!’
‘Oh, dear, I was afraid of that!’ He peered down into the valley where the skeletons were massing. ‘Oh, dear, oh dear! It seems that I have come just in time!’
He turned to Annie. ‘You must give me all of your talismans, Annie! All that you have available! At once!’
Annie pulled off her talisman and gave to him. ‘Morag, Demos! Quick, your talismans! Nicholas needs them!’
‘Why?’ Said Morag, sulkily. She was in a foul mood, now that this threat was upon them. She was afraid, and she knew it.
But she saw the misery in Annie’s face, and relented immediately. ‘All right, Annie, just this once!’ She handed over her talisman to Doctor Flamel, who took it with a sigh of relief. Demos handed his over as well.
‘What do you need our talismans for?’ demanded Morag. She was exasperated now.
‘Wait and you will see’. It was the wrong thing to say to Morag in her present mood. ‘What the hell for? What are you going to do? We’re all going to die! Don’t you realise that! You stupid old charlatan!’
‘Morag!’ Annie stepped forward and slapped Morag across the face, hard.
‘Ow, you bitch! What was that for?’
‘Because you were beginning to panic, you silly cow!’
‘You……’ Morag lunged forwards at Annie, but was restrained by her husband.
‘Stop this at once!’ Gloriana shouted. ‘This is what our enemies want! Marshal Morag, stop this behaviour! Or I will have you demoted!’
It was too much for Morag to bear. She tore herself free from her husband and ran blindly off in whatever direction she could. ‘Morag!’ She could hear from someone behind her. Then she was felled by someone, grabbing her ankles from behind. She landed heavily, winding herself. Luckily, she twisted so that she hit the ground on her right undamaged side. She lay there, gasping. She looked up. Two faces gradually came into focus.
‘You. We were worried about you’.
‘Because you went berserk!’
‘I did what!’
‘You went mad. You were running down the slope towards the enemy, shouting and brandishing your sword! I had to bring you down with a rugby tackle!’
‘But I don’t remember any of that!’ Morag protested. She couldn’t even remember drawing her sword.
‘You probably don’t. You were off your head at the time’.
Large stinging hard drops of rain began to fall.
‘We must get her back and into shelter’. Demos said quickly.
He bent down and picked his wife up gently in his arms, carrying her back to the faery stronghold above. Annie followed them, carrying Morag’s sword, which she had dropped when Annie had tackled her. She was desperately worried about Morag. She was not herself and Annie feared that she was ill.
Demos lost no time, bearing his wife in his arms, in rushing up the slope behind, to where the horses were tethered. He saddled one up quickly with a tandem saddle that he found amidst the others. He hoisted Morag up onto the front, and mounted himself behind her, one arm clasping her tightly against him, and the other holding the reins. ‘To Elsace!’ he shouted, and the horse broke into a gallop back down the road towards the capital.
Annie watched them go with deep emotions. She genuinely loved her new sister, and she feared for her. But now she had other matters to attend to. She turned to Nicholas Flamel, who stood by her, a shabby rotund little figure. She looked down at the gathering masses of skeleton warriors and her heart sank. She counted at least ten phalanxes of them, all preparing to attack the faerys above them. She looked around quickly. There were barely four hundred in their little force. They were certain to be overwhelmed by the enemy, if they attacked in their present numbers.
‘Doctor Flamel, can you do something?’ She asked, fearfully.
‘Of course, my dear!’ He replied cheerfully. ‘Watch and see!’
He carefully adjusted the talismans on the fingers of his left hand, and held it aloft. He shouted a single word ‘Avanti!’ Instantly, a single bright shaft of yellow light sprang from his assembled talismans and pierced the bulbous black thundercloud directly above. A sharp double-pronged streak of lightning flashed out of the cloud, striking the summit of the mountain above and behind the valley, followed by a loud clap of thunder.
But nothing happened. Annie looked at Doctor Flamel. ‘What’s happened!’ She yelled over the noise of the thunderstorm. ‘I don’t know!’ He shouted back. ‘I shall have to try again!’
Once again, he held up his left hand, replete with all the talismans. This time, he cried out, ‘Encore, Avanti’ Once more, the double-forked spring of lightning struck at the mountain, and this time it had an effect. Before Annie’s astounded eyes, the whole mountainside began to move and slip downwards, at first slowly. then with gathering pace. There was a great roar as it turned into an avalanche and flooded down into the valley, burying the skeleton phalanxes under thousands of tons of rock and rubble. A great dust cloud rose over the scene, engulfing the faery encampment. Annie heard the whistling and pattering of small stones as she turned to look for shelter. ‘In here, lady!’
‘Do you think, lady, that our enemies have all been destroyed?’ asked one of her temporary companions.
‘I think so’. Annie replied. ‘But we won’t know until this dust cloud clears’.
‘That will not be long’. said the other faery, knowledgeably, ‘Because here comes the rain!’
Almost as he spoke, the heavens opened. The rain came down in torrents. They stood up from the small increasing floods around their feet, and hastily wrapped their cloaks around them, pulling up their hoods. It felt like a deluge pouring down upon them. Despite their cloaks, they were soaked within seconds. Annie bade farewell to her new companions and thanked them again for their hospitality, and set off to look for her previous companions. She found them standing in a bedraggled group on the edge of the grassy plateau, peering out vainly at the remains of the mountain.
‘What’s happening?’ she asked as she joined them. ‘We don’t know yet’, rejoined her brother, ‘Not until that bloody dust subsides!’
‘My hair’s ruined!’ Indira said, hotly. ‘First, that bloody battle with devils, Then those smelly fish, and finally all this dust and rain! It’ll never be the same again!’
‘Who cares about your bloody hair, anyway!’ Pei-Ying said, heatedly.
‘I do! It’s one of my main assets!’
‘Yes! The only one!’
‘Stop quarrelling, you two! Look, the dust is clearing’. Annie said, angrily. She pointed to the mountain.
They all gave a collective gasp. Now, it was no more than a large stump of rocks and stone. Most of it had collapsed into the valley below, which was no longer a valley, but a plain of rocks and mud, extending to where they stood.
‘What’s happened to the mountain? And the valley?’ cried Indira, plaintively.
‘Doctor Flamel has destroyed both of them’. Said Simon, bleakly. ‘Why, I don’t know’.
Doctor Nicholas Flamel was at that moment placating an angry Gloriana. ‘Why have you destroyed the Griffin mountain and my valley?’ She demanded.
‘Because it was necessary, my lady’. retorted Nicholas Flamel. ‘Or would you rather have your land defiled by demons from Hell?’
Gloriana admitted defeat. ‘No’.
‘Of course not. But please excuse me. I have something else to do’. He raised his left hand once more and said, ‘Avanti!’ Again, the lightning fork struck out, this time striking the remaining summit of the mountain. The summit seemed to collapse into itself, and crumple in, leaving the mountain as no more than a rocky mound. Gloriana stared in despair at the ruins that were left.
‘Are you finished, philosopher?’ She finally asked, bitterly.
‘Oh, yes. No more destruction, I promise you. But I have sealed the portal and the rift that it contained forever, so you need never fear an incursion from Hell again. Your enemies are crushed under thousands of tons of rock and rubble, so your land is now safe’.
Gloriana considered his words for a few moments.
‘I know what he really wants!’ They both turned around to find Annie facing them, hands on hips. ‘He wants a permanent home, so that he and his wife no longer have to live like nomads in their own land!’
Gloriana turned back to the old man. ‘Is this true, philosopher?’ She demanded.
‘ Yes, it is true, lady. Both my wife and I greatly desire a permanent home, free from gossip and wagging fingers’.
‘That can be easily arranged, here in Hyperborea’. Gloriana replied, warmly.
‘I would be most grateful, lady’. Beamed the philosopher.
‘Good. Now we must depart. Our work here is done. Strike camp! Mount up in ten minutes!’
The faery soldiers rushed to do her bidding. Annie walked through the hurrying throngs and found Nicholas Flamel again, looking sadly at the lost valley and the remains of the mountain. ‘ Oh, dear, Annie! I have destroyed their valley and their mountain! I hope they can forgive me!’
‘I’m sure they will’. Annie said, reassuringly. But she was not sure that the griffins would. Sure enough, a large swooping shape came down and alighted in the road in front of them, just as they were preparing for the ride back to Elsace. Annie had never seen a griffin so closely before. It was enormous and terrifying, as it opened its great leathery wings in anger. It bobbed its eagle-like head up and down as it spoke in a strange clacking language that she had never heard before. But Ragimund dismounted, walked up to it, and spoke back in the same clacking language. Annie was terrified for her. Tall as she was, she looked small and vulnerable against the giant griffin. The griffin listened to her attentively, replying to her in the same language. At last they seemed to have reached an agreement.
‘The griffins are angry’. She announced, ‘But they have accepted our offer of recompense for the loss of their mountain’.
‘Good! I do not wish to make enemies of our allies!’ Gloriana said, jubilantly. ‘Now that matter is resolved, we can be on our way’.
They set off on the journey back to Elsace. It was a miserable ride. The rain was still pouring down, and they were thoroughly wet through. The faery soldiers were still mourning their dead and wounded comrades who had been struck down in the battle against the skeleton warriors, and the humans were anxious about the fate of Morag, who had been taken back to Elsace by her husband, Demos.
Demos was desperately anxious about his young wife. She had lost consciousness during their desperate ride, and he was holding on to her tightly against him. He had overtaken the wagon with the wounded on board, but was only conscious of a young girl, whose large dark eyes looked at him anxiously. He galloped on, eager to reach the palace before nightfall and find the physician.
Persephone looked after them, full of apprehension and despair. She recognised both of them, but Morag was so still and pale in her husband’s arms! Was she wounded? Was she dying? Persephone gave a great sob, so that Jezuban looked up. ‘What is the matter, Persephone?’
‘Morag! She passed us just now, in her husband’s arms, and she looked so pale! I am afraid for her!’
‘Well, there is nothing you can do for her now, and we have our wounded to look after! Now, come on, Persephone!’
Jezuban had her mother’s authority, and Persephone obeyed her.
They turned their attention to their next patient, a young faery woman, who was crying in pain and despair. She lay in the back of the wagon in misery.
‘ Will I ever walk again? Oh, lady, please do not cut off my foot! Please, I beg you, lady! I could not bear it!’ The young faery woman wept.
Jezuban spoke quietly to her, trying to comfort her. ‘I will look at your injury and see whether my talisman can heal you’.
She drew back the blanket with which the faery was covered and stared with horror at her injury. Her right foot had been half-severed above the ankle, and was bleeding profusely.
‘This will hurt you’. Jezuban said, gently.
‘I do not care, lady! I can stand any pain if it will save my foot!’
‘Very well, then’.
Jezuban carefully closed the wound as much as she dared. The faery woman winced and groaned but otherwise did not make a sound. But when she applied the talisman to the wound, the young woman’s agonised scream awoke the other occupants of the wagon. Persephone held her down by the shoulders. After two or three moments, her shrieks subsided and she lay quiet on her litter.
‘How do you feel now? ‘ asked Jezuban, softly.
‘Better, my lady! I can feel it healing me! I can feel my bones and muscles beginning to knit together again! Oh, thank you, lady! Thank you so much!’ The young faery began to cry again, but this time they were tears of joy and gratitude.
‘What’s that noise?’ Persephone asked. Behind them, down the road, they could hear a drumming noise, which grew louder.
‘It is the sound of hoofbeats! But who could it be?’ cried Jezuban. She leapt down from the wagon and shielded her eyes to see who was coming. ‘It is Mama!’ She cried out in joy. ‘And all the others with her!’ She ran towards her. Gloriana halted the procession, and dismounted to embrace her daughter. ‘Oh, Mama, you are safe, and all the others too! But what happened to our enemies?’ Jezuban cried.
‘Gone. All gone. Buried beneath the mountain. I shall explain what happened later, my daughter’.
At that moment, they heard a long shrill wail of despair from the wagon, then the sound of sobbing. ‘Oh, no! I told her not to look!’ Jezuban gasped. Annie and Simon had dismounted and were running to the wagon, clambering inside, followed by Jezuban and her mother. Carefully moving amongst the wounded, they saw Persephone standing over one of the covered bodies at the front of the wagon. Her hands were bunched to her mouth, and she was still sobbing, tears running down her cheeks. She had drawn back the blanket that covered the body. Annie and Simon looked down in silence at the thin dead face of Jevo, Persephone’s young paramour.
‘Jevo! They have killed my Jevo! What am I going to do now?’
Annie caught the note of hysteria in her voice, and put her arms around her to comfort the distraught young girl. Meanwhile, Simon knelt down by the other blanket-covered body, and drew the cover back. His sharp gasp drew Annie’s attention. She released Persephone, and knelt down beside her brother. She looked down. ‘Oh, no! She gasped as well. They both recognised her. ‘Danae!’ She lay on her back, eyes still wide open, but lifeless and glazed. Her arms were folded on her chest. But she was clearly dead. Annie felt for a pulse, just to make sure. There wasn’t one.
‘She’s gone, Simon’.
‘I know. She looks just like Annabelle must have done all those years ago when that bastard Grandfather Wrist killed her. She always reminded me of her’.
Annie was silent. Annabelle was a young country girl sent to Brighton to be a servant to the villainous Grandfather Wrist, one of their sworn enemies. Instead of finding a new life, she had suffered endless beatings at his hands, and was eventually strangled to death by him. Her brother had always felt strongly for that young girl, so cruelly treated, even though she had died over a hundred years ago. Danae was married to Alex, a young Scotsman, the newest member of staff in Morag’s department. Morag had rescued Danae from drowning after a raid on a Circlassian port, a debt which she repaid by testifying against the murderer Haga at his trial.
She suddenly recalled Morag. What had happened to her? A sharp dread filled her. What if Morag, her new sister, was dead?
‘Yes, I did’. Persephone said, miserably. ‘ They were riding like the wind. They did not even stop. Oh! Annie! Does that mean that Morag is….?’
‘I don’t know what it means as yet, Persephone, but I do know that we’ve got to get back as soon as possible. We must find out what’s happened with Morag and Demos’.
‘Can I suggest that perhaps Persephone might like to ride with you, Annie, given the circumstances?’ said Gloriana, tactfully.
‘Of course’. Annie replied cheerfully, ‘If that’s all right with Persephone’.
‘I should like that very much’. Persephone said, shyly.
‘Come on then. Let’s find my horse’.
It was a good suggestion from Gloriana. She knew that the young girl would not want to travel in the same wagon as the body of her late paramour. She would prefer to be with those she liked and trusted. Annie led the way to her horse. ‘You can ride behind me. The saddle’s big enough’.
‘Thank you, Annie’. Annie felt moved. There was a tremor in Persephone’s voice, which gave her emotions away. She suddenly realised that the young girl was very afraid of the future now, without her beloved Jevo. She had suddenly lost the love of her life, leaving her totally vulnerable and insecure, dependent wholly on the goodwill of those around her. She was alone in a strange land with no family to support her. Annie began to realise why her brother had felt so strongly about that young girl a hundred years ago, alone and friendless, in a strange city, entirely at the mercy of strangers.
Annie mounted her horse and extended her hand down to Persephone, intending to pull her up behind her. But Persephone just stared miserably up at her. Annie realised that the poor girl didn’t have the self-confidence any longer to make the leap up.
Simon!’ She called. ‘Can you give Persephone a hand here?’
He came over and hoisted her up onto the saddle behind Annie.
They galloped on ahead, Gloriana and her troops staying back to escort the wagon. There were seven of them: Annie and Persephone, Simon, Indira, Pei-Ying, Ragimund and last of all, Ezekiel, who had chosen to accompany them. They were all anxious to find what had befallen Morag. Annie wished Helios were here, but Gloriana had forbidden him, saying that she needed him to stay as her administrator. Annie suspected it was to punish him for leaving his post to come after her. But Gloriana was devious, and it might be for a different reason altogether. Perhaps she did not want Annie distracted by her new love. Perhaps she would never find out the reason. However, they were on their way home, and she had a responsibility towards the young girl clinging to her back.
Demos had at last reached the palace at Elsace. He turned in through the outer gatehouse and rode up to the main doors, where he dismounted, carefully pulling Morag down after him. ‘Please stable my horse!’ He shouted to one of the guards on the gates. Still holding his wife in his arms, he turned to the other guard. ‘Where is the physician’s?’ He demanded. ‘My wife is very sick’.
‘Down the corridor on the left of the entrance hall on the ground floor. Fourth room on the left’. The guard said, automatically. ‘Sir, is your wife wounded?’ But Demos did not hear him. He ran down the corridor with Morag in his arms, and kicked the door with his booted foot, not having any hands to spare. The door opened, and an angry face peered out. ‘Why are you kicking my door? Can the wounded not wait!’
‘Atalanta’ Cried Demos in astonishment. ‘What are you doing here?’
He followed her into the infirmary. ‘Set her down there’. She pointed to a large reclining chair. He put her down gently on it. Atalanta set about examining her, taking her pulse, and feeling her forehead. The physician frowned. Morag was still unconscious and quite unaware of what was happening. Atalanta turned to Demos. ‘She is very ill. She has a raging fever and her temperature is very high. I strongly suggest that she stays here until the fever is broken’. Demos nodded. It was as he feared. ‘I shall stay with her and watch over her’.
Atalanta nodded approvingly. ‘Very well. Take her into that room over there’, She pointed ‘Where you and she can have some rest and privacy’. Demos carefully picked her up and took her into the little bedroom, where he undressed her, and put her in a clean white nightshirt, that he found laid out on the bed. He put her into the bed and pulled up the blankets around her. Now she looked peaceful but very pale. He hoped she would not die there. He settled himself into a small chair that he drew up alongside the bed, and prepared himself for a long night of vigil.
He dozed off, but was awoken an hour later by a commotion outside. Rousing himself, he got up and went to the door. There were angry voices outside. He stepped out and shut the door quietly behind him. They all stopped when they saw him.
“How is Morag?’ Annie spoke first.
‘She is very ill, and that is why you cannot see her!’ Demos said, sharply.
‘But’s what wrong with her? ‘ asked Indira.
‘She has terrible fever, and a high temperature! She is in no state to see anybody at the moment!’ Snapped Atalanta.
‘Can’t we see her for just a moment?’ Annie asked.
‘No! She is my patient, and it is in her best interests not to have visitors at this time!’
‘Get out of our way, woman!’ Ezekiel roared. He had lost patience. He took a step forward.
‘No, Ezekiel! Please!’ Annie cried in alarm.
But Atalanta was unfazed. She planted herself firmly in front of Morag’s door and stood there, her arms folded.
It was all too much for poor Persephone. She burst into tears, then turned and ran out of the door. In the silence that followed, they could hear her footsteps clattering up the main staircase outside.
‘We’ll go now’. Said Annie quietly.
They all shuffled despondently out of the infirmary.
‘And don’t come back until you’ve learnt some manners!’ Atalanta fired as a last shot.
They trooped drearily up to their sleeping quarters.
‘That went well, didn’t it’. Simon remarked, gloomily.
‘Yes, well, at least we now know that Morag’s alive, except she’s extremely poorly and that she’s been looked after by her husband’.
‘That’s all very well, Annie, but where does that leave us?’
‘I don’t know. Let’s find Persephone’.
They found their supper waiting for them on the central table. But none of them were particularly hungry. They were too worried about Morag, and angry about the rebuff they had received. They found Persephone in her bedroom, sobbing again at losing her beloved Jevo and being denied the opportunity to see Morag. Annie comforted her as best she could, but with little success. Persephone remained inconsolable.
Another member of their little band that was also inconsolable was Demos. He was prepared to stay and watch over Morag for as long as was necessary, but there was no change in her condition. She was still and silent, though her face was still burning hot whenever he touched it. He felt anguish at the thought of the beautiful young woman he had married, Such a contrast to this still, young woman! But she was still his wife, and he owed her a debt of happiness. He was going to watch over her, no matter how long it took.
Annie was in a quandary. What was to be done now? Her little band was demoralised and bitter. Two faerys they knew were dead as a result of the war they had recently fought with the forces of hell, and a third member of the group lay prostrate on a sick-bed, her eventual fate still unknown. There was only one thing to do. ‘Right’. She said, loudly. ‘Get yourselves ready. This afternoon, we’re going to go sight-seeing’.
‘How can we?’ Persephone wailed. ‘When poor Morag may be dying!’
‘She’s not dying!’ Annie said, sharply. ‘Put that thought out of your head, Persephone! She’s going to make a full recovery! I just know it! We’ll able to see her when she does! Until then, we’ll just have to wait. And it’s far better to actually do something than to sit around here moping! So get yourself ready, Persephone!’
Persephone let herself be persuaded. Eventually they all set off, on foot, to explore the delights of Elsace. They left the palace heading northwards onto the Path of Venus, and turned eastwards along this main thoroughfare. They passed many large porticoed buildings, with tall fluted columns in marble, until they came to the theatre on their left, a tall colonnaded building set in its own landscaped grounds, overlooking the harbour beyond. The harbour opened out onto the vast expanse of Lake Tabitha, shimmering into the far distance, small scalloped waves rippling its smooth surface. They paused for a few moments to enjoy the sight of the great classical edifice set against the bright blue of the vast inland lake. The marble columns of the theatre sparkled and gleamed in the bright sunlight. Even Persephone forgot her woes in the delight of this vision. Her mouth was open as she drank in the glories of this wondrous city.
Ragimund, who had appointed herself as their guide, pointed further along the Path of Venus. ‘Soon we shall come to the city markets. You can do all your shopping there. There is something for everybody. On the opposite side there are the ruins of what we believe was the forum of the Ancient Ones. Please forgive me if I seem pedantic, but I enjoy showing off my city’.
‘No, you’re doing really well’. Annie said. ‘We don’t know Elsace that well, so we’re grateful for any knowledge’.
Ragimund smiled, pleased at the compliment. She led them into the ancient ruins, opposite the market-place. Here, they wandered amidst giant fallen columns, drunken entablatures and triumphal arches, all now decayed and in ruins. Vegetation had grown over most of them, but Annie could see that any inscriptions they once bore, had been chiselled off a long time ago. ‘Why did they do that?’ She asked. “ Chisel off all the inscriptions, I mean’.
Ragimund shrugged her shoulders helplessly. ‘I do not know. Nobody does’.
Annie looked around at the ruins. Evidently the Ancient Ones were a civilised and progressive race, noted for the beauty and magnificence of their architecture, the sorry remains of which they now looked upon. She felt sad that they had passed away, without leaving any details of themselves. She wanted to know more about Oolita, the young girl from the past that only Morag had had the opportunity to meet.
Next, Ragimund led them over to the city market across the Path of Venus. Like all faery markets, it was mixed, with brass-makers selling their wares next to a fishmonger, and musical instrument makers alongside a vegetable seller. But it did not matter, and the sellers got on extremely well. As usual, the market was extremely noisy, with stall-holders shouting the virtues of their wares, and the general cacophony of customers. Annie was half-deafened by the noise, but was still able to find the bargains she wanted. She kept Persephone by her, to look after the young girl, who was looking frightened by the noise and bustle around her. After looking at the jewellery, she saw something that Persephone was looking at longingly, but was too shy to buy. It was a small cameo brooch of a young girl who looked exactly like Persephone in profile. It was mounted in a delicate silver filigree frame. Annie instantly decided to buy it as a gift for Persephone. ‘How much?’ she demanded, holding it in her palm. The stall-holder looked at it. ‘One denari’. Annie groaned inwardly. It would be an expensive present. But a look at Persephone’s young anxious face allayed all her doubts. ‘Done’. She said, and pressed a gold denari coin into the man’s grubby palm.
They had all arranged to meet in an outdoor restaurant on the south-east side of the market, when they had done their shopping. It looked out over the Path of Venus, and consisted of a large plaza filled with small cast-iron tables with gaily-coloured parasols above. The restaurant itself was at the far end. The only problem was the fact that all the tables were full. Annie and Persephone stared helplessly at them.
‘I can deal with this’. Said a voice behind them. They looked around. It was Simon and Ragimund. Ragimund spoke to one of the waiters. He nodded and hurried off, returning a few moments later with an upturned table balanced on his head. Two more waiters followed with similar tables, that they grouped together. Next followed white table-cloths, to go over the tables. Then folding chairs came, together with cutlery and cups. Within moments they found themselves sitting at their own large table in the centre of the plaza, ready to eat lunch, under a striped parasol.
‘Wow! That was like a military operation!’ exclaimed Indira, breathlessly. ‘The waiters here all serve as soldiers’. Explained Ragimund. ‘And it also helps that I am one of the governors of this land’.
‘ A woman with clout! I like that!’ Exclaimed Indira, excitedly.
Just then, the menus came. They all studied them, except for Persephone, who was not interested in eating. She was still full of grief, and desperately worried about Morag. ‘You must eat something, Persephone. Morag will not want to see you wasting away’. Annie said, firmly. She pushed a plate of food in front of the girl, who, hesitantly, picked up a piece of bread, and began to nibble at it. ‘That’s better!’ Annie remarked, approvingly, and turned to her own meal. But she noticed that Persephone was beginning to eat more heartily, now.
But Demos was not happy. His wife was still torn with the fever that had gripped her, and she was still not conscious. He was still fearful that she might not recover. He could not bear that thought! He wondered where the others were. Surely, they had not forgotten her! Wishing they were here, to support him and his dear wife, he settled down to another night of vigil over Morag.
They decided to go back after their lunch, to see if Morag had recovered. Annie led them on a detour down to the art gallery to see the statues that the students from Meridias’s studio had created, hoping that they would brighten their mood. They did, for a short time, but the black mood soon descended again, especially when they were turned away again by Atalanta, from seeing Morag. ‘There is no point!’ She said angrily. ‘She is not even conscious yet, and she is still weak’. They had to admit defeat yet again. But all was not lost.
As the days passed, Morag improved visibly. She began to toss and turn, and her temperature fell. On the fourth day, she awoke.
‘Have you missed me?’ She asked, half- jokingly.
‘Yes, I have. Very much. I love you, Morag’.
‘I love you too. Very much’.
She looked across at his chair. ‘Oh, Demos, have you watched over me, all this time?’
‘Yes, for four days and four nights’.
‘Have I been away for that long? Oh, Demos, thank you for looking after me! I love you even more than I do already!’
Demos smiled at her, glad to see his wife back to her normal self. But then her smile faded as she asked about the others.
‘ Are they all right? After that battle, I mean?’
‘Yes, they have all returned safely. Apart from two, that is…’
Morag’s eyes clouded with tears. ‘They were so young! Poor Danae! All she wanted was a little happiness! And poor Persephone!’
‘They have been clamouring to see you since they got back’. Demos explained. ‘But Atalanta has turned them away on the grounds that you were too ill’.
‘Atalanta! What is she doing here?’
‘She was summoned here, to help look after the casualties of this new war, except that she was not needed. So she looked after you instead’.
‘Well, thank her for me. I don’t suppose that she’ll allow me anything substantial like steak and chips, would she? Only I’m really hungry, and I could murder something like that’.
Demos grinned ‘I shall see what I can do’.
After he departed, Morag lay back on her pillows, grieving for the two dead faerys. Persephone was young enough to recover, but Alex was a different matter. She was determined to be the one to break the news to him, as his superior officer. She felt she owed it to him. She had come to know Danae quite well over the last few months, and she thought the heartbreaking news would come better from her.
She remembered that the others would be here soon, and groped for her bag which contained her few cosmetics to prepare herself for their arrival. In doing so, her hand brushed against a wrapped scroll of papers. She drew it out. ‘Oh, no! Petrina’s play!’ In the events of the last few days, she had completely forgotten about it. But it was too late today to do anything.
She was not wrong. A moment later, there was a loud knock at the door. Indira’s head peered round it. ‘The Sleeping Beauty’s awake!’ She announced to the others behind her. They poured in through the door. First was Persephone, who hugged Morag in delight, closely followed by Annie, Simon and Ragimund, who also embraced her affectionately. Last came Indira and Pei-Ying, who did the same. At the last minute, Ezekiel entered and grasped her in a giant bear hug. ‘Welcome back, my daughter!’ He growled softly. They gathered around her bedside in affectionate comradeship. Morag was deeply touched by their obvious love for her. ‘It’s wonderful to see you all again’. She said in a voice husky with emotion. ‘Where were you when you were out cold?’ Indira asked, eagerly.
‘Fighting a lonely battle’, She said softly, She spoke so softly that they had to crane forward to hear her. ‘Against devils and demons! I had to, in order to see you all again. It was a battle I had to win! Because, otherwise, I might never have woken up’.
‘Crikey!’ Exclaimed Indira, ‘We never knew! But was this battle real, or just inside your head?’
‘A bit of both, I think’. Morag said, even more softly. ‘It seemed real, though it was probably just a mental battle. But I knew I had to beat them to come back!’
They were all silent, thinking of the lonely battle that this young woman had had to fight.
‘Well, we’re all glad that you did defeat them! Bit like the Temptation of Saint Anthony, though, isn’t it? Indira remarked.
‘I suppose so’. Admitted Morag. ‘But I’m really glad to be back, and see you all again’.
They fell into that state of silent affectionate companionship, that meant so such amongst genuine friends.
Demos came in, bearing a tray, ‘I have brought a gift from Atalanta for Morag’.
‘What! It’s not steak and chips, is it?’
‘No. It is beef stew, with dumplings, and extra bread to go with it’.
‘What!’ Morag exclaimed in delight. ‘She agreed?’
‘What! You went behind my physician’s back!’
‘Yes. I hope you are not angry with me, Morag’.
‘Not at all! I’m just grateful to have something substantial to eat! I’m absolutely starving!’
‘In that case, we’ll leave you to it’. Said Annie, tactfully. ‘We’ll take Persephone to have something to eat’. They rose up and departed.
Morag sat down at the small table that Demos had provided, in front of her beef stew. Appetising smells arose from the covered tureen. But she hesitated. ‘Demos, have you eaten yet? Only I can’t bear to eat this if you haven’t eaten’. Demos laughed.
‘Morag, I confess to you, I consumed a meal when I was waiting to order yours’.
‘I knew it! I bet you had my steak and chips! Morag said, mock-accusingly, pointing her finger at him.
‘Yes, I confess I did’. Demos admitted. Morag laughed. ‘Well, you deserve it! After carrying me back home nearly seventy miles on horseback after Armageddon! I really appreciate that, Demos’.
She turned her attention to the food on the table, whose aromas she was no longer able to resist. For the next quarter of a hour, she was blissfully engaged in devouring her beef stew, wiping up the rich gravy with her bread. At last, she sank back in her chair with a satisfied sigh. ‘Oh, that was lovely!’ She said, happily. ‘I feel human again!’
Demos laughed, happy to see his wife restored to her old self. There was new colour in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eyes that he had not seen for a long time. ‘Morag, you have come back to me!’ He said, impulsively, and bent down to kiss her.
She raised her right arm to embrace him, but then put it down again. ‘I must go and see Gloriana’. She said, hastily. ‘Now!’
She ran down the corridor, heedless of Demos’s cries, in her bare feet. She turned and ran up the main stairs towards where Gloriana’s office was, on the first floor of the palace. She pounded on the door and then rushed in. ‘Where is the lady Gloriana?’ She demanded. The elderly faery secretary glared at her. ‘What do you want, you demented hussy?’ She stared pointedly at Morag’s bare feet. Morag lost her temper completely. ‘Don’t you call me that! You bloody old bat!’
‘What is the meaning of this commotion!’ Gloriana stood in her doorway glaring at both of them.
‘Lady, this strumpet has burst in here, demanding to see you, in a total state of undress!’
‘I’m not a bloody strumpet and I’m not undressed, you silly old bag!’
‘Enough!’ Gloriana cried, raising her hands in the air. ‘ Morag, come into my office, please’. Morag followed glumly. She felt sure she was going to be told off, and at worst, demoted. But it was not to be. Gloriana looked at her in concern, with a hint of amusement. ‘I see you have arisen from your sickbed, hence your apparel. But what brings you here on such an urgent mission?’
‘This’. Morag thrust the roll of parchments containing Petrina’s play towards her.
Gloriana took it from her in mystification. ‘What is this?’ She asked.
‘It is a play, written by a young girl called Petrina. I would like you to read it, and, if you like it, to consider whether you would stage it or not. I believe that this girl has got talent’.
‘Hmmm, I see. Let me read it now, and I will judge it accordingly’.
So Morag was forced to sit patiently while Gloriana read the manuscript. She had no idea of what Gloriana might think of it. But Gloriana turned the pages, and as she did, broke into an occasional chuckle. At last, she finished, and looked up at an apprehensive Morag.
‘It is very good, Morag. You clearly have excellent taste. The plot is good, and these rustics, as they are called, are extremely humorous. I like it. I would like to see this play presented in Elsace. It will start a new tradition in Hyperborea of staged plays, and a new culture. But I have two conditions’.
‘What are they?’ Morag said, her heart sinking.
‘Firstly, the first performance will need to be on the first of August this year. That is the day when Annie will wed our Helios, and I would like to present this play as a wedding gift to them both’.
‘But that’s only three months away! How can she stage a play in that time!’
‘Ah, that is where you come in. You shall aid her in her endeavours. She is but a young girl, and she will need your help. You will need to recover from your illness, therefore I suggest that, rather than moping around doing nothing, which I know you do not like, you could spend your time more profitably by helping this young girl’.
‘I suppose so, but how can I help her? I don’t know anything about putting on a play!’
‘Then you will learn. I will give you leave to do so. After all, you have not taken a single day’s leave since you became a marshal. This will give you something to do’.
‘Yes, thank you, Lady Gloriana’. She said, dolefully.
She knew there was no point in arguing with Gloriana once she had made her mind up. So she accepted the inevitable.
‘Good’. Said Gloriana, cheerfully. ‘I will finance the costs of the presentation, if you will do the rest. I will look forward to this play of yours’.
‘More than I will’. Muttered Morag, under her breath. She rose and took her leave.
The secretary raised her head and glared at her balefully. ‘I hope the lady gave you a piece of her mind!’
‘Yes, she did. In fact, she gave me all I wanted. I’m sorry I caused any grief, because in fact, you are a silly old bint!’ She stalked out, as best she could, in her bare feet, leaving the secretary spluttering in indignation.
She went down to the infirmary again, to tell her husband what had happened. ‘Anyway, I’ve got Petrina her play, and I put paid to that silly old cow she calls a secretary!’ She finally finished. ‘But what do I do now? I haven’t the faintest idea of how to stage a play!’
‘You need to get Petrina here, so that she can supervise her own play. Ask her father to bring her. She needs to select her cast of actors. Only she can do that. All you have to do is to supervise the mechanics of the play’.
‘I suppose so. And be a chaperone as well! I’m a marshal, not a bloody babysitter!’
‘But think of how that young girl will feel if the play is a success!’ Demos persisted.
‘I know’. Morag said, miserably. ‘All I want to do is put a smile on her pretty young face, but I don’t see how at the present’.
‘You will do. Have confidence in yourself, Morag, and confidence in that young girl. She will need you now more than ever’.
‘You’re right. But please comfort me, Demos. I need it at this moment’. She said, tearfully.
They embraced each other emotionally. Demos stroked her glossy black hair. ‘I love you, Morag’.
‘I love you too, Demos’. She whispered. ‘Very much’.
‘Look at these two! Can’t keep their hands off each other!’ It was Indira, coming in with the others, for their second visit. Morag groaned inwardly, but braced herself to entertain her visitors. At least, they told her more about how Nicholas Flamel had destroyed the mountain, causing it to collapse and destroy their enemies, without further loss to themselves. But she was saddened to hear about the deaths of Jevo and Danae, and looked at Persephone. The poor young girl looked miserable and forlorn, so Morag decided she would take special care of her. She would have to speak to poor Alex as well, to tell him about the loss of his wife. Then there was Ezekiel, to ask him to bring his daughter to Elsace. Then there was the problem of who was to replace her if she was to remain in Elsace for the next three months. She sighed. It was all so complicated! And all because of a play!
Ezekiel came in. She decided to take the opportunity to tell him of Gloriana’s decision. His craggy face lit up with pride. ‘My daughter, performing her play, in front of the Lady Gloriana!’
‘There’s a long way to go yet’. She reminded him gently. ‘But I’ll look after Petrina while’s she here’.
‘Thank you, daughter. I will bring her in two day’s time’.
‘Thank you. Ezekiel, do you know who will replace me in Druard?’
‘I believe it will be Amelia. She has volunteered’.
‘What! Is she able to?’ Morag asked anxiously.
‘Physically yes, but up here,’ He tapped his forehead, ‘No’.
Morag understood. Amelia had survived two attacks on herself, in the course of one evening: the first by a crazed knifeman who mistook her for Gloriana, and the second by her own lover who had tried to smother her with a pillow. It was small wonder that she was not herself.
‘Will you look after her, Ezekiel?’ She asked, gently.
‘Of course. She is your friend, is she not?’
‘Yes, she is’.
Shortly after, their friends took their leave, leaving Demos and Morag finally alone in their quarters in the palace, to which they had moved earlier in the evening.
‘It’s time to go to bed’. Morag said, thankfully. ‘Are you coming?’ ‘Yes, I am. Morag, it is so wonderful to have my lovely wife back again!’ ‘Good to be back’. Morag smiled fondly at her husband. They retired to bed, where, after making love, they drifted into deep slumber until the following day.
Frank Jackson 07/ 07/ 2016 – Word Count – 11021.