DR FRANK JACKSON 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
A rehearsal and a Wedding
The long-suffering Morag has been given the unenviable task of helping Petrina, the daughter of her marshal partner, Ezekiel, to stage the first ever play, The Lost Prince, to be performed in Hyperborea. It is Petrina’s own play, and has never been performed before, and there are many obstacles to overcome. None of the cast have ever acted before and will have to learn during the rehearsals. To add to her difficulties, the two stage hands responsible for lowering scenery onto the stage are inept idiots, who could cause immense damage and injury, if they maintain their bungling. It is not a task that she is looking forward to, especially when it is being performed in honour of her sister, Annie’s wedding.
Morag groaned inwardly, as the chariot drew up outside the palace of Elsace. It contained her marshal partner, Ezekiel, and his daughter, Petrina, who had come to stage her very first play, in front of the governor of Hyperborea, Gloriana, who stood by her, to greet this first young playwright of the land.
Morag had been charged with looking after Petrina, whilst she was in Elsace, and with helping the girl stage her first play. She was not looking forward to it. But Petrina had seen her left hand in a sling, and rushed towards her, looking anxious.
‘Oh, Morag, have you been wounded?’
‘It’s only a broken wrist and it was an accident. Don’t worry, Petrina. Why don’t you go and say goodbye to your father?’
She ran back to her father, who clasped her tightly to him. He leant down towards her and whispered ‘Make me proud of you, my daughter’.
‘I will, Papa , I promise’.
Ezekiel raised his head and saw Morag. He beckoned her over with his hand. She dutifully went over, only to be clasped in a great bear-hug, pressed against Petrina. ‘Oof!’ she gasped.
‘Please look after my daughter for me, Morag’. He said, gently. ‘I do not want her to be lonely here’.
‘I will, Ezekiel’. She gasped, still breathless. ‘I promise’.
He kissed them both on the forehead, turned and leapt into his chariot. As it rattled off back on the road to Druard, Petrina stood, alone and forlorn, looking after the chariot as it disappeared into the traffic on the Path of Mars. Morag felt sorry for her. She was no more than a child, caught up in enormous matters beyond her control, and faced with a great task, which she did not know whether she was able to perform, whilst missing her family as well. She decided she was going to do her best to help her.
‘Come with me, Petrina. I will take you to your accommodation’. She said, quietly, picking up Petrina’s largest bag with her right hand. Petrina picked up her smaller baggage and followed Morag miserably into the palace. But once inside, she gasped, as Persephone had done, at the entrance hall. To Petrina, it seemed magnificent, as she looked around at the kouroi statues and the painted domed ceiling above, before ascending the main staircase. Petrina had been given an apartment on the first floor, next to the communal accommodation that Morag shared with her assorted friends and she led Petrina to this. She unlocked the door and threw it open with a flourish.
Petrina walked in and looked around, her mouth open. ‘Is all this mine?’ She eventually gasped. It was a modest apartment by faery standards, but to her, used to her own bedroom in the boat-house, it seemed like heaven. ‘Oh, this is wonderful, Morag! And in the palace, too!’
‘I tell you what, Petrina, why don’t you come next door and have lunch with us, and meet my friends? To help you settle in?’
‘Thank you, Morag. I should like that. But I should like to wash my face and hands first’.
‘Of course. I’ll wait for you’.
While she waited, she decided to look in Petrina’s large bag, to find out what made it so heavy. To her astonishment, it revealed scores of rolled parchments each bearing a name of each character in the play. She realised that these were the parts for each character, complete with details of exits and entries on the stage. So Petrina had come prepared, at least. She hastily laced up the bag again, as she heard Petrina preparing to come out of the bathroom. When she emerged, Morag took her by the hand, in the faery custom, and led her next door. ‘Everyone, this is Petrina, Ezekiel’s daughter. She’s come to stage a play here in Elsace. Please make her welcome’.
‘A play?’ Indira said, excitedly. ‘That’s great! I don’t suppose there’s any chance of me being in it, is there?’ Petrina considered her. ‘Possibly. You would make a very fine Meg the Bawd in the Rustics. I shall consider it’.
‘You hear that, Pei-Ying? I could be in a play!’
Her friend did not bother to answer, but merely snorted.
But the others greeted her effusively and got her to sit down with them at the low table in the centre of the communal room. Demos appeared from the kitchen with his latest culinary offering: a large steak and vegetable pie that he had spent the last hour preparing and cooking. Petrina realised that she was hungry, and gazed at Demos in adoration. Most women did. He was impossibly handsome, but completely oblivious of it. He ignored the women who gazed at him, their mouths half-open, and was not even aware of their soulful glances. Morag was glad of that. She loved her husband, and was very protective of him.
‘Petrina, this is Demos’, She said. ‘He’s my husband’.
Petrina started. She had not realised that Morag was married.
‘I am sorry’. She stammered. ‘I did not know’.
‘No reason for you to do so. Anyway, he’s a really good cook, so enjoy it’.
She suddenly blurted out. ‘Please do not quarrel because of me! I mean no harm!’
‘What do you mean, Petrina?’ Morag asked, puzzled.
‘I mean, that you and your group are at odds with each other!
‘It is not about you and your play! It’s about her and her damned salons! Pei-Ying said, viciously.
‘What’s wrong with my damned Salons?’
‘Everything! You just use them to show off! And you don’t let anybody else speak! Including me!’
Everyone was shocked and dismayed at Pei-Ying’s outburst. She was normally so quiet and sensible! Today she was genuinely angry with Indira, her best friend.
‘Why are you so cross, Pei-Ying? ‘ Asked Annie, helplessly.
‘Because of her! She is so selfish, she thinks of nobody else except herself! It’s just me, me, me, all the time!’
‘That’s not true! I just like doing them! But if it upsets you all that much, Pei-Ying, I’ll stop, I promise you!’
‘You mean that, truly?’
‘Yes, I will. Oh God, Pei-Ying, your friendship means more to me than any of my damned salons! Indira cried, almost tearfully.
‘You mean it?’ Pei-Ying said, incredulously.
‘Yes, I mean it, you silly little sod! At least, give me a hug!’
‘All right then, so long as you mean it’.
‘I do mean it! Oh, come here, you!’ The two young women hugged each other with real affection, much to the relief of the others. Morag turned to Petrina. ‘Do you want to go and see the theatre this afternoon where your play will be performed?’
‘Yes, please, Morag’. The girl said, excitedly’.
‘Fine. I’ll commandeer a chariot and a driver from the palace to take us there’.
Thankfully, they all sat down for lunch, glad that Pei-Ying and Indira had settled their differences. After the meal, Morag went down to see the majordomo of the palace to arrange for a chariot, while Petrina packed her satchel with pens and paper to take notes for the visit. They emerged from the front door of the palace to find the chariot waiting for them outside, driven by a tall. cheerful, red-headed young faery. ‘Where to, lady?’ He asked.
‘To the theatre of Saturnalia, please’. The driver nodded, and they moved off. They joined the Path of Venus again, turning right along it. Soon they came to the theatre, set back in its own grounds, with the harbour beyond. Petrina looked, open-mouthed, at its vast colonnades and its sheer bulk. She seemed nervous and frightened. ‘I never realised it was so big!’. She stammered.
‘Well, it is a theatre, meant to hold a lot of people’. Morag remarked. ‘Let’s go and find whoever’s in charge’.
‘I’m Marshal Morag’. She indicated Petrina. ‘And this is the author of the new play that’s going to be staged here’.
‘Of course!’ Cried the man in delight. ‘The Lady Gloriana told me to expect you! It would be so wonderful to see this theatre filled with an audience again! It has been deserted and empty for so long, it will be a joy to see it filled with people. And to see a play! Do you have such a play?’
‘We do’. Morag said, firmly. My friend, Petrina, here, has already written it’.
‘Splendid! Would you like to see the theatre itself?’
‘Yes, please. I’m sure Petrina would’.
The faery manager led the way through the grand foyer, with its huge pilastered walls in green marble, and elaborate carved capitals, and into the auditorium itself. They gazed in wonder as they passed through tier after tier of marble seats around the raised stage, in the centre of the auditorium. It seemed enormous. They looked up at the vast domed ceiling above. Morag turned around, the better to see the theatre. But what she saw was Petrina sitting in the front row, crying bitterly. Morag sat down gently beside her, putting her good right arm around the girl’s thin, shaking shoulders. She felt protective towards this girl, not because she was Ezekiel’s daughter, but because she needed comforting. ‘What’s the matter, Petrina?’ She asked, quietly.
‘This’. She said, throwing out her arm to the theatre. ‘It is so big and grand! Can you imagine my little paltry play in such a place as this!’
‘Yes, I can. Don’t lose heart, Petrina. You can construct this play. Look around you, and see what you will need’.
‘You are right. I should not lose my confidence, at a time like this. Sir, can I ask you, if you can supply us with any actors’ costumes?’
Petrina looked at Morag. ‘I have recovered my confidence now. Forgive me for my moment of weakness. Morag, I do want to make my father proud of me!’
‘I know you do. And I want to help you. But you need some actors first. That’s why I’ve put out hand-bills in the city, to advertise for actors for you’.
‘Thank you, Morag!’ Petrina said, gratefully. ‘But when are they coming?’
‘Tomorrow morning. Here. That’s if anybody comes’.
‘They will come, and then we will have our cast’.
‘I hope you’re right’. Morag said, pessimistically.
They turned their attention to the stage, clambering up on to it using one of the two wooden stairs that gave access from the auditorium itself. Petrina started pacing out various distances on the stage floor, and gluing small strips of fabric at various places on its surface.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Morag, her curiosity aroused.
‘Making marks for the actors, so that they will know where to stand for various scenes. A play must be planned meticulously, if it is to work’.
‘I see’. Morag privately thought that a play seemed more like a planned military operation, than something creative. ‘What about scenery and props?’
‘Our carpenters in the theatre will aid you on those’. Acta came forward. ‘They will make you whatever you want’.
‘Thank you, Acta’. Morag had begun to like Acta. He seemed both competent and helpful. ‘We will need barrels and casks to act as tables, and rickety chairs around them. Also a counter at the back where the landlord and his wife serve beer’. Petrina added’.
‘All that can be done, I will do for you. Is there anything else?’
‘Oh, yes! Morag, the dungeon scene! What are we to do about that?’
‘What? Oh, yes!’ Morag had forgotten about the dungeon scene. It was crucial to the whole play. It was where the two lovers met, and exchanged their vows forever.
‘Morag! We must have the dungeon scene! It is essential to the play!’
‘I know! I know! Acta! Can your men construct a large box, about fifteen foot long and ten feet high, open along one side, with a door, for the dungeon?’
‘That is no problem. But we must construct it on stage. There is nowhere else for such a large structure’.
‘All right. But how will we move it, when its not needed?’
Acta pointed upwards. They both looked up. Up there were the flies, where scenery could be brought up and lowered down, as the play needed. ‘It will need to be raised up and lowered, as you need it’. Acta added.
Morag groaned. ‘Is there no other way?’
‘No. We have no mechanisms under the stage itself. But there are two windlasses up there, which are capable of raising and lowering it. The only problem is that….’
‘The two men that are supposed to operate them are complete dolts. We only tolerate them because at least up there, they are out of the way’.
‘I’ll deal with them’. Morag said, decisively. ‘I’ll make sure they shape up’.
‘May you have luck with that, my lady’. Acta said, somewhat warningly.
He accompanied them out of the theatre. ‘I must say that I am grateful to you both for bringing life back to my theatre. It means a lot to me, My theatre has been defunct for a long while. It will be a pleasure to see it live again’.
‘We’ll do our best’. Morag promised. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow morning, Acta, for the auditions’.
‘I look forward to it. Fare you well, my ladies’.
‘That went well, didn’t it, Petrina?’ Morag remarked, as they made their way back to their waiting chariot.
‘Yes, it did. Oh Morag, I am so happy to be on the edge of realising my dream! To have my play performed in such a wonderful theatre!’
‘Well, it’s not performed yet. But, Petrina, you must smile more often. You look most attractive when you smile’.
Petrina blushed. She was not used to compliments. But she knew Morag had meant it well.
‘Thank you, Morag’. She said, shyly. She had come to like this tall, beautiful young dark-haired woman, who had been so kind to her, and who really seemed to believe in her talent. Her father had told her to trust Morag, and now she believed she truly could.
On their way back in the chariot. Morag summarised her fears to Petrina. ‘How on earth will you get a cast of actors together? None of them will have acted before!’
‘No, but they will be able to try for the first time. We might be able to find wonderful actors!’
‘I hope so’. Morag said, doubtfully. ‘But I’ll leave that to you. I’ll deal with the mechanics of the play’.
They went back in peaceful silence, both thinking about what tomorrow might bring. Morag’s mind was clouded with other matters, however. She was troubled, both by how her friend, Amelia, was coping, after the recent attempts to murder her, both by an unknown assassin, and by her treacherous paramour. She was worried, too, about telling Alex, her new colleague, about the death of his young wife, Danae, in the recent battle at the Griffin Mountains. She resolved that when the new play was firmly established, she would return to Druard to see to such matters. She was not looking forward to it.
However, they returned to the palace just in time for supper. Petrina joined them again, because Morag felt the young girl needed company on the eve of her play. Petrina was obviously glad of the company, but excused herself soon after, to prepare for the auditions the next day.
‘I’m glad to see she’s got some colour back into those pale cheeks! She looked as if she’d been shut away in a cupboard for years!’ Indira exclaimed, with her usual lack of tact.
‘No, she hasn’t! If you must know, she’s just trying to please her father, by writing this play! She wants him to be proud of her!’
‘He certainly will be if she can pull it off!’ Indira commented. ‘But what are you worried about, Morag?’
‘About all the things that could go wrong in the rehearsals for a start! Anything could happen! I just want it to go smoothly!’
“No chance of that, from what I know of the theatre, but never mind, Morag, you’ll sort it out’.
‘I hope so’. Grumbled Morag.
She spent a sleepless night until the next day, thinking about poor Alex and Persephone, and her friend, Amelia. She was also worried about this wretched play, that she had promised both Gloriana and Ezekiel to help with. She also thought about Petrina, who was fulfilling her life’s dream by mounting this play. She couldn’t disappoint her! Full of turmoil, she tossed and turned, until Demos woke up and told her to go to sleep. Then she did, until it was bright morning. There was a knocking at the bedroom door.
‘Who is it?’ She cried, sleepily. ‘It is I, Petrina. Morag, I thought you were coming this morning for the casting of the play’.
‘I am! Just a moment!’ She hastily got dressed, and washed her face. ‘Coming!’ she shouted. She gently leant over and kissed her husband. ‘Sweet dreams’ She said quietly. She hoped this day would go well. She opened the door, to find a nervous Petrina outside, hovering, with a large bag strapped around her.
‘All right, Petrina, I’m with you now’. She said softly, so as not wake her husband.
‘Please, Morag, I have brought some breakfast for you, in my bag’.
‘Thank you, Petrina’. She smiled at the girl’s thoughtfulness. ‘Have you had any breakfast?’
‘No. I am too anxious about this morning’.
‘Then have some now. I’m not having the author of this play falling flat on her face through starvation’.
‘I shall, Morag. Please do not worry about me’.
But Morag did. The more she looked at the girl, the more she realised how thin she looked.
‘Don’t you eat properly at home, Petrina?’
‘I never have time for eating, Mama and Papa are always nagging me to eat more but I just never have the time’.
‘Well, you will eat more while you’re here. I’m not having you waste away on me’.
‘Yes, Morag’, the girl said, dutifully. Morag said nothing more, but she made sure that the girl shared her breakfast in the chariot, as they bowled along. Soon, they were at the theatre.
‘Heavens, I didn’t realise there would be so many!’ She muttered.
‘It does not matter, Morag’. Petrina said happily. ‘I have a way of selecting those that I need’.
‘Oh, really!’ Morag said, sarcastically. They walked through the crowd of would-be actors into the foyer, where they met Acta again, looking worried.
‘I did not know what to do about the crowd outside! I was waiting for you to come!’
‘It’s all right, Acta. We’re here now, and Petrina has a method of dealing with them, or so she says’.
‘I have a way of selecting my cast. You must trust me’.
She walked out again into the crowd and began talking to some of them, apparently at random. ‘What is she doing?’ Acta asked.
She spoke to some, then to others. Some she tapped on the arm, who then went up and into the foyer where they gathered in a small group at the far end. Others joined them as Petrina finally finished.
‘Look. I have my cast of actors!’ She said, jubilantly.
“ But how?’ asked Morag,
‘By asking them. Why they want to become actors. And I listen to their voices, and I look at their body gestures. From that I can tell whether they are actors I want’.
‘And just from that, you can tell the actors you want!’ Morag said, incredulously.
‘Yes, I can. I can’t explain it to you, Morag, but it works!’
‘Because I can see the actor inside them!’
They were both silenced by that. They looked instead at the motley crew that Petrina had assembled. They were indeed a mixed cast: some short, some tall, with varying degrees of handsomeness and beauty. Petrina stood by her. Her voice rang out, sharp and clear. ‘Fellow actors, these are your individual parts in this forthcoming production. I have indicated each part in every script. You have a week before rehearsals begin to know and memorise your individual parts. The rehearsals will take place in this theatre, where the first and subsequent performances will take place’.
Morag took over at this point. ‘The lady Gloriana has authorised me to pay each of you a salary for your services to this play, up until the final performance, and release you from your previous employment. She is eager to establish a play-going tradition here in Hyperborea, so we will be the first pioneers’. She paused, and there was a faint cheer from the thirty or so actors.
‘If any of you don’t like these arrangements, feel free to leave now’. She went on, and paused again. But no-one moved. ‘Then that is all for today. Good luck, ladies and gentlemen’. Petrina began distributing the parts to each player, and so their morning ended. They had lunch together in a small restaurant near the harbour, where they ate a fish meal. Morag was pleased to see that Petrina was now eating heartily, and her face had a healthy bloom. ‘The actors you picked seemed enthusiastic’ She commented.
‘Yes, they did! Oh, Morag, I feel so happy that my play is now coming to fruition! It means so much to me!’
‘I know. Petrina, I have to return to Druard for a few days. There are things I have to do there’.
Petrina looked dismayed. ‘But, Morag, the rehearsals are starting in a week’s time! How can I cope with them without you?’
‘You’ll have to. Look, Petrina, I have to go back and tell my colleague that his wife’s been killed! And then I’ve got to see my friend, who’s still shocked after her own boyfriend tried to kill her! And then there’s Persephone, whose paramour has also been killed! I rather think they take precedence at this time, don’t you!’
Petrina had covered her face with her hands in distress. ‘Oh, I am so sorry, Morag! I have been so selfish!’
‘No, you haven’t. I’ll be back before the rehearsals start, I promise’.
They rode back to the palace in silence, both wrapped in their own thoughts. Morag was thinking about the dismal tasks she had to perform, whilst Petrina was thinking about the difficulties of getting her actors to act their roles adequately. They were both subdued when they arrived. Petrina immediately hurried to her apartment to prepare an itinerary for the next few weeks, Morag to pack for her impending departure the next morning. She hoped that her husband would ride with her. She needed his company desperately, on the journey back to Druard.
She found Demos in their bedroom. ‘Will you ride with me tomorrow back to Druard?’ She asked without preamble.
‘With pleasure, my love’. He said with a smile. ‘Only I must ride on to Rhuan. They have discovered some more details in the scrolls that we brought back from your Morag’s Cave’.
‘Oh!’ said Morag, dismally. She missed her husband dreadfully when he was away, and she would miss him even more at this particular time.
‘I will not be gone longer than a few days’.
‘Oh!’ said Morag, brightening. ‘That’s not too long then’.
They went out and joined the others for an early supper.
They set out for Druard early the next morning. It was a warm beautiful sunny day, and Morag felt her spirits lift, as she trotted her horse next to her husband. Behind them, rode Ragimund and Simon, who had elected to travel with them back to Druard: Ragimund, because she had business to attend to, and Simon, because he wanted to stay with his lovely faery wife. Morag and Demos did not mind, because it took their minds off other thoughts. So it was a merry and convivial group that set off for Druard. Annie had promised to keep an eye on Petrina while they were gone, so Morag was content. But her spirits fell when she and Demos parted just outside Elsace. where their roads divided. She clung to him in desperation at their final parting, and almost wept. Simon and Ragimund kept their distance, out of embarrassment. They had never seen Morag in such an emotional state.
‘Please come back soon!’ She begged Demos.
‘Of course, my love’. But he cast a worried glance over his shoulder as he went. Morag gazed after him as he vanished down the road to Rhuan. She felt really weepy. Simon and Ragimund rode up on each side of her. ‘What’s the matter, Morag?’ Simon asked, gently. ‘Are you really recovered from your fever?’ asked Ragimund, quietly. ‘I don’t know’. She replied tearfully. Then she really did burst into tears, much to their dismay. ‘We must stop at the next caravanserai!’ Ragimund hissed at Simon. ‘Her spirit has been broken by the events of the last few days! A substantial meal will do her good’. Simon nodded. He had never seen Morag, his sister, look so miserable.
They rode along the road towards Druard, Morag occasionally wiping her eyes with her right sleeve. She felt embarrassed and wretched. But Simon and Ragimund did not seem to mind, carrying on a cheerful conversation around her. After a few miles, they turned off onto the track leading to the caravanserai. It was like the others they had seen, with high, fortified walls enclosing a central courtyard, and accommodation for travellers inside the walls. At one end was a large cantina, and after stabling their horses, Ragimund led them towards it.
‘Sit down, Morag’. She instructed. ‘You are going to eat a large meal’.
‘I am! Why?’
‘Because it will do you good and relieve your anxieties’.
Despite her protests, Morag found herself seated at a table in the cantina with the other two, who proceeded to order a substantial lunch. Despite herself, when the food arrived, she found, after all, that she was very hungry, and wolfed it down. Simon and Ragimund watched her with approval, as she lay back in her chair with a contented sigh.
‘Feeling better now, are we?’ Simon said, grinning.
‘Much better, thank you. You were right, Ragimund. That was just what I needed’.
‘You have been ill with a fever. You will need to keep your strength up’.
After lunch, they continued on their journey, having changed their horses at the caravanserai. They made good time, and by nightfall, were entering the outskirts of Druard. They rode on to the customs buildings at the back of the port, where they dismounted and turned their horses over to the stable hands. Morag made her way down the corridor to her office. It seemed a long time since she had last entered it. As she expected, it was in darkness. Everybody who worked there had long since gone home. She lit a candle from Persephone’s desk and made her way over to the door of her apartment, and opened it. She looked around it with a sense of pride. It had not changed. As she went round lighting more candles, she trailed her fingers lovingly over the smooth, dusty surfaces of her furniture, and the few ornaments. The apartment needed a good clean, and she realised she was hungry again. She crossed to the kitchen and peered into the larder at the back. But she was disappointed. It was empty. There was no food of any kind to be seen. ‘Right, it’ll have to be the cantina then’. She muttered to herself. She carried the candle out, and back into her office. Putting it down and after blowing it out, she carefully shut the office door, and set off down the corridor towards the cantina. A wave of heat greeted her as she entered, together with the delicious smells of cooking. She looked around with pleasure. It was still half-full of customers, even at this late hour, mainly off-duty faery guards and scriptors working late into the night. But it was still warm and welcoming.
‘Spinola!’ She cried, ‘Anything you can recommend tonight?’ The small cook appeared as if by magic from underneath the counter. ‘Morag! He cried back. ‘My beef and vegetable stew! It is especially good tonight!’
Morag laughed. ‘Right, I’ll have that then!’
As she turned to find a table, she was nearly bowled over by a small figure. ‘Morag!’ It shrieked. ‘Oh, Morag, you have come back!’
‘Yes, I have, Persephone, but only for a few days. May I join you?’
‘Of course, Morag. But why only a few days?’
‘Because I still have duties to perform in Elsace. I must return there before next week’.
‘Oh!’ Said Persephone. She was disappointed.
‘Why are you eating down here, Persephone? I thought you always ate in your apartment’.
‘I felt lonely, without you and Jevo’.
‘What do you think of Amelia?’ She asked.
‘She has been very good to me and to Alex, and she is very kind. But, Morag!’ She burst out. ‘She is not you! I miss you so much, Morag!’
‘I miss you too, little one’. Morag said, affectionately, smiling at the young girl.
They finished their meal in warm silence, then Morag walked Persephone back to her apartment, where she left her, promising to see her at work the next day. She suddenly felt tired, and returned to her own apartment. Unable to face the lonely bed where she and her husband slept, without him, she curled up in her mother’s big armchair, with a blanket, and stared out across the moonlit landscape outside, until sleep finally overcame her.
The next morning, she rose early and gave the apartment a cursory dusting, to put off the time when she would have to see Amelia and Alex. Eventually she could do no more. She changed her tunic, washed, and prepared herself, before opening the door into her office.
The first person she saw was her friend Amelia, who rose up from Morag’s own desk in delight. ‘Morag!’ she cried. ‘Amelia!’ They embraced each other tightly. ‘How are you, Amelia?. Morag whispered in her ear. ‘Well enough’. Amelia replied, pushing her friend back, but still holding her by the shoulders. ‘Why shouldn’t I be?’ ‘Well, after all that has happened…..’ ‘I’m all right, Morag!’
Amelia’s face crumpled. ‘No, I’m not!’ She let go of Morag’s shoulders and suddenly hugged her again. Morag held her tightly and whispered ‘I care for you, Amelia!’
‘Thank you, Morag! It was not the assassination attempt that brought me so low, but the emotional betrayal that I felt! He was someone I loved and trusted, my own lover, and yet he tried to kill me, when I was helpless!’
‘I know, Amelia, and it won’t happen again. I’ll make sure of that!’
‘I’ll find you another paramour. One that won’t try to kill you!’
Amelia laughed. ‘Morag the Marshal! Now Morag the match-maker!’ Spare me!’
Behind her the door to the office opened. It was Alex. Morag’s heart sank. How was she going to tell him about news of his wife? She walked over to his desk. ‘Alex, can I have a brief word? Please sit down’. She was aware of Persephone’s wide, frightened eyes at the next desk. She knew what Morag was going to tell him.
‘Alex’, she said gently, ‘Your wife, Danae, is never going to come back. She’s dead, Alex, killed in that dreadful battle with the forces of Hell’.
‘No, I don’t believe you!’ Alex shouted. ‘You’re lying!’
‘No, I’m not. I saw her body myself. I’m truly sorry, Alex’.
Alex suddenly burst into tears. ‘Oh, my bonny wee lassie! I shall mourn thee always!’
This was not what Morag expected. ‘Alex! Please don’t despair! Listen, she told me, before she died, that you had given her the first happiness she had known! That’s worth knowing, isn’t it?’
‘Aye, it is. But, Morag, we were only married two months!’
‘But at least she died, having known you, and the happiness you brought her’. Morag said softly.
‘Aye, there’s a crumb of comfort in that. Thanks for telling me about her, Morag’.
‘You’ll get over your loss in time, Alex’. Morag said, even more gently.
‘Aye, but I’ll never forget her. She was such a sweet, bonny lass!’ Alex looked as if he was about to burst into tears again.
‘Yes, she was’. Morag said, this time sympathetically. ‘Do you want to take some time off?’
‘Thank you, lady, but no. I’d rather stay at my desk and work, rather than mope’.
‘All right, if that’s what you want. Persephone, do you to come back with me to Elsace?’
Persephone looked up from her desk. ‘I would like to, Morag, but I cannot leave Alex on his own. It would not be right’.
Morag sighed ‘Fair enough’. She turned back to Amelia.
‘Amelia, do you want any time off? I can arrange it’.
‘No, thank you, Morag. If these two choose to stay at their posts, then I will stay at mine’.
‘As you wish’. Morag said, sadly. She wished she could dissipate the atmosphere of misery and sorrow in the office,
As she turned to go, Amelia spoke again. ‘Morag, why not go and see Atalanta, the physician? That cast on your wrist is irking you, I can tell. Perhaps it is time to remove it now’.
‘Perhaps I will. Thank you, Amelia’.
On her way out, she nearly collided with a male faery who was just about to knock on the door.
‘I beg your pardon!’ She stammered in shock. ‘No, I beg your pardon, lady. The fault was all mine. I was taking these documents to the Marshals’s office, for signing. Is there anyone who I should deliver these to?’
Morag looked at him speculatively. He was a handsome faery and seemed like a decent fellow. ‘Where do you work?’ She asked. ‘In Helios’s office, lady. These documents are from there’.
A plan started to grow in Morag’s mind. ‘The person you should see is the Lady Amelia. You will see her when you enter. She is the tall, beautiful young woman with flowing blond hair sitting at the back’.
‘Thank you, lady. I shall do so’.
They said farewell to each other, and Morag hastened on her way, grinning to herself. She hoped that some romance would result from this chance encounter. Amelia deserved it, and she needed a boost to her confidence. She turned right at the end of the corridor, past the bathhouse also on the right. and turned left into the infirmary. There was no-one there. ‘Atalanta!’ She shouted.
Atalanta appeared from the back of the infirmary. ‘You really are one of the noisiest young women I know!’ She grumbled.
‘I’m sorry, Atalanta’. She said, humbly. ‘But I do really need to get rid of this cast and sling. I feel I’ve had it on for so long’.
‘Let me examine it’. Atalanta said, practically. ‘Can you still move your fingers?’ Morag remembered that she was living in a mediaeval world where nothing was sure, even cures which would be no problem in her own world. She could understand why Atalanta had been so concerned about her injury.
Atalanta took out a thin-bladed saw with a wooden handle. Morag looked at it with trepidation. ‘Is that really necessary?’ She asked.
‘It is, if you want the cast off. Do not worry, Morag. I shall not hurt you’.
Morag watched in fear as Atalanta started to saw into her cast with the thin blade. But she need not have worried. Atalanta cut halfway into the cast and pulled it away with her fingers. Morag looked with delight at her newly mended wrist. She moved it back and forth with not a twinge of pain. ‘It really has healed!’ She said with pleasure.
‘So it seems. I normally have a very high rate of success with my patients’. Atalanta said, with a hint of satisfaction.
‘Thank you, Atalanta’ Morag said, rising to her feet. ‘I’ll get out of your way now’.
‘Very well. I hope I do not have to see you again’.
‘No, you won’t’.
She went back to her office, gleefully, glad to be rid of her cast.
‘Where is everyone?’ Morag asked.
‘Oh, Morag, you are healed!’
‘Yes, I am. But I asked you a question, Persephone’. Morag said, mildly.
‘Forgive me, Morag! Amelia has gone on patrol with Ezekiel, and Alex has retired to his quarters to mourn his dead wife. But, Morag, I have some good news!’
That tall, handsome faery that you directed to Amelia, was definitely smitten by her! And she by him! He has invited her out to supper tonight!’
Morag laughed. Persephone knew everything that went on in the office, without seeming to. But she was pleased that her matchmaking had worked.
‘There is more!’ Persephone added. excitedly. ‘You have a visitor!’ He is waiting for you in your apartment!’
‘In my apartment? Who is he?’
‘Why don’t you go and see?’ Persephone replied. somewhat slyly.
Morag strode to the door of her apartment at the back of the office, and opened it. ‘Who’s there? She shouted. ‘Show yourself!’
‘Demos!’ She shrieked in joy. ‘This is marvellous! I wasn’t expecting you back so soon!’
She ran around the dining table and clasped him in an emotional embrace, kissing him passionately.
When Demos finally disentangled himself, he gasped ‘I shall have to come early more often!’
‘Only when I’m in a good mood, which I am. Look!’ She flourished her left hand.
‘Morag! You are healed!’
‘Yes, not only that, but I found a new boyfriend for Amelia as well’.
‘You have been busy’. Demos commented.
‘Yes, but the strange thing is, that I feel I’ve been acting in a play for the last few hours, you know, doing a scene that has already been written. Like you, turning up right on cue. Perhaps I’ve been influenced by Petrina and her play’.
‘We are all actors in the great play of life’. Said Demos, sententiously.
‘Who said that?’ Demanded Morag.
‘I have no idea’.
‘Well, I don’t believe it. Real life’s too messy for a play’.
‘Morag, can I take you out for supper tonight? To celebrate your healed wrist?’
She was happy. Things had gone well today, and the day was ending well, too. But she couldn’t help but feel apprehensive.
Later that evening, she and Demos drove down to the harbour in a chariot borrowed from the stables. They drove along one of the long jetties that stretched out to the mouth of the harbour, lined with furled ships, clinking and rattling against each other with the gentle swell of the sea.
Morag loved the port. She enjoyed its untidy vitality, the noise of the place, and its rhythm and vigour, measured by the thrust and rhythm of the sea on which it was founded. She loved the incessant chatter and shouting of the seamen and jettymen, creating an enormous din around her, and the smell of salt water and spices from the cargoes. She had learnt to distinguish individual voices in the cacophony of sound, and knew where to find them. She felt at home here.
So she was overjoyed to find herself outside a small restaurant attached to the coastguard lookout at the end of the jetty, windowed with small panes of glass, and with a flat roof on which tables and chairs were laid out. to provide an outside dining area. She turned to her husband, just back from the small stable, where he had put the horses from the chariot, which was parked outside.
‘Can we go up there? She asked, pointing to the roof above.
They climbed up the narrow steps up to the roof, emerging at last through a rectangular hole in the floor of the roof.
Morag pointed to a small table on the harbour side, next to the balustrade that ran around the edges of the roof terrace. ‘How about that?’ she asked ‘It has a really good view of the harbour’.
They sat down at the small table. Morag looked, entranced, back at the whole expanse of the vast harbour. Now darkness was beginning to fall, she saw the lanterns of the harbour being lit. Hundreds of twinkling lights appeared, along the jetties and in the harbour itself, throwing the maze of ships’ mast and spars into black relief. The sight was so remarkable that her mouth fell half-open. Demos gazed at her, his lovely wife. She wore a lemon-yellow sleeveless dress, in honour of the occasion, flowing down to her ankles. Her profile was silhouetted against the lights from the harbour, the soft wide lips, her straight nose, and the soft sheen of her hair flowing over her bare shoulders.
He leaned over and kissed her shoulder. She was startled. ‘What was that for!’
‘Because you looked so beautiful against the harbour lights’.
Morag was deeply touched. She reached across and squeezed Demos’s hand. ‘Thank you for that’. She said quietly, then she froze. ‘Look, there’s Amelia, with her new companion! Oh, no! She’s got up and she’s coming over here! Demos, what am I going to do!’ She got up out of courtesy, but her sandaled foot got entangled with the table leg so that she stumbled as she got up. She cursed as she righted herself. Amelia’s face was stony.
‘Morag, may I have a word, please’.
Morag found herself stuttering. ‘Look…Amelia… I can explain….’
Amelia’s face broke into a beatific smile. ‘There is nothing to explain, Morag. I merely came over to thank you and your husband for saving my life, and for introducing me to one of the best companions I have encountered for a long time’.
‘You mean you like him?’
‘Yes, very much. We hope to see more of each other in the future’.
You do? Oh, Amelia I’m so happy for you!’
Yes, and thank you again, Morag. You have made me very happy’.
‘You are very welcome, Amelia. You know, I never asked your new paramour’s name’.
‘His name is Dano’. With that, she embraced Morag affectionately, and hastened back to her new companion.
‘All is well that ends well’. Demos reflected.
‘Yes, but why should it?’ Morag retorted. ‘This performance isn’t over yet. Is someone writing our parts, or is it all coincidence? I can’t believe that everything has gone so smoothly, almost as if it’s been written that way’.
‘Why should not life reflect art sometimes? Demos argued. ‘Surely the two are mirror reflections of each other’.
‘I suppose you’re right’. Morag sighed. ‘Perhaps I’m just being paranoid about this wretched play’.
‘Shall we order some food? They ordered a large sea-food platter to share, with side dishes of baby new potatoes and broad beans, together with a green salad. But Morag’s eyes were constantly drawn back to the port, which was now brightly lit with hundreds of small lanterns for the benefit of the night workers, whose voices carried across the water to their small table. The port did not close at night, but continued to work, with yet more ships entering and departing, that still needed to be loaded and unloaded. She realised that she had not really experienced the bustle and clamour of the busy port at night, and resolved to undertake a night patrol as soon as she could.
Their food arrived. The faery waitress assured them proudly that the fish had been caught only that morning, and Morag could well believe her. As she took her first mouthful, she could taste the salty tang of the sea. The seafood was delicious, and as she mopped her empty plate with a piece of bread, she gave a contented sigh. ‘That was delicious, Demos. Thank you so much for bringing me here’.
‘I am glad that you have recovered your appetite’. Demos remarked. ‘I would never let you starve’.
‘I know you wouldn’t’. Morag said affectionately. ‘But what did you think of my theory that somehow we’re all acting in a play?’
‘I do not honestly know. But I think that life lies quite close to fantasy. Sometimes fantasy intrudes on our lives, sometimes it becomes part of it. Who can tell?’
‘Who, indeed? Where does reality stop and fantasy begins? Or vice versa?’
Demos agreed. ‘In the world of theatre, it is sometimes impossible to say’.
‘I suppose I’ll find out in the next few weeks’. Morag sighed.
‘In the end, they will. I am sure the play will be a great success’.
But Morag was still pessimistic. It would take a great deal of time and effort to transform a motley group of untrained faerys into professional thespians. But she decided to put her fears aside and enjoy the evening instead. Demos paid the bill and they got up to go home, but not before Morag lingered, looking back at the port, now lit up by a myriad of bobbing lights. I really miss this place, she thought to herself, and reluctantly turned away to join Demos in the chariot.
On the way back. Morag asked Demos what he had found in Rhuan. ‘We have found evidence that the Ancient Ones did indeed come from Astraban’, He pointed up to the golden star in the sky, ‘That was their home. They came from the portal we have just destroyed. It is the only one they refer to’.
‘So we’ve lost the only way we had of communicating with them, assuming any of them survived the plague?’
‘It seems like it’.
Morag was silent for a moment. ‘That’s a great pity. I would have liked to see that young girl, Oolita, again, if only to apologise to her for bruising her arm. That was stupid of me’.
‘You were not to know’.
‘No, but I ought to have realised. Still, it’s too late now, isn’t it’? We’ll never see them again’.
‘No, I fear not’.
It was in this sombre mood that they arrived back at the customs building, at the back of the port. While Demos stabled the chariot and horses, Morag made her way to her office. Lighting a candle, she could still detect the atmosphere of misery in the room, that she had noticed earlier that day. Poor Persephone and Alex! To have their hopes of happiness dashed from them in their youth! She wiped an unwanted tear from her eye. It wasn’t fair!
Demos came into the office. Seeing his wife in some distress, he immediately folded his arms around her. Morag leant against him, still feeling miserable. ‘What will happen to poor Persephone and Alex now?’
‘The best that could happen’. Demos said, cheerfully. ‘They get on well together, behind that desk of theirs. Who knows, romance may blossom between them!’
‘What! Are you serious? He’s too old for her!’
‘Not so. She is nearly sixteen now, in your human reckoning, and he is only nineteen, despite his previous activity’.
‘You’re joking! Why didn’t I see that!’
‘Because you were too busy, looking at his previous experience, rather than his actual age. That is understandable’.
‘Not to me! How did I miss that?’
‘It does not matter now. All it means is that Persephone and Alex are of a compatible age’.
‘I suppose so’. Muttered Morag. She didn’t want to have another marital row this evening, especially after it had been so pleasant. Instead, she turned to her husband. ‘I’m sorry, Demos, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just not used to missing the obvious. I just don’t know how I did’.
‘You have been under a lot of strain in the past few weeks. You have had a really bad fever. Is it any wonder that your attention has wavered?’
‘Perhaps you’re right. I haven’t been myself recently, as well you know’.
‘No, but you are better now, and you have this play to think about’.
‘Don’t remind me! It’s taking me away from my job and all the people I care for!’
‘It will not be for long, and then you can go back to your post as a marshal’.
‘Yes, and how about a night of pleasure with your beautiful wife?’
She tugged him to the bedroom by one hand, kicking the door shut behind them with her heel.
They were woken the next morning, by a series of timid knocks on the bedroom door. ‘Who is it?’ Morag groaned. She and Demos were lying in bed, naked, intertwined with each other, in the delicious half-sleep of early morning.
‘Morag! You asked me to wake you early this morning!’ She recognised Persephone’s voice.
Morag groaned again. ‘So I did’. She turned over and shook her sleeping husband’s shoulder. ‘Oi! Sleepyhead! Time to get up!’
‘I am awake’. Demos said with dignity. Morag looked at him. She always been envious of the way in which he could arise from sleep into total wakefulness in a moment.
They went to the cantina for a hasty breakfast. Afterwards, Morag said goodbye to Persephone and Amelia, who had just come in. There was no sign of Alex, for which she was grateful. She did not want to intrude any more on his grief. Instead, she asked Persephone. ‘Will you keep an eye on Alex for me? Only, he’s taken his grief hard, and I would like someone to be there to give him some comfort. I know it will be hard for you, Persephone, but please try’.
‘I will, for you, Morag, but it will not be easy. He is grieving badly. But I will do my best’.
‘That’s all I ask. Thank you, Persephone’. She gave the young girl an affectionate hug. She turned to Amelia and did the same. ‘Look after yourself, Amelia’, She said, quietly. ‘At least, you don’t have any deranged psychopaths to worry about now’.
‘Thanks to you’. Amelia smiled. ‘I hope your play is successful’.
‘So do I’. Morag said, fervently.
Persephone and Amelia came to the entrance to see them off.
To Morag, the Hyperborean country always remained a source of joy and wonder. It seemed so rich and fertile, and the farmers seemed to enjoy their work and the crops that they produced. They discovered that, by turning off and riding to the nearest farmhouse, they could buy all the fruit they needed for a picnic lunch. So that is what they did, and came away laden with ripe tomatoes, apricots, apples and plums for their needs, even fresh warm bread and a slab of freshly made butter. Morag was truly happy, As a town-dweller for most her life, she knew little of the countryside, its customs and habits. But Demos told her more as they rode along. He had spent his childhood on a farm such as these, and was full of knowledge about their customs.
‘It is nearly harvest time, and it is a joyous time here in the country’. He told her. ‘They celebrate the new harvest with a feast, after it is gathered in. They also set aside a tenth of their produce between them to support their brothers who have fallen on hard times, or who have lost sons in war, those who have no means of gathering in their own harvest, through losing a family member’.
‘What happens then?’ asked Morag.
‘They come together and gather in the harvest for the stricken man and his wife, so that they may not starve. We look after our own in the countryside’.
Morag thought about his words as they rode on. They passed through cornfields beyond the thick hedgerows. They heard the sigh of the fields, rippling like golden seas under the warm wind. They could hear the soft buzz of insects in the air, and the rustling of small, unseen creatures in the depths of the hedgerows. Morag sighed with pleasure. She loved the sound of the countryside, with all its small incipient noises, and its lush green smell, so different from the urban scents of her childhood, the smell of asphalt, of wet and greasy roads, and cracked pavements.
But she hated the thought of having to go back to Elsace, and coping with the artificial world of the theatre. Compared with the countryside, it seemed false and trivial. Yet she still wanted Petrina to succeed in mounting her play, and she was determined to help her in that. So there was no other choice.
‘Oh, damn and blast!’ She said aloud. Demos looked at her, startled. ‘Sorry. I wasn’t swearing at you. I was swearing at myself for having involved myself in this damned play in the first place’.
‘But you gave your word’. Demos remarked, mildly.
‘I know! I just wish I hadn’t!’
‘But you have. You must honour your promise’.
‘I know that!’ Shouted Morag furiously.
She regretted her outburst of temper almost immediately. What is wrong with me, she thought. Why am I so on edge? Is it because of this play?
She touched her husband’s arm. ‘I’m sorry, Demos. I’m not angry at you. It’s just…just this damn play. I feel so worried about it’.
‘That, and that you have still not recovered from the effects of your fever. Do not worry, Morag. The play will resolve itself when rehearsals start. You will see’.
‘I hope you’re right’. Morag said, pessimistically.
They stopped for the night at the caravanserai, before resuming their journey to Elsace. Morag was calmer now, though still feeling worried about the progress of the play. The stakes were so high! There was no guarantee that a faery audience would even like it. She fell asleep, still with a sense of foreboding.
Late in the afternoon on the following day, they reached Elsace. After stabling their horses, they made the way up to their apartment, where they found Petrina, sitting at a table by the window, busily writing on leaves of paper. She jumped up as soon as she saw them. ‘Oh, Morag, you are back!’
‘Yes, I am. Have the rehearsals started yet?’
‘No, not until tomorrow. I am writing out more details of the characters for each actor, so when they learn to act they will know more about them’.
Morag realised that staging a play was more complex than she thought, and she was still troubled by the thought that none of the cast had ever acted before. But Petrina seemed confident, so she put the thought aside. ‘What are you hoping to do in this first rehearsal?’ She asked, instead. ‘Just to see if they know their lines, and the positions. Also to establish their entrances and exits on and off the stage. Nothing more than that’.
Morag privately thought it would not be so simple, so she kept quiet. ‘Until tomorrow then’. She said. She quickly made arrangements to pick up Petrina in the morning and drive her to the theatre, and then joined her husband for supper. Afterwards they went shopping for food and provisions in the late markets, to replenish Morag’s supplies. She still remained uneasy about the next day. She confided her fears to Demos. ‘But you must encourage her’, He said. ‘She has very little self-respect and little faith in herself. She will need your support and help if she is to succeed’.
‘I’ll do my best’. Morag muttered. ‘But I don’t hold out great hopes’. They retired to bed, still full of misgivings about what was to come.
Frank Jackson – 22/08/2016 – Word Count - 9754