DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
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THE FINAL BATTLE
Simon ran towards her, shouting. Behind him was a giant, black shape, that gained on him rapidly. There was a huge swipe from a huge claw, and Simon was flung aside like a doll, and lay there, face down, his clothes torn and ripped, blood trickling across his back. Annie cowered back as the great shape loomed above her, and then it’s enormous claw came crashing down on her.
‘No’ooooooo!’ she screamed.
Annie suddenly sat up in bed. Beads of sweat were running down her face, and her nightdress was clammy with cold perspiration. Her breath came in low, deep breaths. It was the worst nightmare she had ever experienced. In a sudden panic, she jumped out of bed, wrapped her dressing-gown around her, and rushed down to Simon’s room. Desperately twisting the handle, she opened the door and entered. Simon was lying in his bed on his back, snoring, with the duvet half kicked off. He opened his eyes sleepily, as Annie stood there by the bed, shivering with both cold and relief.
‘Errrgh. Go away. What do you want?’ he muttered.
‘Nothing. I just came to see if you were all right’, she stammered.
‘Yes, I am. And you interrupted a wonderful dream I was having too! Clear off!’
‘Oh. I was grown up, and Radigund and I were walking through a field of poppies, towards a sunset, hand in hand. It was wonderful. Then you came in and spoilt it’. Simon said accusingly, yawning as he did so.
‘Oh, no! Not her again!’ Annie sat down on the side of the bed, and groaned. ‘You do realise you are besotted with her, don’t you? As if some warrior faerie queen is going to even look at you! You’re just a stupid boy, who just falls in love with any girl or woman, for that matter, who he comes across. Grow up! Or rather, I wish you wouldn’t. You might be even worse than you are now’.
‘Thank you! Tell me, do you have to work at it, or are you just naturally obnoxious?’
‘Well, at least I’m not naturally stupid, like you!’
There was silence for a few moments. Simon propped himself up on one elbow.
‘Annie, why do you cry so much?’
‘I’ve heard you. You cry late at night, and you cry in your sleep. I can hear you’.
Annie clasped her hands together.
‘I can’t help it. This nightmare I had, just now, was about you and me getting killed. I cry every night, worrying about what is going to happen! With the faeries and the dragons and our friends, and everything. I just can’t help it. I just dream about us, me, you, everyone, getting killed. It’s awful!’
Simon sighed. Then he sat up and put his arm around Annie’s thin shoulders. ‘We’re not going to get killed. We have to keep our confidence. Don’t let yourself’, he thought for a moment, ‘lose your bottle, as they say. We’ve got this far. We can’t stop now. Anyway, we’ve got our alliances’.
‘Who says “don’t lose your bottle”?’
‘I don’t know. Grown-ups, adults. parents. All those that have made the world such a mess for us to live in. Anyway, I want to go to sleep. Go back to bed. And, in addition, it’s “you and I” in proper grammar. Good night’.
Annie wondered whether or not she should give him a good smack, but she decided against it. She got back into bed, and fell into an uneasy sleep.
Next morning, they sat at the breakfast table. Simon. as usual, was eating vast amounts of toast and marmite, for which he had a huge liking. Annie often wondered how he could consume half a loaf of bread, but not get fat.
‘Simon, how can you eat half a loaf of bread and marmite, and not get fat?’
‘Oh, just a trick of the trade’.
also wondered where he picked up all those ridiculous expressions
from, too. Their father came in with the morning’s mail. ‘Just
for once, it came early. Makes a change’. He sorted through the
mail. ‘Hallo, here’s something for you. It’s got
a little imprint of a hand on it, for some reason’. Annie’s
heart thumped. ‘Makes a change from having old smelly trainers
thrown at me’, Simon said under his breath.
She read it slowly. Her face was expressionless.
‘What does it say?’ mumbled Simon through a mouthful of toast.
‘It says “come at once, with the talisman. We may have some dreadful and urgent news. Come immediately”. It’s signed by the Four Fingers’.
‘Oh, so they actually can write. What’s the matter?’
Annie stared at her brother. Her face had gone pale.
‘I think it’s the battle. They know it’s coming. I think they know, and they want us there to tell us’.
‘Well, they do say, at least in a song I heard that “Saturday night’s all right for fighting”. About time, too. All this waiting around really gets on my nerves. Let’s see what they have to say. Mind you, this could really ruin my weekend’.
Annie continued to stare at her brother.
‘Simon, doesn’t anything frighten you?’
Simon grinned at her. ‘Of course it does. But I deal with it in my own way, by keeping my sense of humour, such as it is, and making silly jokes, which even I admit, are silly. But we might as well know the worst, and get it over with. Stop shaking, weedy, and go and get your coat, and put on the talisman. Go on, Annie. Now!’
He said this so sharply that Annie jumped. Then she realised that her brother was really trying to help her, by making light of it all.
‘All right, big-mouth. I’ll go and get our pocket-money from Dad as well. I don’t know what it is about you, Simon, but you have the strange gift of cheering me up and infuriating me intensely both at the same time!’
‘That’s my girl!’
‘Shut up and meet me in the hallway!’
‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you’. said Annie, ominously.
During the bus-ride down to the sea-front, they said nothing to each other. They both sat in silence, despite the chatter of the other people on the bus. Annie stared out of the window, hardly noticing the crowds of people and the traffic around them. Simon simply lay back with his eyes closed. But they both were thinking of what might happen, and very soon.
They found the Four Fingers sitting at their usual table in the beach café. Their faces were as grey as their overcoats, in the rather chilly October morning. There were only a few people about, walking on the beach and on the beach-walk, and the shops in the arcade, under the promenade already had an empty winter air. Some had not bothered to open up at all, and their grey steel shutters remained firmly closed.
Adrian the seagull was perched on the end of the table, but seemed uncomfortable and distracted. Even the scruffy dog, Sniffer lay quietly next to the table, and simply gave them a brief nod as they sat down opposite the Four Fingers. Everyone was quiet for a few seconds.
‘Come on’, Simon said finally. ‘What’s the news?’
Everybody knew what was coming before it was even said.
Little Finger placed his hands together under his chin. ‘It is the worst possible news, and it is what we have been dreading for so long’. He paused to look around the table. ‘The daemons are coming to invade this world. There are a great many of them, and they are coming very soon. In fact, they are coming tonight’.
Sniffer put his head down and groaned. Adrian gave a loud squawk. The other three fingers looked down at the table. Simon gave out a loud sigh. Annie said nothing, but inside her, she felt a sharp thrill of fear, and also strangely, of relief. At least, she thought, the waiting is over. She looked at Simon, and knew that he felt the same. It must be the same in every battle, she decided. The waiting is the worst part, but once you know, then you can prepare yourself for it. She was hardly listening as Little Finger continued.
‘They will fly in over the sea, and land on the beach, in this area. You see, they cannot stand to simply come and land on man-made materials. That is why they cannot use the Brighton Pier over there’, and he pointed to the pier, with its amusement arcades and fairground rides, ‘ and they will not land on the promenade either. But they can land on the beach around us, and they can land on the groyne next to us because it is of natural materials. So our battle must be on this beach, either side of the groyne’,
‘How do you know all this?’ asked Simon curiously.
‘Because, us “staff officers” as you call us, Simon’, said Index Finger, sharply, ‘have been gathering information for months and even years, so that we can give you all the possible help we can. We have also found out something even more important, that may well help us to win this battle’.
‘Sorry I spoke,’ replied Simon, rather meekly. ‘But what’s that?’
‘They cannot survive water, particularly sea-water’. said Third Finger. It is fatal to them. They will be destroyed by it, in the same way as your talisman’, looking directly at Annie, ‘destroyed the daemon who invaded your home’. Annie shivered. ‘That explains why they smell so much’, she said.
‘Exactly’. replied Index Finger.
‘So all we’ve got to do is drive them into the sea, then’, laughed Simon. ‘Right, all eight of us’.
‘Hang about’, squawked Adrian indignantly. ‘There’s lots of my lads all ready and waiting for a good punch-up! They’re good too!’
‘There is something else that you ought to know’. said Middle Finger, quietly. ‘We can expect no help from your policemen or fire brigade, or ambulances. The battle will take place in another world, or another dimension or level, whichever you wish to call it. It will simply be us against the daemons’. They fell silent as they took in this information. ‘But they will have to fight us if they want to enter your world. They have to defeat us or we have to defeat them’.
‘I have also notified your friends’, continued Little Finger, sadly. ‘They are willing to fight as well’.
Annie sprang up from the table in fury. Her eyes were blazing. ‘You stupid, horrible old men! How dare you! I won’t have my friends put in danger because of you!’
‘Little Finger put up his hand in protest. ‘It is too late. They wanted to come. In fact they are here now’. Annie and Simon looked around. Coming down the steps by the groyne were Indira and Pei-Ying, followed by Mariko and all her Japanese school-girl friends. And close behind them was a short portly figure in a tight suit and shabby over- coat. ‘That’s Mr Cuttle’. breathed Simon. They all gathered around the table. ‘Hallo, Annie, Hallo, Simon’, they all shouted.
Annie felt as if she was in a dream. ‘You can’t be here, You mustn’t be here!’ she shouted, alarmed. ‘But we are here’, said Indira, proudly. ‘We don’t want to miss a good fight. Anyway, that’s what friends are for’. ‘That’s right’, said Mariko, ‘Isn’t it?’ The other girls all cheered and clapped their hands. Annie suddenly began to cry uncontrollably. She felt a great fear and pride welling up inside her. Then Simon was shaking her hard by the shoulders, until it hurt.
‘Annie, stop it! You have to be strong! Everybody’s relying on you! You can’t let them down by just bursting into tears every time! You have to face it, like everyone else! Now stop crying! Now!’
Annie gulped. Then she said, ‘I know what you’re saying. Just let me have a few moments to myself’. and she walked away from the others along the beach. She stopped, and took some deep breaths.
‘Are you all right, love?’
She looked up. Two elderly women were standing by her, looking concerned.
‘Yes, thank you. I’m all right now’.
They walked on. Annie slowly made her way back to the others, who were staring at her anxiously. She looked at them and chose her words with care..
‘Don’t worry, I’m fine. We’re going to win this battle and drive those daemons out of our world’. She hesitated and then said firmly and defiantly, ‘ We can do this. Together, we can do anything! So let’s do it!’ The Japanese girls cheered. Pei-Ying raised her fist in the air. ‘We’re not afraid! We can all take care or ourselves! No problem!’ They all cheered again.
Little Finger explained to the others what he had told Annie and Simon. They listened in silence, but then Indira raised a question.
What about the faeries and the dragons? Are they coming to help us?
The Four Fingers were quiet. It was Mariko who suddenly said,’ Annie! Your ring! The talisman! It’s flashing on and off!. ‘It’s a message!’ shouted Simon. ‘It’s trying to tell us something! Annie, put your hand down on the table. I think it’s in morse code again. Let’s see if I can understand it’.
Annie put her hand down on the table. The talisman was flashing in an agitated way. Simon took out his little notebook and a ballpoint pen and began to write down the letters that the talisman was so desperately signalling.
‘Fae….r..ie…s, that’s right. Dr….a…g….something,
The talisman became dim again. ‘What’s the message?’ asked Annie impatiently. Simon looked at his notebook. ‘Well, it’s good news! It says “Faeries. Dragons. Have told them. They will come”’. Everybody cheered again.
‘That’s if they come in time’. muttered Sniffer, but no-one heard him.
‘This is wonderful!’ cried Little Finger. ‘The talisman has sent out its own message!. He turned to Simon and Annie. ‘Didn’t you tell us that they would know when to come? And so they are!’
Annie looked around at all their faces. The grim look that they all wore had now disappeared, and replaced with smiles of delight. But she could feel their determination. Even Mr Cuttle was standing proudly, his umbrella clasped firmly in his right hand.
‘Annie, cheer up. You look like a turnip on a bad day’. whispered Simon in her ear. Annie took no notice. But Simon looked at her with surprise, and indeed, he admitted to himself, respect. He had never seen his sister look so strong and fearless. Her lips were tightened into a thin line, and her eyes were hard, with a glint of steel. He had never seen her like this before. Suddenly, he was reminded of Gloriana, Ragimund, and the other faerie queens. For a moment, he wondered whether the talisman had somehow given Annie some of their power and strength. Well. I hope I get some too, he thought.
Index Finger was now speaking. ‘Queen Gloriana is a great leader and general. She will no doubt organise us all to properly resist the daemons, and to make best use of the battlefield. Now this meeting will draw to a close. I suggest, on the basis of the information we have, that we meet together on this beach, at eight o’clock this evening, and bring whatever weapons you have. Best wishes to you all’.
So the meeting broke up, though not after everybody caught up on everybody else’s new and gossip. No further mention was made of the forthcoming battle. Afterwards, Annie and Simon decided to walk home. As they began to make their way up the steep Ditchling road towards home, Simon stopped and looked down at the talisman on Annie’s finger.
‘Annie, do you think that we can trust the talisman? It said it told the faeries and dragons to come, but can we really believe it?
Annie looked back towards the small blue band of sea behind the buildings of Brighton. ‘Yes, I do’, she said quietly. ‘After all, we do have to trust certain things in our lives, don’t we? We trust our friends to come tonight and support us. I trust the talisman. It saved our lives, and I truly think it will help us again tonight. And by the way, I trust you’. She began to walk on. Simon stood for a moment, and then ran after her. Without saying a word, he linked his arm into hers and they continued up the hill.
For the rest of the day, they did very little. Both found it difficult to read or watch television or play games on the computer. Their parents were out, but they both stayed in their own rooms, lying or sitting on the bed, each contained within their own thoughts. Neither wanted to talk to each other. But the time passed slowly. They ate their supper in silence. Then they looked up at the kitchen clock. ‘Time to go’. said Simon.
They put on their coats, picked up their torches, and left the house. They said nothing to each other as they walked through the busy streets, catching snatches of conversations as they went, from groups and couples, and people busily talking into their mobile phones. The traffic roared past. Buses chugged impatiently, cars drifted past, and the occasional roar of a motorbike punctuated the general noise.
They reached the seafront, and looked down at the beach, empty but for an occasional walker. They were standing at the top of the steps that led down to the beach. To their left, they saw the stone groyne with the doughnut-shaped sculpture at the end. Beyond it was the Brighton Pier, still alight with noise and people. They stood and hesitated.
Annie suddenly felt a welter of emotions inside her, tearing away her new-found confidence. She was poised between her own ordinary world, with all its noise, bright lights and bustle, her friends, her family, all her futures waiting for her. Before her lay a darkness of fear, mystery, the unknown. One more step, and she would enter that world. She would leave behind the warm comfortable world, familiar to her, and enter another. She also knew that that step would change her life forever. She gave a deep breath, and decided.
‘Are you coming, Simon?’ she called, and stepped forward. Simon followed her without hesitation. They both felt a wave of coldness, but still descended the steps until they reached the bottom. Then they stopped and looked around them. It was utterly silent now. The only sound was the gentle lap and sucking of the sea as it rose and fell below the banks of pebbles and shingle before them. The pier was now quiet and dark. The noise of traffic and people had vanished. They stood in a place that had no sound, apart from the gentle swish of the ripples, as the low tide of the sea gently rose and fell. The sky was clear but black. There was no moon, or even stars.
‘Where is everybody?’ whispered Simon.
‘I think we’ve just crossed, what do you call it, a threshold’. answered Annie, also in a whisper. ‘We’re in an…another dimension’.
‘Do you want to go back?’ asked Simon, quietly.
‘No’. said Annie defiantly. ‘We decided to do this, and we stay, whatever happens’.
They stared out to sea, but saw nothing. Then they heard a sudden clatter behind them. Turning quickly, they saw, to their delight, Indira and Pei-Ying running down the steps towards them.
‘Sorry about being late’. explained Indira. ‘We got held up at home. My parents wanted to know where I was going and what I was doing. So I told them that we were meeting you, and that was all right’.
‘I wouldn’t bank on that’. Simon said cheerfully. ‘You didn’t tell them you were going to to fight a battle, did you?’
‘I did’. Said Pei-Ying cheerfully. ‘They just said “well, have a nice time”’.
They all laughed together.
‘Here comes Mariko and her friends!’ cried Indira. Sure enough, Mariko and her Japanese schoolgirls came clattering down the steps to join them. They were all carrying their training swords in long cases, and as they greeted each other, they put their bags down and pulled out their wooden bokkens.
‘It was suddenly a bit cold when we came down here. And where’s all the traffic and the people? It’s so quiet!’ said Mariko.
‘Where are the officers? Where are the faeries and the dragons? Typical! You just can’t get the staff these days!’ snorted Simon.
They heard another clatter on the steps. To their astonishment, they saw another small, rather portly figure coming down towards them.
‘Hallo, everybody!’ sang Mr Cuttle.
‘Mr Cuttle!’ gasped Annie. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Well’, replied Mr Cuttle. ‘I did think that I ought to be here. Someone has to protect you children’.
‘There is no need for that, Mr Cuttle’.
Four grey figures walked towards them, their feet tramping noisily on the pebbled beach.
‘Well, I never. The officers have come to join in’.
‘The daemons will be here soon. Our sources indicate that they are well on their way. We will have to await their arrival’.
‘We know that. We usually hang around a beach at night in another dimension. We do it all the time’. said Simon sarcastically. He was rewarded with another glare from Index Finger. They stood together for several minutes, instinctively closing together for warmth and protection. Then Mariko pointed out to sea. ‘Look!’
They could all see now. It was a dark cloud beginning to emerge from beyond the horizon between sea and sky. But it was even darker than the sky itself, and it was, even at a distance, huge and menacing. Annie looked around at her small group of companions, despairingly. What chance would they have, against that? She gripped her torch tightly and glanced down at the talisman on her finger. It was pulsating brightly. She realised that, though she could not understand it, it was trying to comfort and reassure her. She felt calm, but still afraid. He stomach grumbled. We will do this, she thought. We will stand and fight them.
There was a sudden shout from above. Jojo, the girl who had been wounded before in their battle against Doctor Wrist, was pointing landwards. ‘I can hear a great drumming!’ she yelled. ‘It sounds like horses!’ ‘I think it might be the faeries’. said Little Finger, quietly, standing next to Annie. Now they could all hear the drumming. It became louder and louder, until it seemed as if it was right above them. They heard the sound of many voices, and the whistling and braying of horses. Then they heard the sound of many feet tramping down the stairs.
‘Queen Gloriana!’ shouted Annie.
Gloriana strode across the pebbles towards them. She wore a light helmet, that covered the upper part of her face, Underneath her long, scarlet tunic, she wore chainmail that glittered in the dim light. This time she wore her sword slung across her back, rather than by her side. The other queens, Ragimund, Lucifera, Britomart, Mercilla and Duessa, followed her, clad in a similar way. Behind them came whole troops of faeries, bearing large shields on their backs and armed, Annie noticed with two swords: one large and slightly curved, the other much shorter and straighter. She also realised that the faerys were both men and women, the latter with long blonde hair streaming from under their helms. Gloriana marched straight up to Annie, and stood in front of her.
‘We meet again, bearer of the talisman! But this time it will be a battle. Is this all that you have?’ looking at their small group.
‘Queen Gloriana, this is all we have, together with the seagulls’. she added, as Adrian the seagull, landed in front of them.
‘Wotcher, your majesty. Me and my boys are all ready. They’re up there now, circling around and keeping an eye on them’.
‘Good’. said Gloriana. ‘I wish you and your seagulls to attack and harry them as they come. In other words, to make a nuisance of yourselves’.
‘He’s good at that’. whispered Simon, trying in vain to catch Ragimund’s eye, who was intently watching the horizon.
‘Shut up, Simon’.
Gloriana looked at their weapons and groaned. ‘Those are no use against daemons. Armourer! Bring them swords! Arm them, apart from the bearer of the talisman!
‘No way! cried Annie hotly. ‘If you think I’m going to let my friends and my brother do the fighting for me, then you can think again! Give me a sword too!’
Gloriana hesitated, then smiled. ‘Bring swords for all of them’. she said.
The tall, dark faery that she addressed, ran up the steps calling out orders. Two other male faeries then ran down the steps, bearing large bundles of swords, each encased in a scabbard of leather. They gave one each to Mariko’s friends, who received them with squeals of delight, to Indira and Pei-Ying, and then to Simon and Annie. They hitched them onto their back in the same way as the faeries. Annie began to draw hers, but Gloriana gave her a warning look. ‘Do not draw your sword until the time is right. Remember, we are defending ourselves. We are not attacking them. They are attacking us. Only then should you draw a sword’. Annie obediently pushed her sword into its scabbard. It felt surprisingly light, and easy to use.
But Gloriana was looking carefully around. ‘This battleground is not ideal. But we have little time’. She began to give orders. ‘Archers, some of you will guard this staircase, so that they cannot come behind us. The rest of the archers, line up on the high ground above’, pointing to the promenade, to pick the daemons off as they come. When your arrows are exhausted, then use swords and shields to fight. You will be our reserves. Faerie men and women, form yourselves into a triple row of battle-lines, on both sides of this…this? ‘
‘Groyne’ said Annie.
‘Ragimund and Duessa, you will be in command of the area between that structure’, pointing to the pier, ‘and this “groyne”. If I fall, Mercilla, Lucifera or Britomart will take command. The …”groyne “will be defended by the humans’.
‘Thanks very much’. murmured Simon.
Annie drove her elbow hard into his ribs. Simon gasped and was fortunately quiet for a few moments. Gloriana continued. ‘You will have to man each wall of that groyne. On no account must you allow the daemons to occupy it. If all else fails, then fall back to the entrance and hold it. I will send such reinforcements as I can to help you. I cannot allow them to control it and drive a wedge between our forces. Do you understand?
‘Yes’. said Annie firmly.
‘Yes’. groaned Simon, still recovering from Annie’ s rather savage elbow dig.
‘’Just put it down to battle damage’. said Annie, grimly. As they moved off, Annie noticed a young faerie. She was smaller than the others, and she had freckles and unusually for a faery, red hair. She saw Annie and waved to her. ‘Do your best, humans!’ she called. Annie waved back. ‘Do your best, too!’ Annie shouted.
They ran up the ramp and onto the groyne itself. It was really an extension of the promenade, that jutted out into the sea. At the seaward end was the large sculpture, shaped like a giant doughnut, that Annie had always secretly liked, Will it survive this battle, she wondered? They positioned themselves along the metre-high stone walls that enclosed the groyne, and stood, silently, hands gripping the hilts of their swords. Annie looked back to the beach. On each side stood lines of faery warriors, with their huge round shields placed before them. She realised with surprise, that they were a deep blue, and that they each bore the symbol of the pentagram.
So that is why Mr Cuttle used it, Annie thought to herself. In fact there was Mr Cuttle himself, standing by her.
‘Oh, dear’, he said gloomily, ‘I wish I was better dressed for this occasion’.
‘It’s not an occasion, Mr Cuttle, it’s a battle.
And where’s your sword?’
‘Oh, I don’t need a sword, just my trusty old umbrella’, and he brandished a huge rolled-up umbrella, which was almost as long as he was.
‘You can’t fight with just an umbrella!’ Annie cried indignantly.
‘Well’ I think that those daemons will find it has a few nasty surprises for them’. He winked at her.
Annie grinned back at him, then suddenly realised there was a bright light shining on her hand. It was the talisman, and it was glowing more brightly that she ever remembered. Then she had an idea. She put her hand on it, palm down, to match the outstretched hand on the face of the talisman. She felt a surge of power and strength, from her hand to the rest of her body. When she took her hand away, the confidence that she had felt remained with her. It’s giving us the will to fight, she thought. She pressed her palm against it once more, and this time, more thoughts and excitements flooded into her mind. Tactics! Sword techniques! Ways of fighting! This talisman certainly had been around!
‘Mr Cuttle!’ she cried. Mr Cuttle who had been standing next to her all this time, jumped in fright. ‘Mr Cuttle!’ put your hand on the talisman, just as I did! Now!’ Mr Cuttle looked rather frightened, but he did what Annie had told him. Then he suddenly became excited, and pulled his hand away from the talisman. ‘It has given me knowledge! Of what to do! How marvellous! Let us fight this battle!’ He ran off down the groyne in delight.
‘Everybody!’ Annie shouted. ‘Come here, now!’ They gathered around her. ‘The daemons will be here in a minute’. one of the Japanese girls said nervously. ‘Everybody, one by one, put your hand on the talisman, like this’. They looked puzzled but obeyed. Each of the Japanese girls gasped and one or two squealed in dismay. Indira and Pei-Ying placed their hands on the talisman. They closed their eyes and drank in the wisdom and strength that the talisman was giving them. When they opened their eyes, they looked at the ring on Annie’s finger with new respect. ‘I never dreamt that I would know such things’. said Indira, finally. ‘Nor I’. added Pei-Ying. ‘Simon!’ you do the same!’
‘Don’t you dare boss me about!’ shouted Simon. ‘Go on then, tell me what you want me to do’.
‘Please, Simon put your hand on the talisman! Please, Simon. please!’
Simon hesitated, then he said grudgingly, ‘Oh, all right, then’. He pressed his palm against the talisman on Annie’s finger. A kind of electric shock went through him. His eyes closed for several seconds, while he was with the talisman. Then he took his hand away. ‘Right’. he said calmly, ‘Let’s defend this place. We stay in the middle, in a defensive group, our backs to each other. Remember we never expose our backs. Don’t let them get behind you. If they are too many, we slowly retreat to the entrance. Keep a line, and your swords in front. Leave space so that you do not injure each other. Remember, always keep them in front of you! Come on, guys! Let’s do it!’
They all ran to take up their positions. Annie was astonished. She had never heard her brother be so strong and self-possessed before. They stood in the centre of the groyne. Now Annie could hear the steady beating of the daemons’ wings, as they began to descend from the dark sky above. She could see them now, a black torrent that was about to come down on them. She could also hear a loud pounding from each side below, as the faeries began to strike their weapons against their shields in defiance.
The faeries on the promenade above drew their bows, huge ones that shot arrows a yard long. ‘Fire!’ shouted Gloriana’s voice. There was an enormous hiss as the deadly missiles were unleashed. The sky was suddenly full of bursts of flame and smoke, as they struck the oncoming daemon horde. Again and again the faery archers fired, but the daemon numbers were too vast. They threw down their bows and drew their swords and fastened their shields.
And then it began. Dark black beating shapes crashed down upon the groyne around them. Slashing claws lunged at them viciously. Jaws snapped at them. Red eyes gleamed and blazed. They were so much bigger and more terrible! They were being swamped by these terrible creatures! Then the flash of bright swords, hacking and slashing. Screams and roars filled the air. Annie was fighting for her life, turning and attacking, turning and attacking, her sword almost blazing as it fought the daemons. She hardly knew what she was doing. She saw on her left one of the Japanese girls thrown backwards by a mighty swipe from the daemon in front of her, and she brought her sword around in an arc, that cut off the daemon’s arm. It screamed, and fell onto it’s knees. Without hesitation, Annie swung her sword high, nd slashed off the daemon’s head. It vanished in a gout of fire and evil-smelling smoke.
But there was no time for rest. More daemons crashed down into the groyne, and surrounded them. Annie and the others were now fighting for their lives. A needle-sharp claw lunged at Annie. She ducked under it, more quickly than she had ever thought possible, and thrust her sword under the armpit, and deep into the body. Again it screamed and vanished in smoke and flame. There was no time to think. All she could do was survive and fight. Again and again, the huge black shapes came at them, fighting and clawing, and each time Annie and her friends drove them back, slicing at their legs, their heads, their massive sharp paws. The air was smothered in smoke and the pungent smell of flame, and still the struggle went on.
Now they were fighting back to back, hardly able to see in the swirling smoke and darkness, hacking and slashing at the huge dark shapes around them. Another Japanese girl, next to Annie, went down with a scream of pain from a whipping claw. They no longer had a sense of time, but it seemed like eternity. Annie began to feel the strength ebb away from her. Her sword, light as it was, now seemed heavier. Her breath came in loud heaving gasps, as she swung again and again.
Then suddenly, there were no dark shapes any longer. As the smoke cleared, they found themselves still standing in the middle of the groyne. But there were not many of them still standing. Annie looked around frantically. There was Indira and Pei-Ying, back to back, with their swords grasped firmly in front of them. Simon was behind her, breathing heavily. Mariko and several other girls were a little further on. But several of the Japanese girls were lying on the ground, moaning faintly. One was sobbing quietly in pain, clutching a gaping wound in her side. Blood was trickling between her fingers. Of Mr Cuttle, there was no sign.
Annie stood there, transfixed. But Simon was still in control. ‘Collect the wounded, and retreat to the entrance! They might still come back!’ he yelled. The remaining girls began to help their fallen friends up and, with arms around their shoulders, retreated slowly to the entrance to the groyne. But Mariko stopped. ‘Jojo! She’s badly hurt!’
‘Get the others back!’ shouted Simon. ‘Annie, you and I! We’ll take her!’
They ran to the fallen girl who was sobbing in pain and shock.
‘Annie we’d better do a cradle-lift. She’s not able to walk. Help me to sit her up!’ They sheathed their swords and crouched down each side of Jojo, and then very gently pulled her up. Jojo bit her lips in pain. Then slipped their hands beneath her and clasped them together.
‘Put your hand around our shoulders, Jojo’. whispered Annie, soothingly. ‘Then we can lift you’. Between them, they carried Jojo back to the others, the girl sobbing in pain. and gently placed her on the ground. Annie looked around again. ‘Simon!’ cried Annie, despairingly. ‘There’s only half of us left!’
‘Then we’ll just have to make our last stand here’. Simon said firmly. ‘Have a look at the beach and see how it’s going down there’.
Annie hurried to the wall. She tried to see through the smoke, but she knew the battle was still raging, by the screams and cries from below. Then, as she saw more clearly, she could see that on the beach, the daemons had broken through Gloriana’s first line of faeries, and were swarming against the second. But the faeries were holding their ground, and battling furiously, using their short stabbing swords, and protecting each other with their shields. But, Annie noticed, there were many bodies lying on the shingle.
She ran over to the other side. To her horror, she saw Radigund’s small force, already depleted, standing in a defensive circle, in the middle of a crowd of dark daemons, howling and struggling to break into it. She also saw four grey shapes forming part of the circle, who were stabbing away at the daemons. She recognised them. It was the Four Fingers. So they are here, she thought, excitedly.
She ran back to Simon. ‘Gloriana’s line is holding but they’ve lost a lot of people. But Ragimund’s in trouble. And the Four Fingers are with her’.
‘Well, I never’. muttered Simon. Then he looked down the
groyne, and stiffened. ‘We’ve got more trouble, Annie.
There are more daemons down at the end of the groyne. They must have
climbed up over the walls’. He looked back at their wounded girls
and suddenly felt helpless. There was a shout of panic from Mariko. ‘Look!’ she
‘That’s it, then’. Simon said, finally. His face was expressionless.
‘It can’t be!’ cried Annie.
‘I’m afraid it is’.
They stood, looking at the oncoming black horde, for several seconds. Then there was a shout from below. ‘My queen! Dragons!. The dragons are coming!’ They all looked up. Coming from the east was a huge torrent of golden shapes, surging towards the oncoming black swarm. Then they struck. The golden torrent hit the daemons like thunder. Talons slashed into black bodies, fire burnt from the dragons’ mouths enveloping daemons in a blast of flame. Wings were torn off, and daemons plunged into the sea below in fire and smoke.
Annie saw one dragon, it’s head enveloped in fire, crash into another daemon and together they plunged into the sea below. A daemon, with one wing hanging limply, fell, in slowly decreasing circles, and vanished in an explosion of smoke and flame. Another dragon, its’ body turning over and over, crashed with a heavy thud onto the groyne, and lay there, dead. But the golden shapes were smashing through the dark ranks of the daemons. More and more of them fell with screams into the sea.
Then, both Annie and Simon, and the others, heard a shout from below. ‘Charge them! Charge them into the sea!’ It was Gloriana’s voice. At the same time they another shout, which they recognised as Radigund’s ‘Charge them!’ Simon looked swiftly around at the others, or rather what few of them were left. ‘Shall we do the same?’ he asked. They all nodded, and grasped their weapons firmly. ‘Last stand’. replied Annie. ‘You said it’. She felt a tremendous fury inside her. She no longer cared about what happened to her. Simon raised his sword above his head.
‘Charge!’ he yelled. They began to run towards the daemons at the end. They did not know it, but what the daemons saw, were twelve small humans, with blazing faces, and flashing swords, running towards them. The children crashed into them, swords sweeping and slashing. Some daemons tried to fight, but were cut down and vanished in smoke. Others were forced onto the wall, where they toppled over into the dreadful sea below. One daemon swung his claw at Annie, but she turned and thrust her sword into it’s body. It yelled and fell into the water. Then it was over.
They all ran to the sides of the groyne. Below them, on Gloriana’s side, they saw a solid wall of faeries driving the last of the daemons into the water. The whole beach was lit by huge plumes of flames and dreadful smoke, as the daemons perished. On the other side, as they ran to look, Radigund had broken out from the defensive circle she had formed and charged her enemy into the water, too. Dragons were circling overhead, attacking any daemons that remained. It was a victory. The battle had been won.
They all walked silently back to their wounded. ‘We must get them to hospital’. Simon said quietly. ‘They badly need treatment, especially Jojo’.
‘I think that the faeries have doctors, or medics, or something like that. Shall I go and see’. He nodded. She could see how tired and exhausted he was. ‘You look dreadful’. Annie said, sympathetically, seeing his smoke-blackened face. ‘Simon! You’ve got blood running down your face!’
‘I just got a bit of a slash from those daemons. It’s not serious. And, by the way, you’re not looking your usual ugly self either, Even worse’. Annie put her tongue out at him. ‘I’ll go and find Gloriana, and see what I can do’. She ran along the promenade, still deserted, and then down the steps to the beach. She saw Queen Gloriana, towards the end of the shingle, near to the groyne. ‘Queen Gloriana!’ she shouted. We need some medical help! Some of us are wounded!’
Gloriana turned around. Her eyes were hard grey. ‘Physicians! Go to that place and tend to the humans! She spoke to a number of grey-robed figures, who were kneeling beside several bodies, who Annie realised were faeries. Annie moved closer to Gloriana, who was staring at something. ‘Well, at least we won the battle’. she said. Gloriana turned on her, furiously, seized Annie by her hair, and dragged her several yards down the beach. Annie was crying out in pain, but Gloriana pulled her upright. Her strength was surprising, and her face, as Annie looked up, was contorted with fury.
‘You stupid little human brat! Look! Look! Look at the dead, and dying and the wounded around you! Look!’ Annie looked. She saw the dead bodies of faeries, already covered in shrouds, others crying and moaning in pain. She also saw the dead bodies of dragons, that lay across the beach. She saw the grey-robed figures of the faery physicians who were desperately attending to the wounded, both dragon and faery, some not even conscious, but others who were desperately trying to staunch their injuries, waiting for help.
‘Look on it! You are looking on the face of war! Grief, suffering and sadness! This is what your kind, humankind, has brought to this world, and to ours! Think on it, brat!’ She threw Annie suddenly onto the pebbled beach. Annie hit her face hard of the rocky pebbles, and instantly felt a trickle of blood. She lay, face downwards, for a few seconds, and then raised herself up. Her nose was bleeding, and her lip was cut. She felt numbed and empty. Gloriana was nowhere in sight.
She got up. She looked around, and then began to walk slowly towards the staircase from the beach. Then she paused. There was a body of a dragon lying near the staircase. She recognised it. It was Smeffin, the dragon who had tried to be an assassin, but failed dismally. She turned around and walked back further down the beach. A physician was bending over the body of a faerie. As she came closer, she recognised her. It was the young faery with the freckles and red hair, that had shouted so gaily to Annie before the battle. She lay on her back with her face to the sky. Her eyes were still open, but now sightless. The physician was just about to close her eyes when Annie said ‘Let me’. She gently closed the young faery’s eyelids, so that she looked as if she was asleep. Then Annie got up and walked up to the groyne.
was standing there, watching as the faery physicians bent over their
wounded, healing them with lotions and strange vegetable pads, that
they drew from the pouches they all wore. He looked around at Annie,
and said quietly, ‘Annie, I think you should come with
me’. Annie just nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She followed
Simon further down the groyne, and then stopped, staring in horror.
‘Mr Cuttle, please don’t die!’ Annie cried desperately. She reached out and clasped Mr Cuttle’s hand. It felt cold and weak. Mr Cuttle opened his eyes and saw Annie. He tried to smile, and a trickle of blood ran down from the corner of his mouth.
‘Hello, Annie. Went the day well?’
‘Yes’. whispered Annie. ‘But don’t die’.
‘I fear I have no choice in the matter, my dear’. Mr Cuttle said in a low whisper. He coughed, and more blood trickled from his mouth. ‘It is good to see you. But, as the famous poet, Lytton Strachey, once said……”if this is dying, then I don’t think much of it”.’ The same rather goes for me’.
He closed his eyes for several seconds, then opened them. ‘On the other hand, I feel rather pleased to have died in battle. Much more interesting. Better than in bed. Annie, the talisman……..’
He coughed again. Then his head slipped sideways, and he closed his eyes for the last time. With that movement, Mr Albert Cuttlefish’s life slipped softly and quietly away.
Annie bowed her head, her eyes hot with tears. The faery physician gently covered his face with a cloth. She felt Simon’s hands on her shoulders. Annie knelt there. She had never, ever, in her life felt so sad and lost. The physician got up and with a bow to Annie, walked away. She hardly noticed.
‘Annie. There is someone here to see you, I think’. Simon whispered in her ear. Two boots tramped across the stone of the groyne and stood before her. She looked up sharply. It was Gloriana. ‘Oh, it’s you is it? snapped Annie, past caring what she was saying. ‘It’s so nice of you to come! Thank you very much! I’m the stupid little human brat! Remember?’ Gloriana knelt down in front of her, and looked at the body of Mr Cuttle. ‘I am sorry for your friend’. she said quietly. ‘It is perhaps fitting that we take him to our land and provide him with a faery burial. He died bravely, and fighting with…this?’ She pointed to Mr Cuttle’s umbrella, now bent and twisted, but showing the sharp blade that ran from the handle to the spike at the end.
‘It’s called an umbrella’. muttered Annie. Then she looked hard at Gloriana. Gloriana’s eyes were as wet as her own. She held out her arms towards Annie. Annie resisted for a moment, and then fell into a fierce hug with Gloriana, her face pressed against Gloriana’s smoky hair. Her tears at last began to flow freely.
‘Forgive me, child. I was cruel towards you. You are young and innocent, but for some moments I blamed you for the dead and the suffering. You fought bravely and nobly, all of you. I thank you for that’.
Annie hugged her tightly back for some reason that she didn’t know.
‘Perhaps it is the adults who have created this, not you children. They have given you a world of grief, despair suffering and war. That is your legacy’.
Then Gloriana released her and held her by her shoulders, and looked into her eyes. ‘Annie’. she said very gently. ‘Will you make me a promise? A promise between one warrior and another?’ Annie nodded. ‘Then swear me this. That you will do your best to heal this world and keep it safe, for your generation, for the generation after that, and the other generations to come. That is what we all want. Will you swear it on the talisman?’
Annie looked down on the talisman on her finger. It was glowing brightly. ‘Yes’. she said firmly, and placed her right hand over the talisman. There was a dazzling flash of light between her fingers, that blinded them both for a moment. Then Annie removed her hand, and looked down again. The talisman was glowing gently. ‘It is done’. said Gloriana. ‘I must see to my warriors. I will send bearers for your friend’, looking down at Mr Cuttle. ‘He will be at rest in our land’. ‘I think he would want that’. said Annie. ‘May I come with you? I would like to see Dabar again. Gloriana smiled and took Annie by the hand.
They walked together, down to the wide beach below, now filled with tired faeries, sitting on the pebbles, and with large dark shapes, breathing heavily, snorting the occasional spurt of flame. There was a sudden flutter of white, and Adrian landed heavily in front of Annie.
‘That was a right scrap!’ he squawked.
Gloriana turned and looked down at him. ‘Bird. Were your losses heavy?’ she asked quietly.
Adrian sighed. ‘We lost quite a few mates, yeah. But we still gave ‘em a good pasting, Oh, and Sniffer was down there too! He kept trippin’ them up. And those four finger geezers. They were well into it. They had swords an’ all’.
‘I thank you. We are grateful’. said Gloriana, gravely.
Adrian preened himself, proudly ‘Yeah, well, all in a night’s work, your majesty’. Gloriana smiled and walked forward to the larger shapes in front of her. ‘Dragon-king Dabar! We need to speak with you!’ One of the huge shapes slowly turned, it’s massive wings folded above it. In the flickering light from the dragons’ nostrils, Annie recognised with delight, the large head and snout of Dabar.
‘Greetings, queen Gloriana. This has been a fierce battle’. acknowledged Dadar, in his deep, rumbly voice. ‘Greetings also to you, Annie. I am glad that you have come through this’. He moved forward, and suddenly darkness fell around her, as he lifted his jaws. and rested them lightly on the top of Annie’s head. ‘Greetings to you, Dabar’. replied Annie, feeling somewhat foolish and formal. Then she remembered. ‘Dabar! Did Leila come with you?’
‘I am here, Annie’. a low soft voice spoke. A long, sinuous shape glided up alongside Dabar. ‘Leila!’ Annie rushed forwards and threw her arms around Leila’s warm, smooth neck. Leila, Dabar’s mate nuzzled her head tenderly against Annie’s cheek. Behind them, the four grey shapes of the fingers moved forward, and bowed.
‘There is one last thing we must do’, said Dabar. ‘Do you agree, Queen Gloriana?’
‘I do. Queens! To me!’ Gloriana called. Annie felt bewildered and confused. What was it they had to do? Out of the still drifting smoke, the other faerie queens appeared – Lucifera, Britomart and Mercilla. Annie turned. She had heard Simon’s voice behind. Ragimund appeared, with Simon at her side. To her amazement, they were both smiling and talking to each other as they approached. Behind them, walked the last queen, Duessa.
‘This is the final act we must perform, before we all return to our own worlds’. Dabar intoned. They all gathered in a circle. Annie looked at Simon suspiciously, and felt a pang of jealousy. What had he and Ragimund talked about? She looked around wildly. There was a circle of dragons and faeries around them on the beach. She turned again. There were her friends, Mariko, Indira, Pei-Ying, and the others, standing behind her. What was this? She began to be frightened again. Was this some kind of awful betrayal, or….a trap?
‘Do not be afraid, Annie’. she heard Leila’s voice in her ear. We are swearing a pact of alliance. This is what we have all fought for. Dabar will explain’.
Dabar moved slowly into the centre of the host of faeries and dragons. ‘We have fought against a great enemy tonight. But there are, and will be many more foes. I ask you all to join in a pact against them. They are strong, but we can be stronger, if we unite. Brotherhood of the Hand, you are our witnesses’. The Four Fingers nodded. ‘ Let us be together’. He held out his great claw. Annie noticed his talons were retracted. Gloriana stepped forward. ‘Queens!’ she cried. All six faeries came forwards, They clasped their right hands together in a circle. All except one. Duessa. She hesitated, her hand raised. There was a dead silence for a moment. Dabar’s yellow eyes hardened slightly. From where she stood, Annie could see Duessa’s eyes turn grey, then a mixture of brown and grey, and then grey again.
‘Sister!’ said Gloriana, sharply. ‘Duessa!’ Her eyes had turned the colour of stone.
Duessa hesitated a moment longer, then her eyes changed again to brown and grey. She clasped hands and completed the circle. The six faeries laid their interlocked hands on Dabar’s claw. ‘Simon’. he called. ‘Put your right hand on theirs’. Simon walked forward, and without hesitation, laid his hand on that of the faeries. ‘Annie! Place your left hand, with the talisman, on that of Simon. Annie came forward, and without thinking, placed her hand on Simon’s.
What happened next had no sound at all, but Annie would remember it for the rest of her life. The talisman glowed brightly and then burst into a yellow flash. A great ray of light shot into the sky above, in a radiant pencil of incandescent light, up and up into the sky above, that seemed to penetrate the heavens. Gouts of red fire erupted upwards from the dragons’ mouths. Faeries whipped out their bright swords and held them with both hands, pointing up into the sky, gleaming and flashing. But still there was silence. No-one spoke.
Annie could not tell how long it lasted. Afterwards, she could only think that it was for a few seconds. Then everything stopped, and there was darkness again. ‘It is done’. said Dabar heavily. ‘It is time to depart. Farewell, until another time’. He rose up, spreading his great wings. Annie and Simon staggered back, as the enormous power of the dragons lifting into the air thrust against them. They watched as the black shapes climbed swiftly, and were lost in the deep blue of the night sky.
They looked around. The faeries had all disappeared, too. The small group of humans stood on a dark beach, alone. Even Adrian, Sniffer and the Four Fingers had disappeared.
‘Was it something we said?’ asked Simon.
Annie shook her head wearily. ‘No, it was because they needed to go. I wish I had been able to say goodbye to Leila, though’.
‘I wish I’d been able to say goodbye to Ragimund’. Simon said, sadly.
The look that Annie gave him made him step back.
‘You’re a real sight, Annie. Even worse than usual’.
‘Look at yourself!’ snapped Annie.
‘Let’s go down to the sea, and clean ourselves up’. said the practical Mariko. So that is what they did, or at least as best they could.
‘The faeries took our swords back from us, when they were healing us’. Indira complained. ‘You haven’t got yours, either’. Neither Annie or Simon had even noticed. They all sat down on the dark deserted beach together. No-one spoke. They were each one, alone with their thoughts. Pei-Ying, at last got up. ‘We’d all better go home. It must be really late’.
They began to walk towards the nearest ramp. Mariko and the others saw a pile of baggage, and pounced on them eagerly. ‘It’s our bokkens!’ shouted Mariko. ‘The faeries left them here for us!’ Together they went up the ramp towards the promenade above. The cold barrier was still there. They passed through it in silence. Then they all stopped, shocked. All the bright lights were on. Traffic was roaring by. There were people everywhere, strolling and laughing. Shops were open. The noise was terrific, and even the pier was ablaze with light and laughter.
‘Where have we been? gasped Simon. He looked down at his watch, and gaped at it. ‘Annie! It’s only nine o’clock! We’ve hardly been away!’
‘Yes, we have’. said Annie. She thought of the dead and wounded, and the death of Mr Cuttle. She thought of the sacrifices that their friends had made. She thought of the dead young faery, and of Smeffin. She thought of all Adrian’s mates that he had lost. For what? Simon leant on the promenade rail, and they both looked out over the now empty beach and sea. She had gone beyond tears.
‘What did Gloriana say to you?’ asked Simon quietly.
Annie remembered. She said very slowly, ‘Gloriana said to “heal this world and keep it safe”’.
That’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, you’re right. Let’s go home’.
Frank Jackson (15/11/09)