DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
A Ride in the Sun
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood, Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery. Together, they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. During a journey to Hyperborea, the land of the faeries, they have succeeded in destroying one of the hated and murderous Wrist family. Having returned to Hyperborea, to aid their faery allies, they are on their way to prevent a war that has broken out against their western enemies, the Barbarossi.
It was the honey-coloured stream of light through the crack between the shutters of her window, that woke Annie that morning. It played gently across her coverlet, and onto her bare arm, stroking it with warmth. She sighed deliciously, threw back her coverlet, swung her legs to the ground, and sat up. The marble floor felt cool under her bare feet. She yawned, pulled her sleeping gown over her head and stood, naked, stretching in the soft glow. She could hear wood-pigeons outside, ululating in unison, and the sound of voices, and the clattering and snort of horses. Her talisman lay on the little wooden table by her bed, next to her as yet unpacked bag. Annie put the talisman onto the middle finger of her right hand, took down the cotton robe that hung on a peg on the back of the door, and went out into the atrium, where she paused to dip her fingers into the raised pool in the centre.
The fish whirled and darted, shimmering in the sunlight that striped the atrium with bright yellow from the opening above. She could smell scents and perfumes, jasmine definitely, and perhaps even honeysuckle? I love this villa, she thought, contentedly. It encloses you, but it always feels so bright and open, with every room opening into the other. I could happily live here. She walked through the ante-room and into the peristyle, open to the sky, surrounded by slim white columns. The life-size statue of the bearded water-god smiled at her in greeting. She looked up and saw a pure cobalt-blue sky above. The trickling water from the god’s outstretched hands glistened in the sharp brightness of the new day.
‘Good morning, water-god’. She said loudly, feeling rather foolish, and hoping no-one would hear her. But the water–god just stared at her benignly. ‘Thank you again for watching over my brother’. She called over her shoulder as she walked into the bathroom on the right. She felt his smile still on her, as she washed and sluiced cold water over herself, from the white glazed jugs and basins standing in a row on the marble-topped shelf along the wall. She could smell toasted bread, and cinnamon from the kitchen next door, that reminded her she was hungry. Everything this morning seemed so sharp and clear, every detail of soap, surface and utensil vivid, as if she was seeing them for the first time.
She opened the bathroom door, looked out, and saw two figures across the peristylium, sitting on the benches in the covered loggia, behind small tables laden with food. She recognised them. It was Mariko and Ragimund, who both looked up as she padded across, still barefoot.
‘Please, Annie, come and join us for breakfast’ called Ragimund. Annie liked her more and more, for her slightly nervous, polite way of speaking, as if she was frightened of annoying her.
‘Don’t be scared of me, Ragimund. I don’t bite’. Annie suddenly put down the piece of toast she was about to eat. ‘Ragimund, I’m truly sorry about your loss. Your friend, I mean’. She finished awkwardly.
Ragimund bowed her head, to hide the tears that had suddenly sprung to her eyes. ‘I, we, have to come to terms with that. I am so sorry, Annie, about my stupid anger yesterday. It was wrong of me! My temper….’
‘Never mind. Ferocious faery warriors like you still need an outburst, sometimes’. Annie grinned, as she finally took a bite of her toast.
‘Who’s ferocious?’ A bleary and tousled Simon asked as he walked in, with Pei-Ying just behind him.
‘You are. Get some breakfast’. Annie suddenly dropped her toast on the table. ‘Pei-Ying! I’ve forgotten to see Indira! Oh, no! How could I!’
Pei-Ying stood squarely in front of Annie, as she got up. ‘Indira’s fine’. she said quietly. ‘I told her this morning that we were all together again, to go to stop a war. She burst into tears, and she was happy. She said it was all worthwhile, after all. Go and talk to her, Annie’.
‘I’ll come with you, Annie. We did this together’. Simon had also got up from the couches.
‘No! It’s my responsibility!’
‘Annie! Have you forgotten about Helios?’ Ragimund cried out.
‘Oh, shit! Yes! I mean no!’ Annie wailed in despair. The morning had turned to ruin.
‘Please do not worry. Britomart sent a message to him last night. He knows that you are going to the battle. He will be outside, supervising the horses’. Ragimund said quietly. ’You will see him when we leave’. But Annie had already turned and was running back into the atrium. She knocked frantically on Indira’s door and walked in. Indira was sitting on the edge of the bed, awkwardly trying to brush her hair, with the help of a small hand-mirror perched precariously on the chair opposite. She jumped up as Annie came in, the mirror clattering to the floor.
‘Damn! Oh, Annie I’m so glad to see you! I thought you might not be talking to me and I felt so ashamed, and…’
Annie was staring in concern at the large white sling that supported Indira’s left arm, her hand still swathed in bandages. Indira followed her gaze. ‘Oh, this? That faery quack came in earlier and dressed it again for me. He kept clucking his tongue. I don’t think he approves of stupid little girls who go in for self-inflicted wounds!’ she added bitterly.
‘Here. You hold the mirror, and I’ll brush your hair for you’. Annie said. She knelt on the bed behind Indira, and began to brush gently. She always marvelled at how long, silky and luxuriant Indira’s black hair was, rolling down her back in waves almost to her waist. Indira sat quietly, not even flinching as Annie combed out the tangles.
‘Why did you do it, Indira?’ she asked, gently.
‘I felt so desperate and ashamed! I thought I’d let you all down! I..I just wanted to try to gain some…respect. I even did it without thinking. When I looked down and saw the blood, and felt the pain, I was just shocked! I’m truly sorry, Annie. Everything was just too much. I couldn’t bear it. I’d gone beyond my limit! All I’ve done is let you down again’.
‘There. Finished’. Annie put down the brush. ‘You haven’t let anyone down, Indira. It’s me that let you down, pushing you too far. Are you still coming?’
Indira nodded and sniffed, too overcome for words. She got up and began to put her things together. Then she stopped. ‘Annie? Have you thought how we must look to the faeries? All they must see is a bunch of foul-mouthed kids, spoilt brats, with one silly cow even sticking her hand to a table, on a jolly camping holiday! What must they think of us?’
‘Indira, whether you feel you have any self-respect or not, just remember this. The faeries know we’ve fought together with them, and they also know that we’ve fought worse battles ourselves than they ever have. Believe it or not, they respect and admire us for what we’ve done. That’s why they want us here. Do you really think they’re bothered by a few petty squabbles? They know we’re here to stop a war. So, are you coming?’
‘Dead right I am! Lead on, centurion’.
They joined the others at breakfast in the peristylium, who greeted Indira with delight, though looking in dismay at her bandaged arm. Ragimund began to spread out large-scale maps of Hyperborea on the table in front.
‘I will be leading you on our journey’, she announced, blushing at the chorus of cheers. Simon looked especially pleased.
‘Will Helios be coming?’ asked Annie, eagerly.
‘No, I’m afraid not, Annie. He is needed here. But you will see him before we set out’. Replied Ragimund, sympathetically. Mariko gave Annie’s hand a comforting squeeze. ‘There will be two others also accompanying us. Britomart felt we should take a physician, because of your injury’, looking at Indira, ‘so your healer, Thursday, will ride with us’.
‘What! Old Sawbones? Whoops! Sorry’. Indira sat back meekly.
‘That is his name, Please do not ask me why. He will travel in a light chariot, which will carry his equipment and other supplies. If you find the ride difficult, Indira, you could travel with him in that’.
‘No chance. I’m looking forward to getting even with those nags! I bet they’re going to take the piss out of me!’
Ragimund burst out laughing. ‘The time you have to worry is when they don’t! Their friendly insults are their way of showing they like you!’
‘Right! I can give them some grief back, then’.
‘You should know that the horses are also our eyes and ears, They hear everything that goes on in our land, as they will no doubt tell you’.
Simon grinned. ‘Equine spies! That’s a new one!’
‘Who’s the other traveller?’
‘Regina, another faery. She was the guard on duty yesterday, Annie’.
‘Sorry, I didn’t really notice her, with all the row going on’.
‘You might have a surprise when you see her. She is outside now. She has family in Mila, and Britomart wishes her to take some mail to my sister. Now, this is our route’. She pointed with a long slender finger at the map. ‘Out of Elsace, the road follows the northern shore of Lake Tabitha, with the mountains on our right. There will be two rivers to cross. From the northern tip of the lake, the road continues north-west, between the great forests on the left, and the mountain range, until we reach the western tip of Lake Miletus, and the port of Delas. We continue along its north-eastern side, crossing two more rivers. The city of Mila is on the northwest tip. From Mila, we continue northwest to Cestmos, one of our two most western cities. Just beyond Cestmos are our western walls where the fighting is. It is about five days ride to Mila, and at least two days more to Cestmos’.
They stared at the maps. ‘What happens when we get there?’ asked Annie.
‘I don’t know. You must discuss that with Gloriana’. With that, the meeting was over. It was time to start.
Outside, they mounted. They were all clad in light faery tunics and shorts, with the exception of Simon, who pointedly wore a T-shirt. There was a tremendous chorus of shrill wolf-whistles and ‘whorrrrr’s’ as Indira painfully mounted Bacchus, helped by Simon. She gathered the reins in her right hand, and glared at the horses around her.
‘What’s the matter, you lot? Never seen ladies’ legs before?’
‘Not like yours, darling!’ snickered one of the horses, amidst general guffaws. ‘Lovely fetlocks!’
‘Well now honey’, said Indira, putting on her mock American accent, ‘I can see that we’re all going to get along just dandy, aren’t we?’ She leant down to Bacchus’s ear as the others guffawed again. ‘Go easy, won’t you, Bacchus? Only, I’m still a bit fragile, and I don’t want the others to know’.
‘Don’t worry, lass’. I’ll look after you as if you were me own daughter’. Bacchus whispered back. ‘Not that I have one, mind you’.
‘Good morning, Annie, I am Regina. You might not remember me’.
Annie sat frozen in the saddle. Behind her she heard Simon gasp.
The faery looked up, puzzled. They saw the same young girl, the human turned faery, that they knew long ago from the great battle against the daemons on Brighton beach, the same slightly upturned nose with a sprinkling of freckles, the wide eyes, that Annie had closed in the dead face, and the mass of red hair, tumbling behind.
‘I…I’m sorry, Regina. It was just that you reminded me so much of someone we met. She was killed at the battle in Brighton’.
‘I’m so sorry. I would like very much to hear about that great battle, and how you defended your strongpoint! It is the stuff of legend! Perhaps later, on the journey!’ Regina smiled and walked back to her horse.
The jostling throng of riders had now resolved itself into an orderly procession. Britomart stood on the steps to bid them farewell, her hand raised palm outwards.
‘Annie!’ a voice said urgently. She looked down from her horse, Bucephalus.
‘Helios!’ she cried, joyfully.
Without even thinking, she leant down, pulled Helio’s startled head towards her, and kissed him long and hard on the lips. She leant back and smiled down at him.
‘I’ll see you when we get back’, she said very softly.
Helios was too overcome for words, so he just nodded his head, looking rather dazed. There was another chorus of loud wolf-whistles and raspberry-blowing from the horses, as they slowly began to trot towards the main road from the palace. Annie turned around in the saddle and looked back at the small knot of faeries gathered around Britomart in the wide courtyard. She waved at Helios, who stood, looking rather stupid, but then waved back.
Mariko, who rode beside her, laughed suddenly. ‘He looks as if he has been struck by the moon!’
‘I think I am too! I certainly have my moments’.
They descended the path down from the palace, its tall cubes and rectangles white and gleaming in the sun, windows small dark slits in each surface, and through an arched triumphal gate, turning right onto the great boulevard known as the Path of Venus. Its broad expanse stretched onwards to a great green park, the burnished copper dome of the observatory glinting above the treetops in the distance. Elsace, as they knew, was built on a broad flat plain, but the absence of hills and valleys was compensated for by the architecture of the varied language of lintel, entablature and portico, built of polished stone and crystalline, veined marble. They rode in twos: Ragimund and Simon in front, followed by Annie and Mariko, and, behind them, Indira and Pei-Ying. Thursday’s chariot was at the rear, pulled by two smaller horses, gossiping quietly with each other, and Regina’s mount trotting alongside.
The broad road was lined on both sides with great pedimented facades, rising to two or three storeys high, their columns tapering upwards, fluted and winking in the dazzling morning sun. Large marble steps rose up in tiers to their grand entrances, and others were set back from the avenue, creating small plazas or squares, in which fountains splashed endlessly, and tall statues of faery warriors stood, looking down curiously at the traffic. The pavements were broad and wide each side of the avenue, with stone troughs for thirsty horses spaced at intervals along the edge, beneath which water ran, gurgling and flowing within wide gutters, bridged by stone slabs. Even at this early hour, there were many people strolling, some brightly coloured in striped silk and linen robes, patterned in purples, blues, greens and reds: others in the short white tunics and sandals that the faeries chose to wear. Many women wore long gowns, with mantillas pinned by gold brooches at the shoulder, and small metal tiaras or combs in their hair Some were already sitting and talking in the open restaurants in the small squares, around small iron café tables, above which red, green, blue and yellow parasols created a mosaic of colour amidst the gleaming white facades.
Riders, chariots and carts were already pouring into the city, on their way to the markets, shops and warehouses on their left. They passed by the great curved building of the theatre with columns set into its walls one tier above the other, and behind it a forest of masts and spars, their sails trussed, of the ships in harbour, with the shimmering blue surface of the lake stretching out into the hazy distance beyond. The hubbub of voices and the clatter of carts and horses mingled with their own enclosed world of creaking harness, the jingle of bridle and stirrup, and the snort and grunt of the horses moving beneath them. Already the sun was hot upon their backs, warm upon their bare legs, and beginning to weigh upon the swords, wrapped in canvas, slung across their backs.
Mariko’s head was turning back and forth in delight as she drank in all the sights of, what for her, was a brave new world, one she had never seen before. ‘Annie, look! They are Japanese!’ She pointed at a small group of people, a family, old and young, clad in what looked like intricately patterned kimonos, the adults holding small solemn children by the hand, passing by.
She cried out to them ‘Konnichi Wa!’ The small group paused, then saw Mariko. The elders spoke to the children, and then, in accord, bowed. One shouted something, but it was lost in the sound around them. Mariko stood up in her stirrups and bowed too, then sat back, her face alive with excitement.
‘They are Japanese, Annie! Here in Hyperborea! How wonderful!’
Annie smiled affectionately at her. She loved Mariko’s child-like sense of excitement and wonder, never judgmental, but enthralled at everything she took in.
‘You don’t feel home-sick, then, Mariko?’ she asked, mischievously.
‘Oh no, Annie! Not any more! Look! Look! The mountains!!’ she pointed ahead. They had turned off the Path of Venus, and were heading directly towards the lake. Above the jumbled white cubes on their right, the deep grey-green flanks of the foothills rose up on the eastern shore of the great blue lake, and higher still, rose the cracked and fissured mountain range, peak after snow-capped peak soaring, outlined against the cobalt sky, ascending majestically, one after the other, each one higher still, into the soft smudge of the northern horizon. Annie gasped in wonder.
She heard Ragimund’s voice above the tumult of noise around them. ‘This is where all our craftspeople live! And the artists, too!’ She gazed around. To her left, she looked down two long arcaded rows of buildings that faced out onto open spaces, entirely taken up with a myriad of open stalls and canopies of striped and mottled cotton and canvas, in many different colours. The spaces between the stalls were crowded with people of all kinds, pale-skinned, olive -hued and dark ebony, some fully robed, others semi-naked under the hot sun, all engaged in talking, arguing, shouting, buying and selling from the huge heaps of fruit, vegetables, pistachios, almonds, and sweetmeats from the stall-holders behind, sweating in the heat, exchanging good-natured abuse in a cacophony of languages that she didn’t understand. Barefoot children ran around, craftily stealing when the stall-holder wasn’t looking. A huge pile of fat juicy tomatoes, bright red and glistening, collapsed, as one child pulled out a fruit. The stall-holder bellowed something and shook his fist as the urchin scampered off with his prize. The odour of spices hung in the air, nutmeg, cloves, saffron, turmeric and cinnamon, and the sharper tang of basil, oregano and sweet dill. Beyond, Annie could see boats and ships of all kinds, jostling and thumping together in the soft swell of the harbour.
But on the right, she was amazed. Pile upon pile of white, cream and yellow-coloured buildings tumbled and balanced haphazardly upon each other. There were doors and windows suspended in mid-air, until one realised that there were rope ladders, and even just ropes, nailed roughly to the walls, below them. The apartments, if they were that, lay at right-angles and even diagonally on top of each other, propping each other up, as if they were on the verge of collapse. Small narrow stone steps led to doorways on the lower ones, but above, they became small rickety wooden stairs, each one linked to the other by festoons of equally fragile walkways of wooden planks and rope handholds. Potted plants and flowers filled every visible roof-top. Small figures, in all kinds of garments – old cloaks, worn-down patched dresses, any variety of hats, grubby vests and tunics, sat or crouched outside doorways or even on the stairs. Others were busy on small metal or stone sculptures and figurines, in the shade of ragged and tattered canopies crudely attached to small dilapidated sheds and lean-to’s on the ground below. The pungent smells of olive oil and cooking hung in the air. Squatting groups of exotic and scantily dressed men. women and children forgot their gossip, and stared curiously at their little procession on the road.
Annie realised that this was the artists’ quarter of Elsace. She giggled. It was so messy, so squalid, so ridiculous, compared to the austerity and splendour of the rest of the city. But it was comforting, intimate, a place of vitality where wonderful works of art could grow and flourish. She liked it very much, simply for its disorder, its chaos and sheer silliness. This was another side to faeries that she had not expected. As she looked, a small, tanned male figure with long flowing blonde hair, clad only in a loincloth, leant dangerously over one of the ropes on a broken catwalk, hands raised aloft.
‘Long live art! Art lives here!’ it shouted, then grinned, extending a hand, palm outwards. Annie raised her hand in a similar greeting. The figure laughed, and loped across the swaying bridge, disappearing into an open doorway. Ragimund turned around in her saddle and smiled. ‘An art student! I was one, once!’ Annie shook her head in wonder, trying to think of Ragimund, quiet, polite but utterly ferocious at times, being an unkempt, scruffy student of creativity.
The road turned again sharply, this time running along the lakeshore. Beds of waving reeds and bulrushes stood along the water’s edge. There were occasional fishermen who patiently threw their lines again and again into the water. Clusters of small, white, rectangular houses and villas lay scattered between the water’s edge and the road, that had narrowed until it was about thirty feet across, its smooth surface dented and cracked here and there by cart wheels and the imprint of hooves. They could hear the banging of hammers, and saw the rough outlines of metal tripods and other ornaments that were produced there, standing under striped awnings in little courtyards. They turned northwards to follow the road.
‘There are palaces! Palaces in the water!’ Mariko cried out suddenly.
They all reined to a halt. As they had reached a bend in the road, following the shoreline, they could all see them. The nearest was a great edifice anchored in the lake itself, connected to the shore by a slender bridge, supported by low brick arches. Courtyards spread around it, planted with tall poplars and cypress trees, enclosed by balustrades, lined with small busts of faery figures. The central buildings rose up, each surmounted by smaller rectangular structures above it, to form a kind of ziggurat. The upper buildings were green, but as they looked, they saw they were covered in ivy, carefully cut around the windows embedded into the walls, facing outwards both to the lake and towards the road. Tall thin masts marked each corner, from which pennants flew. Just behind, linked by another bridge, was a smaller building, rectangular in shape, pierced by regularly spaced windows. In the distance was another palace, identical to the nearest. The steep hillside on the shore behind was terraced, and covered with dark green vines planted in terraces, irrigated by small gullies that carried water down to the lake. Above them stood the mountains, glistening with fresh snow. Small boats, with curving canopies above, providing shelter from the sun, glided across the still blue waters of the lake, two of them nestling against a set of steps, that broadened out to meet the lapping water on the nearest side, staining the lower arched foundations a light green.
‘They are our institutes of learning!’ called Ragimund. ‘This one nearest is for the arts, and the other, sciences. All faeries attend our institutes as part of their education. Education is free to all, men and women, in Hyperborea!’
Simon turned around to Annie. ‘That makes a change! Not like our universities, where you have to mortgage yourself for life to pay for it!’
Annie trotted her horse next to Ragimund. ‘Who does pay for it?’ she asked bluntly.
‘Our government, of course. Since every faery is a citizen of this land, then people and their talents and skills, are an investment for the good of our country. There is no such thing as a useless person here, Annie’.
‘What happens if they choose to drop out?’
‘We let them’. Replied Ragimund, simply. ‘It is part of the process of growing up. But no-one really wants to be useless all the time. It is boring after a while. I know, because I dropped out before I came of age. Yes, I did,’ she added, mischievously, seeing their faces, ‘but I was tired of it after a while. I enjoyed the freedom from responsibility, but it was not what I wanted to do. I knew I had to achieve something in my life, so I came back to my citizen’s duties. I felt I had to, because I care for my land and my people’.
‘Does that include military service? Are you all conscripted?’ asked Simon curiously.
‘Not in the sense that you mean, Simon. Every faery citizen is a soldier, and trained for war. We are all prepared for that, when it is necessary. It is part of our lives’.
‘What about pacifists? Those who oppose war entirely?’
‘You should ask Thursday that. He detests war, even though he is skilled in it. He is a physician instead, adept in healing. He is dedicated to his vocation, as are so many others. But, if he saw his friends or family attacked, he would become a warrior again to protect them. If someone truly hates war, then they find other ways to be of service. We respect that, and we need them’.
By now, they had passed the palaces of learning and the road became steeper, the country more rugged and broken. The foothills began to descend upon them, forcing the road to rise and fall over the rocky contours. They saw an occasional small villa or farm with large courtyards, surrounded by patchworks of dark green cultivated orchards and vineyards. Slowly, the landscape became jagged, and hard-edged.
Great grey-green stones lay upright, their sharp angles and planes softened by a layer of bright green moss and lichens, shading at times into an off-white on the most exposed crags and peaks. Small clumps of cypresses, firs and cedars dotted the bleak terrain, rooted precariously in rocky outcrops, stunted and misshapen by wind and weather. It was difficult country to cross, and inhabited only by shaggy brown goats, who cropped the small patches of short grass, staring ruminatively at them with small black eyes.
By midday, the sun had become scorching, and the horses were beginning to tire. Annie touched her head and found her own hair was hot to the touch. But Ragimund led them off the road to a small grove of cypresses that provided shelter, enclosing a large sunken stone trough, fed by a small rushing stream that flowed down from the hills. They dismounted, the horses jostling around the trough, drinking greedily. The trees provided a welcome dappled shade. Sitting against the tree-trunks, they drank from water-bottles, and began to eat the flatbreads, figs and soft raisins they had brought with them.
The lake was behind them, obscured by small rocky cliffs that spread out like mountainous fingers into the lake itself. Annie stared out at the landscape. Tall pillars and columns of stone reared up from the mossy ground, that fell away into a deep valley. The other side of the valley was clothed in a forest of dense dark firs, and rising up beyond that, a great grey cliff, cracked and seamed. Birds flittered and circled around it, their cries carrying in the clear air. Beyond were sharp, deeply angled peaks, their upper slopes lightly powdered with white, and, rising in the distance behind, the highest mountains, facetted in black and white.
She was still amazed at how everything seemed so strong, bright and vivid. She could see every detail of every stone and crack, even the scuttling movement of a small lizard or large insect, from many yards away. She tried to define exactly what this quality was. It was as if everything was tangible, solid, almost luminous, as if she could rub it between her fingers, feeling its texture and substance. An odd word floated into her mind – “claritas”. She didn’t understand what it meant, but it seemed to indicate that sense of vitality and immediacy she felt. She stared at the variations of colour on the rocks, how they softly merged into each other, dotted with tiny edelweiss flowers.
‘May I join you?’ Annie looked up in surprise. It was Thursday, the physician.
He settled down beside her, drawing up his long legs beneath his grey robe. Annie studied his profile carefully. When she had first seen him, she had thought of him, rather unkindly, with his long, straight, slightly curved nose, as resembling a bird of prey, a vulture, perhaps. But his cowl was thrown back, revealing close-cropped black hair. He suddenly smiled, his face transformed, the angular features of his bony face stronger and more simple, almost gentle.
‘Can I ask you something?’ He pulled out a small book from his leather satchel. ‘Do you have any knowledge of this?’ As Annie took it from him, she gasped in amazement. ’I know this book!’ she cried. ‘It’s one of my favourites! My father used to read this to me as a child!’ She read the front cover. ‘”G.K. Chesterton, The man who was Thursday”’. She turned to the frontispiece. ‘”1908”, in our time. That’s when it was published’.
‘It was my father’s. He bequeathed it to me when I was born. I only read it much later. He must have bought it from a trader with your world. But I love it, Annie. The idea of a secret detective, hoping to unmask a band of anarchist villains, who realise, one by one. that they themselves, are all detectives, suspecting each other! I find that remarkably amusing’.
‘Why are you telling me this, Thursday? Did your father name you after this secret agent?’
‘He did. He felt it was an amusing joke. But I learnt a great deal from reading the book. It told me that no-one is ever what they seem’. He got up and held out his hand for the book. Annie gave it back to him, watching him carefully as he walked to the chariot, propped under the trees, and began to sort out the disordered baggage.
‘I don’t trust him’. Said a voice. Annie looked around, startled. Indira was behind another tree. She got up painfully, and sat down beside Annie.
‘You were listening!’ Annie said, accusingly.
‘Yes, I was. I don’t trust him!’
‘You said that already’ Annie replied, calmly. She was thinking of how Indira hated doctors. One of her favourite uncles, who had always been kind to her, was diagnosed as having a stomach ulcer. Instead, it proved to be terminal cancer of the liver. He died three months later, in agony. Indira had never forgotten it.
‘Ragimund said something about him being a warrior once. I wonder if that’s true’. Annie said, thoughtfully.
‘He’s still a quack, and mysterious too! What was that all about? Was he trying to tell you something?’
Annie shook her head. ‘I don’t know. I’m going to talk to Ragimund’.
Ragimund was busy saddling her horse. ‘We must move on now, Annie, to reach the village of Malos before dusk’.
‘Ragimund’, Annie lowered her voice. ‘We have some disquiet about our physician. It may be nothing, but….’
Ragimund looked at her, her eyes hard grey. ‘He is a well-known physician, Annie. He has helped many faeries in the past’.
‘I’m sure that’s true, but I have a feeling of, well, unease’.
‘I trust your instincts, Annie. That is good enough for me’. She motioned to Regina, who trotted over. ‘Regina, observe our physician friend. Discreetly’. Regina inclined her head and went back to her horse.
‘Thank you, Ragimund. It may be nothing’.
‘No matter, Annie’. She smiled. ‘I feel so happy that I am able to show you our land. It pleases me very much. When we come to the forests, I would like to take you on a detour. There are things I would like to show you and Simon’.
They rode on for the rest of the afternoon. The light was beginning to fade, as they heard the gurgle and roar of water ahead. The sun was low, and the sky had become a soft pearly blue, sunlight still flashing on outcrop and peak. The sound of a river was louder now, and, as they turned the last bend, descending downwards, they saw a wide stone bridge straddling a brown and white torrent below, racing hungrily towards the invisible lake. On the other side, clustered a range of buildings of various shapes and sizes, with low-slung, red pantiled roofs. A tall cream-coloured watchtower stood on one side of the road, as it wound on, with small slitted apertures that covered any possible hostile advance. It looked comfortable, the buildings fitting snugly into the contours of the slopes, though with an atmosphere of alertness.
Two lines of faeries, armed, with helmets pushed back on their heads, stood waiting on the other side. The air was full of damp moisture from the river beneath, flowing headlong from the mountains above. Annie caught the flash of arrowhead and spear-tip from windows above. They reined to a halt, the horses gasping and snorting. It had been a hard ride.
A tall male faery stepped forward, his helmet also pushed back in Greek style over his dark curly hair. Annie noticed with surprise, through her tiredness, that he was black, with a carefully trimmed small beard.
‘Welcome, Ragimund! We have been expecting you. The stables and food are ready’.
‘It is good to see you again, Darius! How is your family?’
‘They are good, and all is well. So long there is no war’. He looked at Indira’s white bandage with concern. ‘Alas, a beautiful wounded human lady! Can we provide any assistance?’
‘We have our physician with us’ Ragimund replied, very carefully.
‘Have you got any Turkish Delight? For the horses, I mean. They like their little treats’. Indira had pushed in, looking Darius up and down with obvious pleasure.
‘Of course. We know our horses! Here, lady. You must do the honours’. Indira took the bag of sweetmeats from him, still eyeing him speculatively.
‘’Come on you lot! No pushing! Mind my arm!’ Despite this, the horses gathered around Indira, pushing and shoving, until she was lost to sight.
‘She is irrepressible!’ laughed Ragimund, next to Annie. ‘You are so blessed to have such good friends!’
Annie looked at Ragimund. She looks so radiant, she thought. Ragimund’s long dark hair fell in ringlets around her face, the lines of worry that she had noticed before, now gone. Ragimund looked like a beautiful young gypsy, with her high cheekbones and her soft wide mouth smiling back at her. No wonder that Simon has fallen in love with her, she decided, and smiled back, affectionately.
‘I know. There are so many sides to faeries. I know that now. But why are you so ferocious at times?’
Ragimund’s smile disappeared, her mouth set in a cruel hard line, eyes suddenly grey.
‘It is in our nature, Annie. We are cruel and merciless in battle, when we need to be’. Her face softened again. ‘But we have had to be, because of our past. Perhaps the forest will tell you more’. She stroked Annie’s arm gently, and then turned to supervise the stabling of the horses, and rescue Indira, who came over to Annie, slightly breathless and dishevelled.
‘I like her very much’. Indira looked back at Ragimund. ‘She and Simon are a real item, aren’t they?’
Annie looked hard at Indira, who wore a face of pure innocence. She sighed.
‘I used to hate her, but now I don’t. By the way, you’ve got horse slobber all down your hair’.
‘Dammit! I hate those nags!’
Annie just grinned.
They set off the next morning from Malos, with a chorus of farewells, Indira turning back to look yearningly at the commander, Darius. They had ate, bathed and slept well, though their tiredness had prevented them from much conversation with other travellers. There had been other faeries travelling back from Mila, but they could only say that, for the moment, there were few signs of conflict. The only signs of apprehension came from a vaguely Turkish-looking family, who conversed in their own language, occasionally glancing at them, warily. They stopped at midday, at another small hamlet, on the banks of another river, and ate lunch in an orchard, in the shade of small apple trees, before descending down into a small valley. Dusk was falling, but they could still see, dimly, a great wall of forest, that loomed up, on the left of the road.
As they gathered together in the small courtyard of the large pantiled inn. Thursday spoke to Annie. ‘That’, he indicated the forest, ‘is where we gather our herbs and natural medicines. Our vocation is based upon the remedies of nature, and we regularly go to forests for our supplies and to find new ones. They are our treasury for cures. Ragimund will take us there tomorrow, where one of our forums is held’.
‘Forums? What are they?’ Annie asked curiously.
‘Meeting-places, where physicians, such as myself, meet, to exchange information and discuss our findings. It is very important to us. I am looking forward to it’. He turned and vanished into the gathering twilight. A man of few words, Annie decided, but she couldn’t help but begin to like him, committed as he was to the arts of healing. She still felt some suspicion. What had he tried to tell her, however obscurely? She shrugged, and went inside to join the others.
On the third day, the landscape had completely changed. The mountains still loomed sonorously above them to the right, but there was no lake, only a great green avalanche of trees on their left, rising aloft to the sky. Between the trunks there was only a green-brown darkness, with an occasional gleaming white branch highlighted in the wooded twilight. A woody, resinous scent filled the air. Ragimund abruptly turned her horse and began to descend into a narrow muddy track that seemed to lead into the heart of the forest itself.
The yellow-green foliage above seemed to close above their heads, shutting out the sun above, penetrating only in shafts of hard bright light. The dense leaves that surrounded them whispered and glowed, as if strangers were in their midst. The atmosphere was dull, lit only by the motes of spores and particles that flitted around them. Somebody sneezed, the sound echoing in the silence, with a broken tattoo of dark thumps and whispers, the sound of the forest talking. They followed the path, the horses grumbling to themselves as their feet slipped and slithered on the moist wet mulch beneath. They rode on beneath the rustling canopy above.
They were almost blinded by the light of the sky that shone down on the open glade they had entered. In the centre was a huge tree. Its huge trunk was about twenty feet across, gnarled and knotted with age. Its huge branches, spread out like fingers, had given birth to smaller trunks that had rooted into the ground and stood out like walking figures, twisted and laden, sons of the almighty giant. Underneath its heavy branches, weighed with dense leaves, were large groups of grey-robed figures, talking and arguing vehemently, with upraised fingers and arms, as they gesticulated wildly.
‘Those are my brethren!’ cried Thursday, delightedly, as he swung down from the chariot, and ran to greet them with outstretched arms. Several of the grey-robed figures got up and embraced him with cries of pleasure. They looked around in surprise. Men and women, of all ages, all clad in the same grey robes that Thursday wore, were sitting or crouched around small piles of fungi, dried herbs and seeds, which were obviously a source of great excitement.
‘This one is a new cure for palsy! I only came across it yesterday!’ Annie overheard.
‘This one is remarkably good for rheumatism! You rub it in, onto the afflicted areas…..’
‘Ragimund!. May I follow you later? I have much to discuss here!’
Ragimund grinned and waved. ‘As you wish, physician’. She led the way down another dark track and back into the surrounding forest. The trees closed around and above them, as if they were travelling in a huge green cavern, branches and leaves brushing across their faces. Annie suddenly stopped short, her hands tightening on the reins. Bucephalus gave a disgruntled snort.
‘There are heads! Heads in the trees!’
They all stopped and looked around. Cradled in the forks of the lower trees, on each side of the track were small hairless ovoids, some sculpted in marble, others cast in bronze. They lay on their sides, their eyes closed, serene, lost in their own gentle slumber, lips slightly parted. They passed by quietly, as if afraid of waking them. Annie suddenly realised that they were the work of faery artists, sculptors who chose to place their newborn creations in the very arms of nature. Perhaps there were more to come.
Half an hour later, Ragimund paused, pulling her horse to a halt. ‘Look’. She pointed. Down a small path, that led to a clearing in the dense forest, stood a huge golden head, that stood, almost six feet high. Its blank eyes stared down at a rotting log in front of its face, that swarmed with small insects. The face, with its long aquiline nose, was that of a faery, but despite its repose, wore an expression of deep sorrow. Cast in gilded bronze, it stood alone and forlorn amidst the buzzing and twittering life around it.
‘That is Tellius, one of our ancestors. He was our leader before we came here’. Ragimund said abruptly, and kicked her horse to go on. They rode on, feeling puzzled by Ragimund’s manner. She was clearly in no mood to explain further. Above them, the great green canopy hung, full of sounds and life, chattering, whooping, twittering and cackling. Small furry things flashed briefly through the overhanging branches, too quick to be seen. Lizards and small snakes scuttled and slithered away at their approach, and small bright yellow frogs perched on decaying logs by the side of the small brooks and rivulets that ran through the floor of the forest, their throats pulsating wildly. Clumps of wild flowers, small blue periwinkles, pink and red oleander, narcissi, irises and even crocuses flowered luxuriantly in the patches of bright sunlight that sometimes pierced the foliage above.
‘Everything seems to grow here!’ Mariko whispered. ‘This forest is so alive!’
‘Look, Mariko! Just ahead!’ Annie pointed. They were emerging out into another broad sunny glade, so bright that it almost blinded then for a few moments. Ragimund had trotted to the far end of the glade, waiting for them. Simon, still mounted, was gazing up at the great figure that towered above him.
‘Now that’s what I call a sculpture!’ Bucephalus snorted appreciatively. It was a giant bronze horse, jet-black in colour, but about three times the size of a live animal. It stood, head reared, its sculpted eyes seething with rage. lips drawn back from the large teeth in a snarl. The body was tense, alive, almost crackling with a brutal power. This was no ordinary horse: its very muscles and sinews bulged with sheer strength and pent-up fury.
The others rode up and dismounted, staring up at the giant creature. The horses also stared curiously, shifting uneasily from leg to leg.
‘Crikey! He’s a big bastard, isn’t he?’ muttered one of the horses.
‘That’s a proper war-horse, that is!’ replied Bacchus. ‘Look at the muscles on him!’
‘Annie! Simon! There are figures beneath! Look!’ cried Mariko. Annie had not even noticed them before They were almost transparent, their bodies and heads woven out of gossamer-like silver wire, only visible as the sunlight reflected on their forms. There were three: two of them scrabbling and scampering away in fear from the great horse. The third lay beneath the mighty left leg, poised to smash down onto the prostrate figure, who had flung out an arm in horror at impending death. They had no faces, but the language of their bodies told volumes of terror. The sun was hot, but all of them felt a cold chill of shock, at the great beast about to trample upon its victims.
Annie suddenly felt Simon’s hand on her arm. ‘I need to talk to you, urgently!’ She sensed the worry in his voice. They walked, side by side, out of earshot of the others.
‘I’m worried about Ragimund. She seems so, I don’t know how to say it, depressed and miserable. She won’t talk to me. Her eyes are grey, Annie! It seems like….’ Simon hesitated, ‘as if she’s taking us on a journey, that she’s frightened of herself!’
Annie looked across the glade. Ragimund sat on her horse, head bowed. Her horse was peacefully grazing on the grass at the edges of the clearing.
‘What do you expect me to do about it, Simon?’ she asked, quietly.
‘I don’t know’.
Just then, Ragimund shook her reins and disappeared between the trees and into the dark forest again. They quickly mounted, and followed her tracks. Indira was last, her wound beginning to hurt, though the faery Regina helped her. ‘Wait for me!’ she cried plaintively, though they had disappeared from sight. Cursing, she followed, Bacchus making sympathetic noises. They passed through another dark forest tunnel, that opened out into a further glade.
‘Thanks for waiting for me, you lot!’ she yelled, and then stopped in horror. The other had gathered, still on their horses, staring, white-faced at the scene before them. ‘Oh, blimey, this is bad’. muttered Bacchus. ‘Don’t look if you don’t want to, lass’. But she did. Bacchus and Indira trotted slowly up to the others, and looked upon the ghastly tableaux before them.
It was sculpted in blackened bronze, but that did not detract from its horrifying realism. A small hut or cottage lay in ruins, the roof collapsed. Its broken wooden walls charred and splintered, their jagged edges open to the blue sky. A dark figure, a woman, lay curled on the ground, close to what remained of the door, her twisted fingers curled around a newborn child, a great rod or spear embedded deep into her back, that stood almost upright. Another figure, a male, lay on its back, arms outspread, torso ripped apart by a savage sword cut, ribs torn open and gaping. In the doorway stood another male figure, half skeleton, half flesh, remnants of which hung down from the body, head, and outstretched arms. Its mouth, in what remained of its face, was open wide, in a silent scream of agony. It had been a human torch, and they could almost still smell the sweet stench of burning flesh, and acrid scent of smouldering wood and thatch.
It was hard for any of them to think about their feelings, as they stood gazing at the sculptured vision of death before them. But there was worse to come. About thirty yards away, Ragimund stood before yet another scene. They had dismounted, and began to walk slowly towards her, the horses in an agitated huddle behind. Again, they looked up. A tall bronze tree stood up in the bright clearing, no more than a skeleton, its branches bare of leaves. A human figure was pinned against the trunk, large cruel nails driven through its hands and feet. The lifeless bronze eyes were open, dilated, the mouth open in a silent scream of agony. Indira cried out in shock.
Towards the ends of two outstretched branches hung two smaller figures, suspended around the neck by thick ropes. They swung slowly in the soft breeze that had sprung up. Annie cried out in horror. They were children, a boy and a girl, no more than seven or eight years old. The girl’s hair hung like a cloak from her face, tilted awkwardly to one side. Her eyes looked bewildered.
Annie whirled around. ‘Ragimund! What is the meaning of these terrible things!’ But Ragimund was slowly plodding along the path away from the glade, leading her horse by its bridle. Her figure was even more slumped, her eyes fixed on the ground. They began to follow her silently, leading their own horses, glad to turn their backs on that bronze tree and its gruesome fruit, also sculpted in bronze. The path led upwards, as the trees thinned, giving way to smaller sycamores, beeches and ashes. At the end of the trail they could see the bright road, curving away to the northwest, with the mountains beyond. But they also saw something else, which stopped them dead in their tracks.
Great grey stones, moss-covered and ancient, lined the path up which Ragimund was walking. In the upper part of each stone was carved a single great eye, their great pupils unblinking and glistening in the late afternoon sun. The stones stood upright, but some tilted at a drunken angle, and others had fallen, their eyes still glinting through the tall grass around them. They hesitantly began to walk along the path, between the great eyes on each side, that seemed to follow them as they moved. Annie had begun to tremble violently, and she clasped her own eye medallion tightly in her hand. Strangely, as she passed the first stones, she stopped trembling, her fear replaced by wonder and curiosity. The stones showed no emotion as they passed, only a curious remoteness, their very age and antiquity clouding the air. She noticed that the eyes were made of white enamel, with the pupil made from a black glass ball, that reflected her own image back at her. Finally they stood at the side of the road, the horses anxious and subdued. As they looked back, they could still see those eyes, regarding them without emotion.
‘Where is Ragimund?’ Simon asked anxiously. She was kneeling on the ground, bent over, her back to them. Her horse, a brown mare with patches of white, stood in the shade, looking at her rider anxiously. She turned her head, shaking it. Something was terribly wrong with Ragimund, and as they quietly gathered around her, they could see why.
She was crying bitterly, heaving with great sobs. Her tears fell like water, splashing onto her tunic and knees, unheeded, her fingers scrabbling at the moss and grass on the ground beneath. They knelt down in a circle around her, not knowing what to do. Simon tried to put his arms around her but she brushed him away fiercely. They had never seen a faery break down like this before, in such utter misery and despair.
They sat patiently, dismayed and desperately concerned. Simon looked stunned and frightened. After a few minutes, Ragimund’s sobs began to subside, and she began to gather herself together. When she finally, clasped her hands together in her lap, Annie decided to speak.
‘What is the matter, Ragimund? You must tell us. What was the real reason for bringing us into the forest?’
Ragimund gulped, turned her head to briefly look back at the trees, and began to talk.
‘The forest, for us, is a place where our legends, our mysteries, our mythologies are created through our art and our sculpture. It is a timeless present, where our culture and our history come together. Our Celtic origins mingle with our own new world, which crosses many thousands of years’. She paused, and sniffed, noisily, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. ‘It is also a place where our evils come alive, a stage upon which our fears are re-enacted. Before we came to this land, we were mercenaries. We were feared and hated for our cruelty, our brutality. You have now seen some of what our ancestors did. I wanted you to see how terrible, we, and myself, were. I desired you to see for yourselves just who we really are. I feel ashamed, and guilty of what we did! You must have no illusions about us! I am deeply sorry to distress you. Please, if you can, forgive me!’
Annie looked very hard at Ragimund, who was now staring miserably at the ground. ‘Your ancestors did those things, Ragimund, many generations before you and the other faeries were even born! How can you still blame yourselves for that? You are not responsible for what they did all that time ago!’
‘Collective guilt complex! Load of crap!’ Indira climbed painfully to her feet, leaning on Pei-Ying for support. ‘Listen! If you feel that about what your long-lost ancestors did, then every single person here is just as guilty! Our world and our lot have done far worse things! So forget it! Mind you’, she said thoughtfully, ‘there is something a lot wrong with you and your people’.
Ragimund looked up, uncertain and apprehensive. ‘What is it?’
‘Your sense of humour. Wouldn’t you agree, Pei-Ying?’
Pei-Ying nodded, her face solemn. ‘The worst case I’ve ever seen’.
Ragimund looked bewildered. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Your sense of humour. You haven’t got one’.
Simon burst out laughing. ‘They’re teasing you, Ragimund!’
‘Oh’. Said Ragimund weakly.
Indira smiled at her with such genuine tenderness, that Annie realised how easily Indira could break hearts.
‘Lighten up, faery queen. You’re with your friends, remember?’
Ragimund’s face slowly lit up with gratitude and happiness, as she realised what Indira had just said. But Indira simply turned round and shouted back at the group of horses behind. ‘Oi, you lot of lazy plods! Get over here! We’ve still got some way to go!’
Annie grinned. They mounted and rode onwards to the distant inn where they would stay for the night.
They set out again the next day, for the last leg of the journey towards Lake Miletus, and then the city of Mila. The riding was weighing heavily upon them now, particularly Indira, who was in pain, but still insisted on mounting a horse. Annie had lain awake with unanswered questions, and heard the rattle of chariot wheels, as Thursday returned, late at night. He was behind them now, comfortable and relaxed, despite his long day. Beside him rode Regina, her face expressionless. Annie wondered why, and for a moment a fleeting moment of uncertainty came into her mind. Then she dismissed it. As usual, she rode beside Mariko, under the bright sun, already uncomfortably hot. She turned to her.
‘Mariko, you’re the wisest of us. What did you make of what happened yesterday?’
Mariko grinned at the compliment, then grew serious. ‘I think that Ragimund was very brave to open herself up in the way she did. She revealed all her own doubts and fears to us. It must have been a great ordeal for her! But I respect and admire her. She showed that she is human, like us, despite being a faery’
‘I was saddened for her’.
‘We all were. Annie, I think that Ragimund may be a great warrior, fierce in battle, and a skilled general, but despite that, she is lonely and vulnerable. Perhaps, insecure also’.
‘What makes you say that?’ asked Annie curiously.
‘I suspect that her sisters may not have been very kind to her in the past. She is the youngest, after all. But I am glad she seems to be so happy again today, especially after what Indira said’. Annie looked ahead, where Ragimund was smiling and laughing happily with Simon. She had heard both of them talking late into the night.
‘I think you’re right, Mariko. You usually are. But I must go and ask her a question’. She prodded her grumbling horse forward to ride alongside Ragimund and Simon.
‘Ragimund, what were those stones with eyes?’
Ragimund smiled. ‘That is what we call them. “Stones-with-Eyes”. They are part of the remnants of the civilisation that existed here long before we arrived. But one of our most famous sculptors, Meridias, carved those eyes, to give those ancient people a presence, so that they could look upon us. He calls them “Watchers”, like that emblem on the seal you all wear. Were you afraid of them, Annie?’
‘No. I thought I would be, but I wasn’t’.
They are there not to judge us, but simply to observe, to allow ourselves, if we wish, to judge ourselves. Look!’ she pointed up.
Annie shaded her eyes, as Ragimund called a halt. High above them rose a great grey-green crag, part of the foothills that led to the white mountains beyond. Set into it, was a weathered, broken cream-coloured façade, part of a building that had literally been carved into the rock itself. Even from a distance, Annie could see it was richly patterned in low relief, that cast shadows across the crumbled surface. Large gaping entrances lay open at the base, surrounded by fallen masonry. Large cracks and fissures ran diagonally across the building, sorrowful, but still magnificent.
‘That is one of the many ruins that our ancient civilisation left behind. They literally created their buildings from the rocks themselves, Annie!’
‘Do you know anything about the people, the ones that built such things?’ asked Annie.
‘That is the strange thing’. Ragimund replied, hesitantly. ‘Our archaeologists have tried for centuries to find any inscriptions, any written records even, about them. But none seem to exist!’
‘But they must be there somewhere!’
‘But there is something even stranger. We have found some, but they have all been effaced! Cut away and destroyed!’
‘Not by faeries. We would wish to preserve them. No, before our time. All those that we have found were destroyed by the old people themselves, as if they wished to hide their identity! We know this, because the marks of chisels and other tools are ancient, not of our time! Why should they destroy the proof of their own existence, their own culture? It is still a great historical mystery to us! Perhaps, one day….’
Suddenly, as Ragimund spoke, Annie knew what she had sensed ever since they had started out, with total clarity. She saw the faery landscape as the bright vivid paint of reality that overlay the imprint of something underneath, a canvas painted over an old composition, itself laid on an ancient frame. She saw this world of Hyperborea as an overlay of textures old and new, that added depth and substance to everything. She looked now on the landscape as even more vibrant and flowing, perceiving the layers beneath it, as she experienced, in delight, the real knowledge of the visionary!
They rode on deeper into the gathering dusk that deepened into a rich twilight. It was still light enough to see, and the road shone luminously as it fell gradually downhill, between the lowering crags on each side. Then Ragimund stopped again, just before a great curve in the road to the right. It disappeared downwards.
‘Lake Miletus is just below us, and the port of Delas, where we will spend the night’.
‘What’s that strange sighing noise?’ asked Simon curiously. They all listened. There was a quiet singing in the air, as if someone was humming softly to themselves, a sound without words.
‘What are those?’ Annie pointed to a group of tall cylindrical forms standing on the hillside to their left. They glowed quietly in the gathering darkness. Shaped like organ pipes, of different sizes and heights, they each seemed to have a triangular dark opening, from which the sound came. Ragimund held up her finger in the air.
‘The wind is right! Wait until it freshens!’
A few moments later, the soft breeze began to strengthen, and as it did, music began to play. It was not music they knew, but just sounds, that rose and fell, echoing each other in a series of high, low and bass notes. As the wind sharpened, so the sounds grew louder, weaving and intermingling in a tapestry of ethereal voices, a fabric of cries and whispers, that rose and fell around them. It was a music they had never heard before, as light and airy as the sky. They listened entranced, for minutes, carried away by the soaring web of unseen singers. Then the wind shifted and veered slightly, and one by one, the voices fell away, leaving only the soft ululating sigh they had first heard. Then that too dissipated and vanished in the cold night air.
‘That was wonderful!’ breathed Annie. ‘It was like, like the voices of the heavens! It must be what the birds hear as they fly high in the sky!’
‘I have not heard them for such a long time!’ Annie could not see Ragimund’s face in the darkness, but she knew she was smiling softly. ‘When the wind is in the right direction, it blows through those pipes over there, to make music. The people of Delas are known for making musical instruments. They built them as a welcome to travellers. But we must go down to the port now. We are all weary, and tomorrow will bring something very different’.
‘What’s that?’ asked Simon curiously.
‘Tomorrow’, laughed Ragimund, joyfully, ‘we are going on a voyage!’
She said no more, and the tired travellers began to descend the long road down towards the pendant cluster of lantern lights of Delas, and the great dark expanse of the lake beyond.
Frank Jackson (30/03/11) – Word Count – 10524.