DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
The reckoning, and a discovery
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. They have now joined forces with both the faeries, led by Gloriana, the dragon leader, Dabar, his dragon-mate, Leila, and their friend. Mr Cuttle. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery, with whom they are now reunited. But there are still many things to face, and emotional decisions made.
Annie’s mobile rang at precisely two o’clock in the morning, just as she thought it would. She stirred and sat up in bed. She held the mobile to her ear. ‘Yes?’ she said softly’,
Annie looked across to the other bed , whose occupant was now also sitting up and listening.
‘Well, I never’, she said sharply. ‘I might have known it would be you. No-one else calls me at this unearthly hour. But then I suppose mangy cats like you tend to be about at that time, don’t they?’
‘My, my, kitten. We are in a bad mood, aren’t we?’
‘Yes, we are! You could try ringing at better times in future, Venoma! Like civilised people! Unlike you!’
She had said this for Morag’s benefit, who was now swiftly getting out of bed and putting on her dressing-gown. She mouthed silently to her. ‘Don’t make a sound! Go and get Simon!’ You’ll have to wait a few moments, Venoma. I’m going to get dressed’.
‘Don’t be long, kitten’.
Morag flitted softly out of the room in bare feet. She tapped quietly on Simon’s door. He opened it a few seconds later, looking drowsy and tired. But he was suddenly alert as he saw Morag’s serious expression.
‘We can’t go on meeting like this, Morag. Annie will get suspicious’.
‘Oh shut up! Venoma’s on the phone. Annie wants us there, now!’
‘Right’. He snatched up his notebook and a pencil. They went back to Annie’s room. But outside the door, Simon stopped. ‘I’ve told her about our bond, Morag. About Annabelle and your mum. She understands’.
Morag nodded. She felt relieved. She never wanted to keep secrets from Annie. They came in silently, and sat down on Morag’s bed, opposite Annie who had picked up her mobile again, as soon as she saw them.
‘Get on with it, Venoma. What do you want?’
‘I believe you made a promise to me, kitten. I want to know the answer. Now!’
‘Don’t you dare threaten me, you filthy bitch! I thought I killed you once, and I won’t hesitate to do it again! Do I make myself clear, Venoma?’
‘Of course. You really do have claws, don’t you, kitten? But you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?’
‘Yes, yes I do’. Annie took a deep breath. ‘Venoma, you do have a sister. She is alive and well’.
There was a long pause on the phone, There was still crackling and static on the line, as if the listener was far away. Then Venoma spoke again, in her silky voice.
‘Well. I never. So she’s still alive. Where is she?’ Her voice had hardened.
‘I’m not going to tell you, ever. If you try to come after her, I want you to know that she’s under our protection. If you even try, I’ll kill you, you disgusting bloody bitch! I won’t make any mistake this time!’
Annie said the last words with such vehemence, that Morag was shocked. She had never realised how vicious Annie could be.
‘But’, Annie continued, in an even voice, ‘I’ve got something for you. Something more precious than you expected. I think it’s more important to you than the knowledge that you have a sister. Do you want to find out what that is, Venoma?’
There was another long pause, Annie could only hear the hiss and crackle of static.
Simon whispered in Morag’s ear. ‘She’s baiting her! If she takes it, then they’ll have a meeting, which is what Annie wants! Just wait and see’.
‘How do I find out, kitten? Have you thought about that?’ The silky, honeyed voice was back on the line again.
‘Oh, yes’, Annie said, still in the same even voice. ‘I want to arrange a meeting with you, here, in Brighton. Just you and me, face to face. I’m not going to settle for anything else. Do you understand? Just you and me’.
‘I’m not sure about that, kitten. I’m not sure I’m able to trust you’.
‘Then you’ll never find out what I’m trying to give you back,Venoma, will you! I’ve had enough! You call me back if you change your mind! Otherwise, you’ll never find out!’ Annie switched off, and slammed the phone down on the table in fury. Her little figurines of the Commedia del’Arte jumped in surprise.
‘What have you done, Annie? You’ve just hung up on her!’ Morag cried, ‘What are you doing?’
‘I know what I’m doing, Morag’. Annie said calmly. ‘I’ve done this before. She’ll want to know. After all, they say, “Curiosity killed the cat”’.
She stared at the phone. ‘She’ll ring back, I know it’.
“I’ve never known you to be so angry, Annie. Except when you hit me’. Morag said sadly.
Annie looked at her tenderly. ‘I never wanted to hurt you, Morag. I’ll never forgive myself for that. But this is different. I want that bitch to know I mean what I say. She’ll ring back. She’s too curious now not to. You see, in a way, I know her just as she knows me. She’ll ring back’.
Morag sat quietly by Simon on the bed. She could almost feel the tension in each of them, coiled like an unreleased spring. She knew this meeting was going to be crucial. It might mean an end to the fear and fury that they had already been through. She knew it meant so much to both of them. Then the phone rang.
‘That wasn’t very nice of you, was it, kitten?’
‘I don’t feel disposed to be very nice to you at all, Venoma! Do we have a meeting or not?’
‘What old times!’ Annie snapped. ‘The times you tried to kill me! Do we have a meeting or not?’
There was another long pause, the static still crackling. Then Venoma spoke again. ‘Very well, kitten. We’ll meet in a little house that I know. I’ll be inside. Shall I tell you where it is?’
Simon scribbled frantically on his note-pad and held it up for Annie to see. “Don’t do that, Annie! It’s a trap! Tell her somewhere that’s more open!” Annie nodded. She had seen the danger, too. Morag sat there bewildered. She had now realised that a deadly game was going on.
‘No chance, Venoma. I’m not going into an enclosed space with you. The smell of your cheap perfume would kill me. Give me another location. Now, or I’ll hang up again!’
There was another long pause, still hissing and crackling. Then Venoma was back. There was a long sigh.
‘All right, kitten. Shall we say the courtyard of the King and Queen pub? Is that open enough for you so that pretty little nose of yours won’t be offended? The same time, tomorrow night!’
Annie looked across at Simon. He nodded, though he still looked doubtful.
‘How am I supposed to get in there, at that time in the morning?’
‘There’s a little side door, kitten. It will be unlocked’.
‘All right Venoma. We’ll meet there. But, you don’t bring any of your nasty little minions with you. Just you and me, Venoma. I mean it!’
‘Don’t you bring that nasty brother of yours with you either! I don’t trust him! He killed my dollies!’
‘You tried to kill him and my friends, you disgusting cow!’ Annie took another deep breath to regain her temper. She had felt the fires of rage beginning to mount inside her. ‘Just you and me. Venoma. Is that understood?’
‘Perfectly, kitten. I’ll see you there’. There was a sudden click and the line went dead.
‘That’s that then’. Annie said. ‘Just her and me. Is that understood, Simon?’
‘I’m coming with you, Annie, like it or not. You’re not going in there on your own. I mean it’.
‘I said just her and me! Do you understand?’ Annie cried out furiously, her hands clenched. ‘And I said no! Her brother snapped. ‘I mean it, Annie! You’re not going on your own!’ They stood, glaring at each other. It was a battle of wills. Morag stood up as well. ‘Simon’s right. Annie. I’m coming too. You don’t go in there on your own’.
‘I said no!’ Annie shouted. She sat down abruptly. She had realised she was losing her temper. She waited until her fires had died down, and she was able to speak calmly. ‘All right, Simon. You’re right. But just use those stealth skills of yours and keep out of sight unless I need you. But you are definitely not coming, Morag. The less other people are involved, the better’.
‘Oh, thanks very much’, Morag said bitterly. ‘So I can’t even help my own brother and sister in a crisis, can I?’
‘It’s not that, Morag’. Simon said gently. ‘It’s just that we don’t want to put you at risk. Really. I know you don’t like it, but Annie and I will deal with it. I know you’d be there for us, but we won’t risk other people’.
‘You see, Morag’, Annie said softly, ‘this is our fight. Ours, alone. Simon will be there for me. But we don’t want anyone else involved. We’ve got scores to settle, but we’ll do it ourselves. We are not risking anybody else, including our new sister. Is that understood, Morag? I’m hoping that this will all turn out well in the end, but in case it doesn’t…well, I don’t want you in the firing line, so to speak. It’s our fight, Morag, and it’s an opportunity to try to put things right’.
Morag nodded dolefully. ‘I suppose so. I’ll have to keep the home fires burning, I guess’.
‘We don’t do soppiness, Morag, and we don’t do clichés either. Our two rules’. Simon grinned at her. ‘We’ll be all right. My sister’s evil cunning and my stealth will seal the night’.
‘That’s a cliché’. Annie said, also grinning.
‘Was it? Oops!’
Morag laughed. ‘You two are totally mad at times, you know. But I love you both. Thanks for having me’.
They sat on the bed together, in gentle companionship.
‘Morag, you do realise that Annie thought that you and I were having an affair?’
‘What!’ Morag stared at Annie in amazement. ‘You didn’t, surely!’
‘Well, the thought had crossed my mind…..’
Morag cuffed them both across the back of their heads lightly.
‘That’s for being stupid and that’s for being cheeky. And don’t be rude to your elder sister, either! Honestly, Annie! Your brother loves his faery paramour! Don’t you think I know that! You idiot, Annie!’ She cuffed her again, lightly, and then Simon. ‘That’s for telling on your sister!’
They all fell back on the bed, laughing. For a few moments at least, they forgot what might lie ahead in the days to come.
They stood together outside the King and Queen pub, looking up at it’s mock-Tudor façade. Their breath hung in the damp November air. Annie held Lucia, in her cardboard box, under her arm. She stared at the small door opposite her. It was just after two o’clock in the morning, and the city centre was deserted. Only the distant drone of a car could be heard, otherwise it was eerily silent.
‘Right, I’m going in’. Annie said decisively. She pushed the little side door. It was unlocked.
‘I’ll follow you in a few moments. Don’t worry, Annie. Neither you or Venoma will know I’m there’. Annie nodded, then walked into a small passageway. She found another door that led out into the courtyard.
‘Sit down, kitten. On the other side of the table’. Annie sat down, her eyes fixed on the muzzle of the large black automatic pistol that Venoma had, trained steadily at her forehead. She held it expertly in both hands. Annie could see every detail of this scene with total clarity. Venoma’s green eyes, her feline face, her mouth pursed in a sly smile, her red hair tied back. She could see everything.
‘I thought you would keep your word, Venoma’ She was surprised at how calm her voice was.
‘Ah, but you forgot to mention weapons, didn’t you. kitten?’
‘But I didn’t’. Venoma felt the sharp blade of Simon’s sword against her neck. Her green eyes blinked for a moment, in surprise.
‘Well, I never. Your brother really is good, kitten. I never heard him coming’.
‘Of course not. If you don’t stop pointing that gun at my sister, I’ll take your head off. I don’t like you, Venoma. I won’t hesitate’.
‘Have you heard of reflex action, brother dear? The moment I feel your nasty sword, my finger will tighten on the trigger and I will blow a large hole in your sister’s pretty little forehead, and probably most of the back of her head off as well’.
‘But you won’t even have the satisfaction of gloating, Venoma, because your severed head will be rolling across the cobbles over there. Got it?’
‘Oh, yes’. Venoma sighed. ‘So we have an impasse, as the French say. What is it you want, kitten?’
‘Don’t you want to look in the box, first, Venoma? Then you’ll know. Cats are always curious, aren’t they’.
Venoma’s green eyes blazed for a moment. ‘You open it, kitten. I don’t want any nasty surprises’.
Annie leant across and took off the lid. She took Lucia out and held her up. Venoma’s eyes opened wide in shock. The gun wavered for a moment.
‘It’s a trick!’ she shouted, furiously. You’re trying to trick me, kitten!’ Her finger tightened on the trigger of her gun.
‘No, I’m not! This really is Lucia! She’s been put back together again! She’s been brought back to life! But if you think that…’
She reached down, put Lucia on the floor, and raised her foot. ‘Shall I smash her, Isabelle? Shall I smash her pretty little face into pieces? Shall I smash her? Shall I?
‘No! No! Please don’t! Oh please don’t! Don’t hurt her, please! Please don’t! Please! Please. You mustn’t hurt her! Oh, please! Please! Please!’
Venoma, or rather now, Isabelle reached out her hands for the doll. She had forgotten about the gun, which she had dropped on the table. Her face was no longer that of Venoma, but that of Isabelle. She was a small child again, her face that of a tearful little girl, her bunched hands to her mouth, who was about to see the only thing precious to her about to be destroyed.
‘It’s all right, Isabelle’. Annie said gently. ‘I wouldn’t do that’. She reached down and picked up the doll. ‘Here. Take her. She’s yours’. Isabelle clutched the doll and held it against her tenderly. Her cheeks were stained with tears.
‘Oh, Lucia, You’ve come back to me1 I love you so much, Lucia1 Your pretty hair needs combing! But you’re back with me, Lucia! I’ll take you out and we can see all the flowers and trees, and I can tell you all their names! I’m so happy you’re back, Lucia! I’ve missed you so much!’
Annie looked at Venoma, who had now become the little five-year old Isabelle, the small innocent, trusting child she had once been. She felt tremendous compassion for her, who had had her childhood, and all her dreams ripped away from her. But for a few moments she had them back, at least. She looked up at Simon, who had hooked the gun away with his sword-point, and was now examining it. He looked over Isabelle’s bent figure, and mouthed silently. “It’s empty! There’s no ammunition!” Annie nodded. Venoma had kept her word, though in her own way.
‘You must put Lucia away now, Isabelle. Put her to bed. We need to talk to each other’.
Isabelle put Lucia gently back onto her box. Then her face hardened, She became Venoma again. ‘What do you want, kitten?
‘Stop calling me kitten! I want a truce, Venoma. I mean it. I’ve given you back what you really want, and in return I want you out of our lives! I want you to promise that you will never harm me, or my brother or any of us again. Do I make myself clear, Venoma, or should I say, Isabelle?’
Venoma looked at the box again. ‘You kept your word, kitten. And I kept mine. I agree. We will have a truce. I have other things to do. Agreed, kitten?’
Then I should like to have my gun back. It’s rather useful in my line of work. And I would appreciate your dear brother from poking the tip of his sword into the back of my neck. It’s not very pleasant’.
Annie looked at her brother, and nodded. He moved back slightly, still alert.
‘I’d rather like to go now. Until we meet again, kitten’. Venoma picked up her gun, and tucked the box under her arm. She walked off without another word and vanished into the shadows. Annie stood up. ‘That’s it, Simon. You can put your sword away now’.
A loud gunshot sounded in the darkness, then a shrill whine. Annie stood still, outlined in the dim light of the courtyard. ‘Annie! No! Oh, please no!’ Simon cried, frantically. He dropped his sword and ran around the table towards her. ‘Annie!’
‘I’ve still got claws, kitten!’ laughed a voice from the shadows.
Annie stood, her shoulders shaking. Simon sat her down on the bench, and looked over her. anxiously.
‘It’s all right, Simon, I’m not hurt. She didn’t even fire at me. Look’. She pointed up at the brick wall of the back of the pub. There was a deep mark where the bullet had deflected. ‘Just her way of saying goodbye’.
‘Bloody bitch! I should have kept that gun! She must have reloaded it!!’
There was a sudden flap of wings and Adrian settled on the table. ‘Bloody hell. lass! Are you all right? I heard that gunshot and I thought , well…’
‘I’m all right, Adrian, but where did you come from?’
‘Your bruv’ here asked me. Cassidy’s up there now, looking out for her. But she’s probably gone underground by now. Probably one of those tunnels where they brought the beer up. I bet she’s gone down there.!’
Another seagull landed on the table. It was Cassidy, noticeable by his one leg and one eye. ‘No good, Adrian. Can’t find her. She’s gone underground’.
‘Never mind, mate. Look, you two had better scarper. Those plods of Morag’s might be down here, wondering what that gunshot was. Me and Cassidy’ll keep an eye on you’.
‘Thanks, Adrian, and you, too, Cassidy. I knew I could rely on you’. Simon said sincerely. ‘You’re good lads’.
‘No problem. Get off home though, quick, just in case’.
The brother and sister walked home in silence, keeping to the side roads. They stood on the front doorstep and were just about to reach for the door-knob, when it opened, Morag stood there, looking drowsy, but pretty, in Annie’s white dressing-gown. Her feet were still bare.
‘Oh, God! I’ve been so worried about you! Look, I packed your parents off to bed. I said I’ll wait up for you’. I’ll make some tea’.
You’re making yourself at home, Morag’. Annie said mischievously,
Morag stopped as they went into the kitchen ‘I’m sorry. I hope you don’t mind. Your mum said I could…..’
‘Of course you can, Morag. You’re family I’…..
‘Simon!’ she asked urgently. He had not said a single word to her on the way home. She realised he was crying. He began to sob bitterly. ‘Simon!’ she cried and sat down next to him, holding his head against her. She cradled him against her shoulder. She looked up briefly. ‘Put down that teapot, or you’ll drop it, Morag’.
‘What? Oh, right’. Morag sat down on the other side of Simon. She felt helpless and miserable. She had never seen him cry before. She reached out for his hand and clasped it gently. He squeezed it back and held it. Annie continued to hold him in her arms, almost like a child. Morag suddenly felt her own eyes moisten. She now realised how much trauma and stress this brother and sister had been through, especially tonight. She held her new brother’s hand tightly.
‘Is there anything I can do!’ she asked, desperately.
‘No, nothing, Morag’. Annie held her brother’s head tenderly against her, He was still crying. ‘He was there for me, Morag. He looked after me. He would have killed Venoma if she had tried to harm me, But she didn’t, and he didn’t. My brother was there to look after me tonight, Morag, and I truly love him for it. He was there for me. Are you all right, Simon?’
Simon raised his head and wiped his eyes. ‘Sorry for that moment of weakness. I apologise. It was stupid of me’.
‘No, it wasn’t!’ Morag cried. She stared at the teapot she had just put down, then she looked directly at Simon, her new brother. ‘You protected your sister. You were there for her, just as you both were there for me, when I was kidnapped’.She clenched her other hand against her lips. ‘My mother would be so proud of you. She really would’ She paused. ‘And so am I. I’m really proud to be your sister’.
There was silence between them for a moment.
‘There’s something else I need to tell you.’ Annie said quietly. They both looked at her.
‘I don’t think Venoma can kill me. You see, she thinks of me as some kind of alternative sister, somebody who she always wanted, She could have killed me in the sewers. But she didn’t. All she had to do was thrust her sword into my throat’.
Morag looked at her, shocked, ‘She could have killed me tonight’. Annie continued ‘Easily. But she didn’t. She can’t bring herself to kill me. I don’t really know why. But at least she’s one less enemy to worry about. She’ll keep her word’.
How do you know that?’ asked Simon, wiping his eyes again. ‘You can let go of my hand now, Morag’.
‘What! Yes, right’. She let go of his hand. ‘But, I have to tell you something. Nicholas Flamel is coming tomorrow. Here. He’s very upset about what has happened to you. He’s coming to set it right. At least that’s what Christine told me. He’ll be here tomorrow morning’. She pulled out the talisman from the pocket of her dressing-gown. He wanted me to bring this, your talisman, Annie. And he needs mine as well. I don’t know why’.
“We’ll find out tomorrow’. Annie said decisively, standing up. ‘Never mind about the tea, Morag. We need some sleep. You, as well’. She suddenly bent over Simon and gently pulled his face towards her, between her hands. ‘You were there for me tonight, dear brother. As you’ve always been. Thank you’. She kissed him softly on the lips. ‘Now go to bed’.
She and Morag lay in their beds that night. They were still awake.
Annie smiled. ‘Of course I like it. Some decent conversation, at least’.
‘I feel like we’re two little girls in a dorm. It’s lovely’.
Annie smiled in the darkness, and turned on her side to look at Morag.
‘Are you still lonely, Morag?’
‘No, not any more. Now that I’ve got you’. She had turned on her side, too, to look at Annie.
‘I’m happy about that’.
‘Annie? Why are you doing this? Pursuing this war against this Wrist family?’
‘Because they are evil! Ever since they were born! But not Isabelle. She was only a little girl, but they turned her into something evil! Like themselves! They only want people who they can turn into their own kind, and destroy and kill other innocent people! That’s why I hate them! Why should they destroy others, who have done them no harm! Why should they! Ask yourself that, Morag! You’re a police officer! Ask yourself that!’
‘Don’t lose your temper, Annie. I have asked myself that so many times! I always thought what my mother would have done! She set the standard by which I conduct my life, Annie! What else could I do?’
Morag got up. She was beginning to cry. She reached for a tissue to wipe her nose. ‘Come and sit down beside me for a moment, Morag’. Annie said gently. Morag sat down beside her, on the bedside.
‘We’re fighting evil, Morag. Real evil. That family don’t care what they do or what the cost is. But we’ve both seen the cost! Both Simon and myself. We’re not letting them continue. Otherwise they’ll just go on destroying other peoples’ lives, who don’t deserve it! I can’t stand that, Morag! I, or we, will not allow that to happen, even if it costs us our own lives! We will go on to the end, bitter though it might be. But we are not going to let them harm innocent people! I saw Rosamund dead on the beach, with her family gone! I closed her eyes for her! Simon knows that poor Annabelle was beaten, tortured and strangled by that bastard of a grandfather, who he killed, but nearly killed him! You were there! We will kill them if necessary! This is about life and death, and both of us have looked into the face of death itself, quite literally! Now do you understand, Morag!’
Annie lay back, trying to recover her temper. ‘Do you understand, Morag? We’re fighting a war. We may have helped stop one, but our war is still there’.
Morag wiped her eyes again, Annie lay back staring at the ceiling. They lay still in the darkness together. ‘Why did Simon cry?’ she asked softly. ‘I’ve never seen him cry before’.
‘Because he thought he’d lost me. Because he loves me very much, as a sister. You see, Morag, there is a very strong bond between us. We’ve been through so much together. We’ve sworn that if anything bad happens, we’ll die together, even if it means sacrificing everything we know and love. We’re not in a game any more, Morag. We know what the stakes are. We’re both strong enough to face that’.
Morag decided that she had had enough. ‘Let’s go to bed, Annie and sleep’. She got up and crept into bed. But she thought sadly about what Annie had said.
Doctor Nicholas Flamel arrived the next morning. He, Christine and John sat in the living-room together, talking urgently. Morag, Simon and Annie sat in the kitchen nervously. Morag twisted Annie’s talisman in her pocket. Then Nicholas Flamel walked in. ‘It is good to see you all again’. He said genially. He was a small rotund man, with a small fluffy beard, and a rather bald head. But his expression was kind, though on this occasion he was clearly concerned.’I have come to cure you of the rage. I believe I now have the right formula. Perhaps you can come upstairs with me. What I have to do will be rather painful. I need both talismans, young Morag. Please give them to me’.
She took hers off and handed it to him, together with Annie’s. ‘What do you mean, painful?’
Simon looked at his sister. ‘Let’s get on with it, shall we, Annie’.
They followed Nicholas Flamel through the door and upstairs. Morag stared after them. ‘What do you mean, painful?’ she cried.
She walked through into the living-room, Christine and John were sitting together on the couch, holding hands anxiously. ‘What’s going on?’ she demanded.
There was a terrible long scream of agony from upstairs, followed by another. ‘What’s that?’ Morag demanded furiously. She turned and pounded up the stairs to Annie’s bedroom and threw the door open. Nicholas Flamel had just raised both talismans from their foreheads He looked around. ‘Ah, young Morag…’ he began to say. Morag whirled him around and slammed him hard against the wall by his lapels.
‘What have you done to them, you filthy old bastard! What have you done!’
‘Morag!’Christine frantically pulled a glaring Morag away from the old man. ‘Stop it! He did what he had to do! We knew that! Go downstairs with Nicholas and he will explain! Please, Morag! I want to go and comfort my daughter!’ Go! Please!’
‘Come with me, Morag’. Nicholas Flamel said calmly. He straightened himself up painfully from the wall. ‘I will explain everything to you’. Morag looked around. Christine was holding a sobbing Annie tenderly in her arms. John had his arm around his son’s shoulders, who was still trembling and gasping. She realised there was nothing she could do. So she followed Nicholas Flamel down the stairs, still in a blazing mood. He led the way into the living-room and sat down in one of the armchairs there.
Morag sat down opposite. She still glared. She had not forgotten the cries of agony she had heard. ‘I know what you are thinking.’. Nicolas Flamel said. He stared at her thoughtfully. ‘You see, I had to alter the formula of the talismans. But I also had to literally burn out that rage within them too. That is why they endured some few seconds of absolute agony. But it is gone now. They are very brave. Now they are safe, and can control it. But, I sent out other talismans into the world, and I do not know who has them, or where they are. They might be suffering the same symptoms. So I shall spend some part of my immortal life trying to find them. Please forgive me, young Morag. I only met your mother once, but you have the same spirit in you that she had’.
He got up. John had just come into the room and was waiting quietly. ‘Your new father’, he said very deliberately. ‘is driving me to the station. Farewell, daughter of Moran. I hope I will see you again’.
They left. Morag was left, feeling rather speechless. Then Christine came in and sat down beside her. Morag stared at her furiously. How could you let him do that to your own son and daughter? How could you?’
‘Because the rage would have killed them otherwise! Do you think I liked it?’ She put her head in her hands for a moment. ‘Do you want to go and see my son and daughter? They want to see you’. Morag nodded her head, and suddenly hugged Christine, her new mother. Christine held her. ‘I know I’m no substitute for your mother, Morag, but I’ll do my best. Go on, now’.
She found them still lying on the beds in Annie’s room. Annie was still crying. Simon looked calmer, though he was trembling slightly. Morag sat down beside Annie who was now sitting up. She hugged Annie to her hard. ‘I know we don’t do soppiness, Annie, but this is an exception’.
To her surprise, Annie hugged her back hard. ‘I can cry. Morag! I can cry again! I’ve been bloody overflowing with tears! I can cry!’
‘I think I preferred her when she couldn’t. She made less noise’. Simon was sitting up though he looked shaken, and pale. Morag got up and sat beside him. ‘Are you both really all right?’ she asked anxiously.
‘I think so. I feel as if I’ve just been spring-cleaned inside. Any chance of a kiss from a lovely police-officer? ‘
‘You cheeky sod, Simon! But just this once. Don’t expect treats like this every day’. She leant over and kissed him softly on the lips.
‘I love being snogged by a policewoman! Pity you aren’t in uniform, though’.
‘Simon, don’t get carried away!’ Annie said, sternly. ‘She’s your sister, remember? And I might tell Ragimund as well! I’m getting up. I want to see mum and dad’.
They went downstairs together, slowly, to be together again.
The two hooded figures stood by each other in the cold November air at the hill-fort outside the city of Brighton, They looked down at the lights below, the dark blue ribbon of sea, and heard the distant drone of cars as they sped past on the roads.The taller of the two figures looked after them curiously. ‘It is this way’, the smaller of the two figures said quietly. She led the way across the golf-course, down towards the Fiveways area. The other figure followed, looking around her with some caution.
The doorbell rang. They were all sitting around the table, waiting for Morag, who had gone to check on her flat. Supper was about to begin. ‘That’ll be Morag’. Simon said. ‘I’ll get it’.
‘But I gave her a front-door key. Why should she ring?’ asked Christine, bewildered.
‘She’s a copper, She’s probably forgotten it’.
Simon went to the front door and opened it. ‘Come in, Morag’. He stopped. There were two unfamiliar hooded figures on the front doorstep. ‘Yes?’ he said warily.The two figures giggled. ‘Do you not recognise me. Simon?’ the taller figure said. She threw back her hood. ‘Ragimund!’ Simon cried out in joy. He hugged her to him and kissed her passionately. She kissed him back, equally fervently. The smaller figure gave a gentle cough. ‘Do you not recognise her, either, Simon?’ Ragimund said, turning to the smaller figure with a smile. The figure threw back its hood too. ‘Mariko!’ He cried in delight. He picked Mariko off her feet, and whirled her around in a great hug. ‘Simon!’ Mariko squealed breathlessly. ‘You are squeezing the life out of me!’ He laughed and kissed her, then put her down. ‘Come in. The others are here too’.Ragimund put down the bag she had been carrying in the hallway. She stared around her curiously. ‘What’s in the bag? Simon asked equally curiously.
‘Maps and notes. Is this your home, Simon?’
He suddenly remembered. ‘Of course. Ragimund, you have never been to our world before, have you?’ Please forgive me’ She smiled at him, affectionately. He took them both by the hand, in the faery custom and brought them into the brightly lit kitchen. ‘We have visitors’. He announced.
‘What?’ Christine looked up, surprised. ‘Mariko!’ Indira shrieked. She got up and ran round the table. ‘Come here, you stupid little sod!’ Once more, Mariko was subjected to a heavy hug. She squealed and laughed. Pei-Ying hugged her too, but not as brutally. ‘It is wonderful to see you again, Mariko’, Annie had scrambled to her feet, and was also hugging Ragimund. ‘It’s so good to see you again. There’s rather a lot that’s gone on since we saw you last’. Christine put her arm around Mariko and kissed her. ‘It really is good to see our new daughter again. But, is it too much of an imposition, Simon, to at least introduce us properly? We have not met Ragimund before, you know’.
‘Yes, sorry’. he decided to be both formal and direct in the faery way. ‘Ragimund, this is our mother, Christine, and our father, John. This is Ragimund’, He paused. ‘Who I love very much’.
‘I love him too, very much’. Ragimund said, quietly, but sincerely.
‘I know’, Christine said, She leant over to shake her hand. To her surprise, Ragimund took it in a faery hand-shake, their hands holding each other’s wrist. John leant over and took her hand in the same grip.
‘I never thought we would have a faery warrior general in our household’. He smiled.
‘You must stay here tonight and join us all for supper. You are very welcome here, Ragimund. Speaking of which, where is that other rogue daughter of mine? Tell her to hurry up, Simon’.
‘My mother collects daughters like my sister collects other sisters. I think they’re having a competition’, he whispered in Ragimund’s ear.
Ragimund laughed, but she was already beginning to feel comfortable. She looked around, still inquisitive.
‘I heard that, Simon!’ Christine said severely.
Simon got up and went into the hall to call Morag, quickly.
Christine looked across the table at Ragimund. She had not known what to expect. She had thought she would be a tall, rather haughty young faery woman, but what she saw was certainly a tall, slim young girl with dark ringlets that framed her very lovely face, and also very shy as she looked across at her. ‘You are even more beautiful than my son described, Ragimund’.
‘Thank you.’ She looked across at Annie. ‘So are you, Annie. There is a new radiance in you, an inner beauty. Like your mother’.
‘We’ve been ill, Ragimund. But we’re better now’.
‘You have been ill! I did not know! What happened to you?’ Ragimund asked, clearly distressed.
‘We’re better now. In fact, much better’. She looked at her talisman, now back on her finger. It glowed comfortingly. ‘Much better’.
Outside. in the hall. Simon waited impatiently for Morag to pick up the phone. ‘About time, too’. he said.
‘Why? I’m trying to tidy up. The flat’s a mess. How are you. Simon? Now, I mean’.
‘Much better. In fact, I feel positively rejuvenated. Look, Morag, please get off that lovely curvaceous bum of yours, and get yourself over here. Mum’s fretting about supper, and besides that, we’ve got unexpected visitors’.
‘Don’t be so bloody cheeky! Who?’
‘You won’t believe this. Mariko and Ragimund. They’ve got some important news. I think they’ve made some sort of discovery. Mariko’s desperate to tell us, but mum’s waiting to bring out supper and you’re holding everybody up due to your slackness and indolence’.
‘I’m going to give you a good thump when I get there! What discovery?’
‘We won’t find out until you get here. But, Morag, pack up some things. Just those you need. Because I have a strong feeling we all might be going back to Hyperborea soon’.
‘What! Are you serious?’ Morag said in delight.
‘Yes, I am. Oh, and Morag, don’t forget to put in those little frilly pink panties of yours. I rather like those’.
There was a furious splutter down the phone. ‘I haven’t got any! I’m going to kill you, Simon, when I get hold of you!’
‘That’s a pity. I thought you might lend some to Ragimund. See you soon’. He heard another indignant splutter, and then put the phone down, and walked back into the kitchen.
‘You’ve been winding Morag up again, haven’t you?’ Annie said accusingly.
‘Just a bit’. He said grinning. ‘She’ll be here in a few minutes, if only to beat me up’.
‘You will have to forgive my son, Ragimund. He enjoys teasing people. I thought I brought him up to know better. But somehow I failed’. Christine said sadly, but with a smile on her face.
‘But we have wonderful news!’ Mariko cried out, unable to contain herself any longer. ‘We have made a wonderful discovery! We have found a secret treasure of the old people, before the faerys came!’
‘It will have to wait, Mariko, until Morag gets here and we have had supper. I have spoken! I am your mother now’. Both Simon and Annie burst out laughing. Ragimund looked at them, puzzled.
‘It’s all right. It’s only mum, trying to assert her authority. Only she never quite succeeds’. Simon said gently to Ragimund. ‘Not with us at least’.
‘No. I’ve given up on them. But at least I’ve new material to work with’.
The doorbell rang. ‘’You’d better get that, Annie. I’m afraid Morag might kill me”.
‘What!’ shouted Ragimund. She stood up. ‘If she tries. I will kill her!’
‘No, no, Ragimund. I just mean she’s probably a bit cross, That’s all’.
She sat down again. ‘I see’. But they had all seen just what a faery warrior she was. Her eyes had blazed suddenly and she had become fearsome. But now she was a young faery girl again.
‘I am sorry, Christine. I did not understand’.
‘I know, Ragimund. Can one of you get the door please?’
Annie opened the door. It was Morag. ‘Just wait till I get hold of your brother’ she seethed.
‘Was it about the pink frilly panties?’ Annie asked, innocently. ‘Don’t worry, Morag, your secret is safe with us’.
‘I haven’t got any!’ Morag cried furiously.
She dropped her bag and followed Annie into the kitchen.
‘About time, too’. Christine said severely.
Morag gasped as she saw Mariko and Ragimund. She came round and hugged them both. ‘It’s wonderful to see you both again. It seems like such a long time since I got kidnapped’.
‘You were what? You were abducted?’ Ragimund said sharply.
‘Let’s have supper first, mum’. Annie said quickly. ‘We’ll explain later’.
‘Dou you miss this world, Mariko?’ Christine asked gently.
‘Sometimes, But I love it there. There is so much to discover. But I miss all of you’.
‘All right. That’s enough.’, Christine said decisively. ‘Let’s clear the table and then Mariko and Ragimund can tell us what they found. I can tell Mariko is bursting to’.
‘Of course’. Mariko said excitedly. She got up and ran out to the hall and came back with the long bag that Ragimund had brought with her.
‘These are the maps that we brought with us of where we found this site’. She unrolled the maps and began to weigh the edges of them down with their teacups and mugs. ‘I am sorry. Ragimund. Do you wish to tell them’.
‘No, Mariko. You are most enthusiastic. You tell everybody’. Ragimund smiled at Mariko, who smiled back. They could all see there was a tremendous fondness between them.
‘This is a map of Hyperborea, and in the south-east are the Griffin mountains. But two faerys, who were searching for their goats that had gone missing, found this opening at the base of one of the mountains, just the other side of the forest from the city of Rhuan, on the northern side. They found it by accident. They noticed that it had been walled in. They were puzzled and sent word to Elsace that there was something mysterious there. They did not know whether it was a secret cavern or not. But Ragimund received the message, and asked me if I would ride with her to find out’.
‘Mariko and I rode out to this site from Elsace, and found it in the place where the two faery shepherds had described’. Ragimund continued the story. ‘Both Mariko and I began to take down the wall that sealed the cavern. Finally we succeeded, and we were able to look inside’.
‘There were wonderful things inside! Wonderful things!’ cried Mariko excitedly. ‘We could not go in because we dared not take flaming torches inside. They might damage what was there! But we saw enough. There were beautiful paintings on the walls! Of real people! Like us! There was furniture and other things! So many things! But we could not go any further, in case we might ruin them!’
‘Mariko thinks it might be a tomb of some kind of the ancient people, who were there before us. But I think it is a kind of depository, a place they had left so we would understand about them. We do not know who the ancient people were at all, They left ruins behind, but nothing to tell us who they were, or where they came from. This is why it is such a marvellous discovery!’
‘It does sound wonderful. But how will you get inside if you have no means of light?’ asked John, practically.
‘That is one of the reasons why we have come!’ Mariko cried. ‘You have those big torches you have used as weapons. They would be ideal!’
‘Weapons?’ Christine said, faintly.
‘Oh, yes, in that battle we fought under the pier.’ Mariko went on heedlessly. ‘They would not harm the paintings or anything else, and they would allow us to examine everything more closely!’ She caught a warning glance from Annie. ‘Oh!’.
‘Battle under the pier? What battle?’ Christine said even more faintly.
‘But faerys do not accept our technology’. John said quickly, to change the subject.
‘We have no choice in this matter’. Ragimund replied. ‘We have to accept that. But that is why we would like you all to accompany us. You can provide us with the light we need. Besides we would like you all to come, so that you can share in this discovery. And I would like you to come. I have missed you so much, Simon’. She smiled at him.
‘I’ve missed you as well’. He smiled back.
‘No soppiness, Simon! One of our rules!’ Annie said for her mother’s benefit.
‘I believe your mother and I have two more of those torches upstairs. I’ll go and find them. I’ll also go down to the garage down the road and buy some more batteries. Count it as my sponsorship of a new archaeological expedition’. He rose up and disappeared.
‘Who’s looking after the site at the moment’, Annie asked.
‘The griffins. It is their territory, but they have permitted us to excavate the site. They are patrolling it, though few people know about it. But I thought if you have the time, we can also visit Rhuan. It is not far away, and I want you to see it. It is the most beautiful city! I love it!’
Annie smiled at her, ‘When do we have to leave?’ she asked. She could see the others whispering excitedly Morag sat looking happy and eager. The excitement had given her a beauty that was now striking. She smiled back at Annie.
‘We must leave tomorrow at dawn, We must make an early start if we are to accomplish everything. Can you all go?
Indira and Pei-Ying looked at each other. ‘We’re on a sleep-over here this weekend. Morag, you’re not due back on the beat till Monday, are you? At least, you haven’t been kidnapped this time’. Morag laughed. She looked radiantly happy. She and Indira had grown closer, in that paradoxical way that happens when people have had a serious quarrel and are now reconciled.
‘I suppose we’ll have to cover for you. Again’. Christine said resignedly.
‘That gives us the entire weekend. That should be enough. If we go by faery time, that should give us about three weeks in Hyperborea. Is that enough, Ragimund?’
‘Yes, easily. Simon. We can accomplish a great deal in that time. It will give us all time to be together, also’. She smiled at him again.
Christine looked at her. ‘You know, Ragimund, I like you very much. You are not what I expected. I think my son is very lucky to have met you’.
Ragimund blushed, pleased at the compliment. ‘What about your parents, Ragimund?’ she continued, not quite knowing what the answer would be.
‘My mother died giving birth to me. My father died some time later in a sea battle’.
“I see, I’m very sorry, Ragimund. Do you have any brothers and sisters?’
‘Mum, stop interrogating her!’ Simon spoke sharply. He could see where all this was leading. ‘It’s not fair!’
‘I have no sisters! No more. Only one that I will acknowledge, Duessa. She was the only one that gave me any kind of love and affection!’ And she is dead!’ Simon felt her hand squeezing hard on his. The others were silent.
‘That’s enough, mum!’ he snapped. He turned to Ragimund. ‘Come and walk with me in the garden, Ragimund’. He gently pulled her up and led her out. She was biting her lip, clearly distressed. Christine put her head into her hands and groaned.
‘Your stupid old mother has really dropped herself into it this time, hasn’t she?’
‘You aren’t any worse than me. I do it all the time’. Indira said diplomatically.
‘That’s no consolation’.
‘Look!’ Annie looked around at the other four. ‘Go into the living-room and discuss what you want to take to Hyperborea. Wait for my father to bring the torches and equipment that we need. I want to talk to my mother alone. Go on!’
This was a new decisive Annie. They obediently got up and left. Annie sat down next to her mother.
‘Oh dear’. Christine said. ‘When you use that tone of voice, I know you’re going to tell me off, Annie’.
‘No, I’m not. But I’m going to be like the faerys and be direct. Ragimund will not acknowledge her sisters anymore because they broke her warrior code. They slaughtered the Barbarossi, mum, when they didn’t have to! They cut them down even as they fled! I cried, mum! I really cried!’
Christine stayed quiet. Annie continued. ‘When we managed to make a peace with them, Duessa was with us. She may have done great wrong, but she admitted it. Then she was murdered! Assasss’, Oh, I can never pronounce that word! We brought her body back. Ragimund was there. She saw her sister, and she cried as well!’
How did this Duessa die?’ her mother asked gently.
‘Somebody in the Barbarossi decided to get rid of her. They shot two arrows into her. I was there, mum. I saw her die! I closed her eyes for her! But she was a mother, mum. She had a daughter, Seruban, who is well, impaired. But she loved her, mum, so much! Seruban is being looked after by the faerys, who are trying to cure her. But she has lost her mother. Now do you see why Ragimund is so emotional and why we are? Ragimund has lost all the family she ever had! She has Mariko, I know, and she looks after Mariko, like the sisters she has lost, or chosen to lose. She doesn’t trust them any more. I’m telling you this, mum, so that you can understand’.
Her mother was crying silently, her hands over her face.
‘I didn’t want to make you cry, mum. But I think you should know that Ragimund, like Mariko, like Morag, has no family left in the world. She may be a strong faery warrior, and a commander, but she’s still vulnerable, insecure and now also very lonely, just like Mariko and Morag. My brother is the only secure person that she can cling onto. They love each other very deeply. You’ve already seen that. She might be a faery, but she is also human. She has emotions, as we all do. Don’t cry, mum. It’s just that I want you to know’.
‘What do you think of her?’ her mother asked, raising her head.
‘I hated her at first, because I thought she was unfeeling and cruel, as faerys can be. But now, I think I can really love for her humanity and gentleness. Like all faerys, she can be totally vicious in battle, and when she is attacked, but she is very kind and loving when she is herself. My brother loves her. That should tell you something’.
‘Yes, it does. Let’s go into the living-room and join the others. I’m not being a very good hostess, amongst other things’.
The others were still there, taking animatedly with each other. They looked up as they came in. Mariko had obviously been explaining about everything in Hyperborea. Morag, however,stood up. ‘Christine, what’s the matter? You’ve been crying. I can tell’.
‘It doesn’t matter. Annie, could you call Simon and Ragimund in for me. I have an apology to make’. The others looked puzzled. Annie walked to the French windows and opened them. ‘Simon’, she called out into the dark garden. She could see them sitting together on the garden bench, talking softly. ‘Please come in’.
They rose up, came around to the windows and walked in. Ragimund had also been crying. Her dark eyes were red under the lower rims. Simon still held her hand tightly. Christine, who had stood at the fireplace, turned and faced them. ‘I want to ask your forgiveness, Ragimund. I trespassed on things that you found hurtful. I did not mean to, nor did I want to offend you. I am sorry, Ragimund’.
‘I do not understand’, Ragimund replied in bewilderment. ‘It is I who thought I had offended you, for being so angry and bitter! That is why I cried in the garden!’
‘No you didn’t!’ But… Ragimund, just come here!’ Christine embraced her tightly, as did Ragimund.
‘I’m sorry, Ragimund’.
‘And so am I’. They sat down together. Then John walked, or rather staggered in, clutching a large plastic bag. ‘There’s the batteries. Lots of them. I bought up their entire stock’. He looked around and groaned. ‘What’s been going on’.
‘Nothing, John. You and Simon go and find the torches’.
As Simon walked out, he hissed furiously in Annie’s ear. ‘What have you been saying to mum?’
‘Some plain truths! What do you think!’
Simon glared at her and walked out. He joined his father who was rummaging in the cupboard under the stairs.
‘Thank goodness you’ve come back, dad. I’m trapped in a roomful of harpies! I’m vastly outnumbered!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Simon. I hope you don’t include your mother and that rather beautiful young lady of yours in the coven of witches as well. Here. That’s the fourth one. We can check them all now’.
They brought the torches in and laid them on the table. ‘Sit down, John, and you, Simon, next to Ragimund. I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to have our now-extended family around us, including our two new daughters. She looked at Mariko and Morag. ‘Unless Annie has got any more in the pipeline, so to speak’.
‘You are forgetting about Leila, Annie’. Simon said mischievously. He had recovered his good humour, now.
‘Oh. Yes. My dragon-sister. She is the mate of Dabar, the commander of the dragons’.
‘Dragon-sister? Where are we going to put her!’ Christine put her head in her hands again ‘My brain is beginning to revolt against me’.
‘Don’t worry, she won’t be here. But I would like to see her again’.
‘What has happened with the Barbarossi?’ Indira asked.
‘We have established trading posts with them now. Paravar, their new leader, has also begun to abolish the practice of slavery there. So there will be a fair trade between us on our western border. It will be good for both of our peoples. We will be able to trade and travel between our countries’. Ragimund explained. ‘It will bring peace. Thanks to Annie and Simon, who helped us establish that peace. It has been a long time’.
‘I hope he’s got rid of those filthy fat bastards that were bleeding his country dry, and that pig, Socrato’. Simon remarked, savagely. Ragimund looked at him. ‘Nearly all of them have fled to other parts of our world. Socrato is no more. He was found lying, face down, in the Barbarossi camp a short time ago with his throat cut’.
‘Thursday!’ Annie and Simon exclaimed together..
Christine looked appalled. ‘That’s terrible! But who or what is Thursday, apart from a day of the week, I mean’.
‘He is a physician, But he is also many other things, some of which I have no knowledge about, But he may be responsible for Socrato’s death. He sent his best wishes to you both, in appreciation of the respect you showed to Duessa, when she was killed’.
‘Tell him we thank him’. Annie said , quietly. ‘Because he was Duessa’s lover. And he is Seruban’s father. I saw it in his face when she died. I know it, and he knows, too’.
Ragimund had started in astonishment. She looked at Simon. He nodded. ‘I know it too. I was there’.
‘But I did not!’ She added softly. ‘But it does explain certain things to me now’.
Christine was lost for words, She had now begun to realise more clearly just what a violent and dangerous world her son and daughter had been living in over the last two years.
‘I have heard that Gloriana and Paravar have an attraction between them’. Mariko said happiliy, ‘Or so they say. Which will be even better for the relationships between the Barbarossi and the faerys. Oh, no! Ragimund! I am sorry! I did not realise!’
They all realised that Ragimund had stiffened at the mention of her sister’s name, and now sat upright, staring in front of her. She was clearly refusing to speak any further. Mariko looked at her in dismay. ‘I am sorry, Ragimund’. But she just nodded. The subject was clearly too painful for her.
Christine decided to be decisive. ‘Right. Sleeping arrangements for tonight. Annie, you and Morag stay where you are. Simon, you will go and fetch down the spare mattresses from upstairs, so that Indira and Pei-Ying can sleep in Annie’s room, as well. I will make the beds up for them, so that you can have a little dorm. But no late talking! You have an early start tomorrow’.
‘My mother likes being bossy’. Annie whispered to Ragimund.
‘I heard that, Annie! Just for that, you can go and help your brother with the mattresses! You four just stay where you are. Now, Ragimund, you will stay in our spare room tonight, with Mariko. You are special and honoured guests’.
Ragimund smiled at her. ‘Thank you. I think you would make a very good faery general, Christine’.
Christine sighed. ‘I know. My skills are wasted here on this lot. You can stay in your own room, Simon, simply because of the fact that it’s too much of a pigsty for anyone else’.
‘You live in a pigsty?’ Ragimund said in amazement.
’No, I didn’t mean that literally, Ragimund, though I do recall he had a dragon sleeping in there once’.
They all got up to do their bidding. As they were sliding the mattresses down the stairs, Simon muttered to Annie who was struggling at the bottom end of their load.
‘Typical. Here we are, famous warriors. Feared killing machines. Yet we get ordered around to do the menial tasks! I‘ve got my reputation to think of!’
‘What reputation’s that? Apart from being untidy and slovenly, I mean’.
Simon muttered something dark under his breath.
‘We’re not killers either! We’re not that!’
Annie sat down on the stairs and looked up at her brother. ‘That was in self-defence, Simon. He nearly killed you.. He would have finished you off.. I’ll never forget that night!’ She remembered how she had held her brother in her arms, crying, her face and hands smeared with his blood.
‘Let’s get on’. She said.
Finally everything was done. They said their good-nights and one by one, they retired to bed. ‘Sorry about those pink frilly knickers, Morag’, Simon said, as he kissed her on the cheek, ‘because I really prefer the blue ones’. He ran upstairs before she could kick him.
Annie, Indira, Pei-Ying and Morag lay on their separate beds. It was rather crowded, but they didn’t mind. It was comforting to be in the dark together, in the same room.
‘Right then’, Indira said. ‘Who’s got the tuck for the midnight feast?’
They all giggled like young children again.
Morag looked across to Annie ‘What was it like when Flamel placed the talismans on you, Annie?’ To her alarm, she saw Annie’s body stiffen.
‘I’ll tell what it was like!’ Her voice had risen. ‘It was like the fires of hell were burning me! That’s what it was like, Morag!’ She suddenly turned over to face the wall, and began to sob. The other two remained silent. Morag sat up, suddenly distressed and anxious.
‘I’m sorry, Annie! I’m truly sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you!’
After a few seconds, Annie also sat up and turned to face her, cross-legged. She wiped her eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I’m just exercising my new-found tear-ducts. But don’t ever ask me about that again, Morag. It’s something I’d rather forget’.
She could see Morag’s face, her eyes large and dark and anxious, her hands clasped across her drawn-up knees. She smiled. ‘You look just like a small child again, Morag’.
Indira sat up as well. ‘We’re going to have to do a lot of riding in the next few weeks’. she said, slightly maliciously
‘What?’ Morag cried. ‘On those bloody horses?’
‘What’s wrong with those bloody horses?’ Indira said, indignantly.
‘Well, as someone once said, they’re dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle! They don’t like me, and they snigger at me!’
‘Well, we’ll have to get you a camel then’.
Morag groaned. ‘Indira’s right. Morag. You are going to have to learn to ride properly this time, like it or not. You managed it last time, didn’t you?
‘Course she is. Hardened tough copper like you, out on the mean streets of Brighton, and you’re frightened of a few old nags?’
‘I was still frightened of falling off, and I didn’t enjoy it at all’. But Morag decided to become mischievous herself. ‘In that case, Indira, you can teach me how to ride. In fact we could ride on one horse together, so to speak, so I can get used to it’.
‘And break the sacred and harmonious relationship between rider and beast, that is so important to their instinctive bond? No chance’.
‘Thanks very much!’ Morag said bitterly. Her bluff had been called. ‘Forget it then. I’ll try and do it on my own, if I can’. She lay down again, angrily.
‘Hey’. Indira said more gently. She reached over and pulled Morag’s shoulder. ‘I’ll help you. We all will. I’ll have a word with the horses too, to give you a hand. You’ve got to learn to trust them, you know. Transferable skills and all that’.
Thanks, Indira’, Morag turned back over again. ‘I really will appreciate that’.
‘You’re very quiet, Pei-Ying’. Annie said, looking down at her, lying propped on one elbow. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘I am thinking about how wonderful it is that we are all together again, under one roof, and that we will be together to go on an expedition tomorrow. We do not have to fight this time. For once, we are all here to do something very positive. It is a very good feeling, Annie. Faerys and humans both being with each other in a common purpose. It makes me very happy’.
The other two had fallen silent as they heard Pei-Ying’s words. She continued. ‘It is wonderful too, that we have, just for a short time at least, a place of peace and tranquillity that we can enjoy between us. Do you not agree?’
They were all still silent, and for a minute or two, they simply felt happy and contented in each other’s company. One by one, they lay down and drifted quietly and simply into sleep.
Frank Jackson (28/11/2011) Word count - 10732