DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Once upon a time
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. Now they are on an archeological expedition to find out more about the faerys’ ancestors. Morag finds herself in trouble as she journeys back into the past, and the other quarrel amongst themselves.
Crowded into the narrow entrance of the cave of the Ancients, they all peered in, anxious to see glimpses of golden treasures and other magnificent artefacts of the old people, who had once lived in Hyperborea, many centuries before the faerys. But they were disappointed. What they saw was a jumble of large wooden, metal-framed cases heaped together in the centre of the stone cave, in the entrance of which they now stood. ‘Is that it? asked Indira,
‘This is not a treasure hunt, Indira!’ snapped Mariko, totally scandalised. ‘This is a serious investigation of an ancient civilsation, which, may or may not, reveal some artefacts relating to their life and culture’.
‘Ooh, pardon me for opening my mouth! I suppose that you’ll insist on sticking little labels on these boxes next, as if they were old exam scripts!’
‘Please, have patience!’ Ragimund cried out. ‘We must document everything carefully! Future generations will depend on what we do today! We have responsibility for giving them as much information as we can! Please do not quarrel, not now, please!’
‘What is that on the wall?’ Indira said pointedly. ‘There, where it’s gleaming and shining’.
Simon and Annie shone their torches over the left wall of the cavern.
They gasped in unison, hardly able to believe their eyes. The whole wall was painted to represent a giant landscape, but not one they immediately recognised, though they could see clearly the natural features of Hyperborea – the white mountains, the hills and the green plains. But they were drawn and painted in a way that was almost childlike, with strong black lines outlining every feature, and the resultant shapes filled in with the appropriate colour – blue or white for mountains, an ochre brown for hills, and green for the landscape. In total contrast, the painting was framed by a bright decorative border, itself filled with ornate geometrical patterns, of highly intricate tendrils and plant forms that were woven with each other to form yet more visual patterns, in blues, reds. yellows and greens, highlighted with gold and silver lines, with what looked like precious stones or jewels embedded in the centres of the swirling patterns. It was these that had caught Indira’s eye in the light of the torches.
But it was not the odd combination of styles and colours that had caused then to draw in their breath. It was the figures standing in the foreground of the landscape, all life-size, and separate, standing in their own space. They were painted so realistically, so naturally, that they could see each tiny detail of each man’s face, and even the texture of the gowns that they wore. There were nine or ten of them along the wall, all quite old men, some with long beards and moustaches. The gowns reached to their ankles, belted at the waist by wide and richly patterned leather belts, studded with jewels. They wore no weapons of any kind. Some stood with folded arms or hands clasped, as they gazed back intently at their visitors.
It was their presence that was so impressive. The figures were so alive that they seemed as if they could step down from the wall
This was not what they expected. ‘Look, everyone! We are looking in the faces of the ancient ones!’ cried Ragimund, in delight. But the rest of them felt uneasy at this close contact with a people who had died thousands of years before they were even born. There was a subdued silence. ‘Are you sure they aren’t paintings of their gods?’ Indira asked.
‘As far as we understand, no. I cannot imagine a people who would depict their gods in such a realistic way’. answered Ragimund. ‘What I cannot understand is why they look so fresh, as if they had only been painted yesterday’.
‘Could they have been? It’s not a faery student joke, is it? Sneaking in and painting these to play a trick on us wise archaeologists?’ Indira went on, mischievously, but she was voicing the concern of everybody who stood in that cave, looking at these seemingly miraculous paintings.
For answer, Mariko took out a large magnifying glass, and studied the hem of the robe that one of the figures wore. After a minute of intense scrutiny, she straightened up and announced, ‘That is not possible. This paint is old, very old. You can see the tiny cracks in it, when you look closely. Beside that, this paint is different from those of the present day. These paintings are genuinely old, though whether they were painted by the ancients themselves is more difficult to say’.
Ragimund looked disappointed. Annie realised that this archeological site meant a great deal to her. Annie wandered down to the far end of the wall, the furthest away from the entrance. She had seen something that had intrigued her. She shone her torch up at the wall, and gave a low gasp. The others heard, and gathered around her.
‘What is it, Annie?’ her brother asked. ’Look!’ she cried, pointing at the wall in front of her. ‘This figure is different!’ They all looked up at the wall.
They saw the figure of a young girl, looking out directly at them. Her face still had the roundness and softness of a child. Her dark brown eyes, heightened by kohl, like the others, seemed large and luminous in the oval of her face. Her lips, already full, were parted in a shy half-smile. She wore a long white dress that flowed over her slender figure, which was slightly turned to the left, with her sandaled left foot raised on a painted hummock, as if she was unsure of whether to greet them or run away. But her hands and bare arms were extended out them in a gesture of welcome, her palms turned upwards. Small jewelled bracelets had slid down her wrists and were now bunched together at the base of her hands.
Annie looked at the girl’s face again. She was drawn to her, because of her youth, and because of all of them, she seemed the most like themselves. The girl’s hair was drawn back from her face and rolled back, held in place by a delicately meshed gold coif, which further emphasised her shyness and innocence.
‘Why is she depicted here? Why are these people painted on these walls at all?’ wondered Ragimund aloud.
‘Perhaps they are ambassadors, here to greet those that come after them’. said Demos suddenly. He had not spoken for some time, but Annie had noticed him studying the paintings intently, sometimes with his nose right up against the wall. ‘The landscape and decoration are frescoes, incidentally, but the figures are painted in oils, which is why they are so detailed and fresh. They are of the same age as the frescoes, but painted at a later date. This suggests that they have a commemorative function. They are here to greet us, and perhaps indicate that these people are especially important, if only in the sense that they may be the ones who caused this place to be created’.
‘I didn’t understand all your words, but I think I agree with you’. Indira said quickly. So did they all, secretly impressed by Demos’s apparent knowledge and skill. He had lost his bumbling absent-minded behaviour now that he was surrounded by his beloved archaeology. They could now see why Ragimund had wanted him to come. His forgetfulness was now replaced with a brisk, but kind efficiency once he was in his archeological element.
‘Time is passing’, Ragimund said quickly. ‘ We must explore the contents of those boxes now and leave the puzzle of the paintings until later, when we might have more evidence of what they might mean’.
‘Yes! shouted Indira, punching the air with her fist. ‘Let’s open the box!’ Mariko glared at her, affronted. Annie could see her skills as a peacemaker might soon be called on. Mariko heightened the situation even further by doing exactly what Annie feared she would do. She affixed a sheet of paper to the front of the first box, which announced to the world that it was ‘Box 1A. Orientation 90 degrees north, 34 degrees east.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake! Does it really matter. Mariko, whether the box is aligned to the sun or other cosmic forces? More likely, they just put it down there, because they were sick of carting it uphill, and slung it down as quickly as they could!’
Annie could see that both young women were ready to burst into fire. It was time to defuse the situation. Before she could open her mouth, however, Demos stepped in. ‘Both of you are right. Please do not fight. I have seen archaeological expeditions like this before drown in insults and petty arguments. This is too important for that to be allowed to happen’.
He continued. ‘If both of you are arguing about the placing of boxes, then consider this: it would seem appropriate, to me at any rate, that if the ancient ones have gone to the trouble of assembling this place, then they would definitely place these boxes in sequence so that they might be opened in a particular order, that is, from the first, placed closest to the entrance, then the others placed further back. All Mariko is doing, Indira, in her own inimitable style, is recording that fact. I would suggest, Mariko, that you also record Indira’s proposition that there might well be a more random placing due to tiredness on the part of the bearers. Both possibilities need to be recorded for the sake of later archaeologists, who will not have the unique experience that we have. Is that agreed?’
Both girls nodded, honour satisfied. Annie was impressed with Demos’s tact and diplomacy in resolving what could have escalated into a more serious conflict. She also realised how an archaeological discovery like this could bring out the worst in people as well as the best. She certainly understood why Ragimund wanted Demos on this expedition. He, of all of them, had the experience and knowedge of previous expeditions that they needed. His words seemed pedantic and over-scholarly, but when accompanied by a dazzling smile and effusive hand gestures, he was irresistible.
However there was work to do, and Indira’s eager screams as she plunged into the pile of cloth-wrapped treasures that lay inside the first box warned Annie that she had to be vigilant. But the treasures that were so eagerly unwrapped, proved to be no more than sculpted, brightly painted figures of men and women. The figures themselves, to Annie’s eyes, seemed wooden and badly formed, though they were painted, or rather their clothes and gowns were, in bright blues, yellows and greens.
Indira was determined to be irreverent, not to be put off by these historic sculptures. ‘Oh come on, they’re rather badly made figurines, that’s all’. Mariko looked furious. Annie said quickly, ‘let’s get on and see what else is in the large box’.
They carefully unwrapped other small cloth-covered objects, that formed the first layer in the box, that was as tall as themselves. Taking them out one by one and unwrapping them on the stone floor, they found themselves looking at a variety of figures in seemed to be small ships, crowded with small robed figures. The boats, for they hardly seemed bigger than that, were shallow with curved bows and stern. Some of the figure appeared to be rowing, though the oars themselves had disappeared. The figures and colours that they were painted in were well preserved, however, as were all the objects that they had so far discovered.
Demos looked carefully at the boats in particular. ‘These are shallow boats, designed for rivers and lakes, not the sea. I wonder if they were seafaring people, or whether they kept to their own land’. But they were surprised by the next find, larger and heavier, which Indira, all but disappearing inside the box, hauled out. They all had to grab her legs and pull out her out backwards, triumphantly clutching her find to her chest. It was a large wooden box this time, strapped with metal. They opened it carefully, and gasped as it gleamed in the sunlight from the cave entrance. It was a model ship of gold, complete with golden masts and furled sails.
‘It’s a galleon!’ exclaimed Simon. ‘Look, see the really high after-deck and the raised forecastle, and the long projecting bow! And it’s got two masts! They did go to sea after all!
‘Not necessarily, Simon, This might have been a gift from a trader, with whom they dealt - a commemoration perhaps of a bargain struck. You see these figures in the deck? They have grooves in which they move. It seems as if this ship is a tribute to a commercial venture. It has mechanisms inside which move the figures’. explained Demos.
‘Well, I think it’s brilliant, and I like it. Nobody can tell me that isn’t a wonderful achievement. Just look at the expertise that‘s gone into that!’ Indira said emphatically
‘True’, replied Demos. ‘If the ancient ones actually made it’.
Ragimund had been quiet for a long time. Now she spoke. ‘The great problem with this investigation is that we have artefacts – things - but we have no written material with them. We can only guess at why they are here. We have no written evidence from the ancient ones. Why did they destroy any such evidence in the past? Why did they not take this opportunity to give us such evidence? Without it, we are lost in the dark’.
‘That’s right. Just a lot of dusty old junk!’
‘Oh yes, Indira. Treat it like a lot of old toys that someone’s thrown out! Have you no respect for the past, Indira? Have you no sense of history?’
No, I haven’t! I’m more concerned with the present and the future! Look at this collection! Perhaps that s what they are – lot of old tat that they’re unloading onto us! Ever thought of that, Mariko? Look at it! It’s like a jumble sale!’
Indira went on, her face flushed and angry.
‘You all take it so seriously. We’ve all got things at home that we’ve collected over the years, but we don’t treat them as holy relics. To be honest, some of this stuff they might have regarded as junk themselves and they just wanted to get rid of it. Doesn’t that possibility occur to you?
This was a serious argument. Annie looked at Mariko’s face, on the point of crumpling into tears of frustration, then at Ragimund’s, whose mouth was down-turned in anger and annoyance. Demos spoke again, desperate to soothe the brimming tide of anger and frustration that threatened to overwhelm all of the expedition.
‘This difference of opinion highlights the essential problems that this expedition faces. One is that, though we have found objects in this place, we do not as yet know who created them or who was responsible for doing so. If these things were created by a people we think of as the ancients, then where is the proof of that? Like any detective investigation, we need to provide evidence of the act’.
‘What kind of evidence? asked Pei-Ying.
‘Written documentation, anything in writing that we know comes from the ancients. We need some sort of library, anything that proves it comes from them’.
‘But what good will that do?’ cried Ragimund suddenly. ‘We have no such records, and no means of translating such material’.
‘Then that is a task for others to perform, to verify such evidence. I suggest that we continue to investigate these boxes, to see if we can find any written documents within them. Letters, bills, records, anything! That will be worth more than any unknown object’.
They gathered wearily around the box again. This time Indira volunteered to go inside the box itself and pass out what was left in there. She clambered over the side and dropped in. Mariko gave a squeal of horror. ‘Do not tread on anything , Indira, please!’
‘Of course not, you silly little sod! Do you think I’ve got lead boots, or something?’
She hauled up another cloth- wrapped parcel. ’Mind out for this one! It’s got a lot of little things inside it’.
When it was unwrapped, they found a number of small figurines, like humans but each with the beaked head of a griffin. Demos looked at then and pondered. ‘These look like household items’. he finally said. ‘Small figures that could be placed in a room or hallway to bring luck, or as a warning to others’.
‘Or protection’. Simon offered. ‘This is the territory of the griffins, after all’.
Demos nodded, and the figures were put down on a sheet on the floor beside the other finds. Indira handed down the last object – a fairly heavy rectangular box, by its shape. They removed its lid. ‘What is that ?’ Annie laughed. ‘I’ll show you’. She pulled at the glass disc inside and took it out. It was a tall glass vase, with no handles, but shaped like a long urn with a long curving fluted neck. The glass was unbelievably thin, with painted scenes of landscape around its bowl. It was tremendously delicate, and very finely worked.
‘Wow! That is really something! I’ve always wondered how you transport things like that’. breathed Indira, hanging over the side of the large box. ‘There’s nothing else in here, I ‘m afraid’.
Annie wet her finger and ran it along the rim of the vase. The vase emitted a long sweet note of music, so sweet that brought tears to their eyes. It was long-drawn out and very beautiful. It sounded like the song of the heavens. They were all silent as they listened. As they did, Indira’s head popped up again out of the box, this time transformed. Her hair was encased in gold, or so it seemed. Gold leaves hung around her forehead, beneath which dangled small gold pendants with red semi-precious stones set in the centre of each. Above the leaves, her head was encircled by gild rosaries. Across her head was a circlet of gold from which three spiked gilded flowers grew, each with a centre of red jewellery Against her black hair, the effect was both stunning and exotic.
‘Whoops. I told a fib. I just looked down and there was this lying all crushed, on the floor of the box. So, I picked it up and straightened it out, and I thought I’d wear it for a lark, just so I could see what it was supposed to do. Bit of investigative archaeology, I thought. The hands-on approach’.
Mariko looked ready to burst. Demos said very quickly, ‘It’s all right, Mariko, there is no harm done. But I am puzzled why it was there in the first place. It does not fit the profile of the other objects in this box’.
‘I’ve got an idea’, Indira cried out. ‘I think that whoever was wearing it leant over to peer in and it simply fell off down to the bottom where they couldn’t get at it. Then the others simply piled in the other things on top of it’.
‘I think that is the most likely scenario’. commented Demos.
‘I wonder if it was hers’. Annie said, looking at the girl painted on the wall.
‘Well, I can’t see any of the others wearing something like that. Can you? Assuming that’s what happened, that is’. Indira added.
‘It is a mystery that we can solve later’. Ragimund decided. ‘We must investigate the final box’.
They eagerly gathered around the final box. It was about three feet square, and they had no idea what it might contain. They watched as Demos carefully eased off the lid. Then they all peered inside. The box only contained one large object and at first they had no idea of what it might be. Demos stretched his arms inside, and lifted it out. They drew in their breaths.
It was a giant glass globe, blue–green in colour. Demos stood struggling to hold it, like Atlas supporting the earth. Simon stooped over the box. ‘There’s something else in here. It looks like a metal frame of some sort’.
Please put it out , Simon. This is getting heavy’. Demos thankfully lowered the globe onto the circular metal stand, where it rested, suspended on four circular supports mounted on the rim of the stand . ‘What are those? Indira asked, pointing at them.
‘I believe they are what you call gimbals. They allow the globe to rotate and move. Like so’. Demos rotated the globe smoothly. ‘Do you recognise this planet, Ragimund?’
‘Yes’. said Ragimund, slowly. ‘It is the planet that we call Astraban, the nearest planet to us. You can see it at night as the brightest star in the sky. But I have never seen it before in such detail, not even through the telescope in our observatory in Elsace’.
‘But what is it doing here, and why should these old ones leave such a thing? What’s the connection?’ asked Annie. She was genuinely puzzled, as was everybody else, by this strange find.
‘There is a faery legend that claims that the ancient ones came from a star, far away. But it is always seen as a tale that has been invented by mystics and charlatans’. Ragimund said, quietly.
‘ But none of this proves anything!’ Indira burst out. ‘All we’ve got is a lot of old relics, and nobody knows what it is or what to do with it! Do we? What are we doing here?
Indira was aflame with rage and frustration. Annie looked around, saw Ragimund and Mariko’ faces, and decided to act quickly. ‘Let’s take this outside, Indira’. She followed Annie sullenly, but one outside in the bright sunlight of the plateau, she burst out again. ‘What are we doing here? I thought our mission was to track down and destroy that evil Wrist family, not piss about in archaeological ruins! What’s that got to do with anything! Have you lost track of that! You give me a straight answer or I’m bloody walking away from this whole shambles!’
Annie’s temper finally broke.
‘Fine, you do that. Just get on your horse, ride back to Rhuan, and tell the faerys there, that you’re running away back home, because you can’t be bothered! You tell them that, Indira!’
Indira stared at her, speechless for once.
‘Ahem’. said a voice behind them, ‘Much as I hate to break up an argument, I would like to point out that the faerys are our friends and allies, and that we should help them as much as we can, if only for that reason. Whether they have legitimate ancestors or not, is our problem as much as theirs. It is vitally important to them’.
‘Since when did you learn to pontificate?’ Annie, still furious, asked her brother.
‘Since I heard you two snapping at each other. Anyway, we have a volunteer’.
‘A volunteer for what? ‘ asked Indira, her anger suddenly forgotten.
‘For going back in time’.
‘What!’ Both Annie and Indira stood gaping at Morag, who stood before them, smiling.
‘You can’t, Morag!’ shouted Annie. ‘You silly sod!’ cried Indira.
‘Why?’ asked Morag, reasonably. ‘I’m the only one who hasn’t done anything so far, and I ‘d really like to help. Apart from that, I’m the only one who can travel back in time, or at least project myself back. I’ve done it before’.
‘When?’ said Indira, sceptically.
‘When I was a small child. I wanted to climb a very big tree to see what it was like, as children do. So I transported right up into the top branches. It was wonderful. I could see for miles!’
‘Then what happened? asked Indira, still sceptical.
‘I got stuck. My mother had to get a big ladder and bring me down’.
‘That’s great! You can get there but you don’t know how to get back! That’s not a journey, that’s a suicide mission!’
‘Well, have you got any better ideas, then!’
‘I have’. They all turned to look at Simon who had been standing listening. ‘Firstly, why are you willing to go on this journey, Morag?’
‘Can you think of any other way of finding out what has gone on here, and whether there’s a library or not? You need an eyewitness to prove the evidence’.
‘Why can’t you send your sprite?’ Annie asked.
‘Who’d believe a sprite? They don’t exist in the eyes of the law. Besides it’s not qualified to ask the right questions or even to understand what we’re trying to do. I’m not sending my sprite to do what I can do perfectly well! Got it?’
‘Well, you’re not going until we can work out an exit plan for you, Morag, and that’s final!’ said Annie decisively.
‘Wait!’ Simon cried. ‘I’ve got an idea!’
‘Oh, no!’ Indira groaned.
‘No, I’m serious. Remember, Annie, how, in Greek mythology, Theseus the hero volunteered to enter the Labyrinth to slay the bull-headed Minotaur? How did he find his way back?’
‘Of course, Ariachnae’s thread!’ Indira looked mystified. ‘Look. Indira’, Annie explained, ‘Theseus had the same problem, of how to find his way back out of the labyrinth. So his lover, Ariachnae, gave him a ball of thread, one end of which he attached to the entrance, and the rest he unravelled as he went further in. Once he’d finished with the Minotaur, he followed the string back to find his way out again’.
‘I see. So you’re expecting Morag here to leg it back through three thousand years of history with a ball of string. That’s a great idea!’
‘No, we can use the talismans. We link up Morag’s talisman with Annie’s so they’re interconnected. When Morag’s ready to come back, Annie can send out a beam of light between the two talismans that Morag can follow back home’.
‘Hang on a minute. Suppose that works, how long is it going to take Morag to traipse all that way back? Have you thought of that?’
‘We’ll ask the talisman’. Annie decided.
‘Can you do that? Indira asked again.
‘Yes. I can. But I’ll need my brother’s help. Simon! she called.
‘Here I am, oh illustrious sister’.
‘Cut the claptrap. Can you ask the talisman how long it would take for our mad sister to get back from wherever she ‘s going?’
Simon frowned then tapped out the appropriate words on the talisman that his sister held out for him, using the simple Morse code that allowed him to send messages through the talisman.
‘It says that Morag should get back in two or three hours, depending on the terrain’.
‘There, you see’. said Morag triumphantly. ‘Anyway, I’m going and that’s it’.
‘Well, I still think it’s a crazy idea’.
‘I don’t like it either’, said Annie, ‘ what if something goes wrong? What you injure yourself, and you can’t get back? You can’t just go blundering into something you don’t know anything about’.
‘That’s rich coming from you, Annie. Who was it that challenged the Wrist family, and ended up half-dead and covered in blood on my apartment floor?’
‘Yes, but we had Sister Teresa to pick us up. And I’ll admit that was a stupid idea, just like this one!’ Annie retorted hotly.
Morag’s lips set in a tight, hard line. Without saying another word, she turned abruptly and walked away, back into the cave.
‘My, she’s a stubborn bitch, isn’t she? I wonder if her mother was like that’.
‘Probably’, Annie replied. She was now both angry and frightened for Morag, her sister. ‘Let’s go back in and have one more try at persuading her’.
They looked around the cave. ‘Where is she? Indira muttered aloud. ‘She was here only a moment ago. Anyone seen Morag?’
The all looked around. ‘She was here just now! She was standing right beside me!’ cried Pei-Ying.
‘She’s bloody gone on her travels. Without telling anybody! The stupid bitch!’ cried Indira angrily.
‘I heard that, Indira’.
‘What? Where the hell are you, Morag?’ Indira gasped, looking around and up at the ceiling.
‘I’m in the room next door, with the ancient ones’.
They stared at the blank wall of the back of the cavern.
‘You can’t be, Morag! There’s no door here!’ Annie shouted.
‘Yes there is. I walked through it just now’.
Morag’s voice was faint and echoing as if she was speaking from a long way away.
‘Morag, can you describe what you see and hear. Everything you can, Morag! It is vitally important!’
‘I’ll do my best. But I can’t understand what they’re saying. They’re speaking their own language. But…oh!’
‘What is it, Morag?’ cried Annie excitedly.
‘They’re speaking to each other by name, at least as far as I can tell. I’m writing each one down phonetically, you know, as it sounds to me. It might give you some clues about their language’.
‘Yes, please, Morag! It is really important!’ Mariko squealed, her voice high in excitement.
‘Tell us what else you see, Morag! What is the room like?’asked Ragimund, urgently.
Well, it’s high and vaulted above in stone. It looks like it’s been carved out of solid rock. The are two tall pillars or columns running down the centre, with what look like capitals at the top.The walls have been smoothed. They’re painted a dark red on the lower half, and a dark green above. There’s a long trestle table between the two pillars, piled with wooden boxes. At the moment. they’re pulling out things, hold on, I know what they are! They’re scrolls! Like what you write on! They’re wrapped round a wooden tube, or something, with little discs at both ends to keep the scroll straight. They’re all taking them out of the boxes and putting them on these stone shelves that run right round the walls. Oh, God, I know what it is! They’re building a library! That must be what this place is!’
‘Morag, what are the people like? Are they gods?’demanded Ragimund.
‘How should I know what gods look like? These are living, breathing, moving people just like you and me! They are just ordinary people! But one thing though. They’re the same people that were in the pictures in the cave! Exactly! They’re the same people. All of them, including the little girl!’
‘Are you sure of that, Morag?’cried Ragimund.
‘ Yes I’m sure. I recognise each one of them. Wait, the young girl’s staring into my corner! I’m sure she’s seen me! I’m going to try to talk to her’.
‘No, Morag, you must not! It might do more harm than good!’ Ragimund shouted, now alarmed.
But it was too late. Morag marched across to the young girl, and stood in front of her. ‘Can I ask you some questions? I won’t hurt you, I promise’. The girl backed away, suddenly alarmed. Without thinking, Morag reached out and grasped the girl’s arm. To her astonishment, she felt cool, soft flesh beneath her fingers. The girl backed away still further. Morag’s fingers tightened on her arm. The girl gave a sharp scream, turned and pulled her arm away, and ran weeping to the tall bearded man, who Morag judged to be her grandfather, pointing at the corner from which Morag had come. His face looked grim. He called to the others who gathered in the corner and began to poke around it with short sticks. Morag breathed again. They obviously thought the girl had been bitten by a lizard or snake. But the old bearded man was examining the girl’s bruise intently. Morag could see her own finger marks on the girl’s flesh. She groaned.
‘Hell’s bell’s! I’ve really done it now. I’ve stirred up a hornets nest! Oh, no! They’ve finished and they’ re all leaving! They’re taking the torches with them! Oh, hell! They’re leaving me alone in the dark! For god’s sake, help me! I can’t see a thing. At least, show me a path, anything, anything!’
She suddenly realised how shrill her voice had become, and fought hard to control her panic. The room was pitch black, and she could no longer orientate herself. Suddenly, to her immense relief, her talisman began to glow brightly. A thin golden thread shone out from it, leading toward the door though which the others had left. She scrambled to her feet, hardly realising that she had sunk against the wall, and followed it. She pulled the door open, but found to her horror, she was not back in the original cave, at all. She was in another dark room. But the thread led on straight across, to what she supposed was the opposite side.
Annie! Annie! I don’t where the talisman is taking me! This isn’t the way I came!’
She paused but could hear nothing. She realised then that she was on her own in the dark, dependent only on a thin ray of light. She stifled a small sob of despair, but pressed on.
Back in the cave, the others were listening to Morag’s account of the ancient people. Concerned as they were for her safety, they were still enthralled by her description of them, Ragimund and Mariko in particular.
‘It’s like listening to a live commentary on the radio, isn’t it’. said Indira to no-one in particular. But then they heard Morag’s voice, and the note of panic in it. Annie decided to sit down and activate the talisman and the golden thread. As she did so, she became aware of the sudden crushing weight upon her. She had completely underestimated the effort of maintaining the talisman and it’s thread over such a long space of time. She strained under the burden, aware that Morag’s very life depended on it.
‘Annie, are you all right?’ her brother asked with concern. He had noticed the lines of pain on her face. At the sound of his voice, the others turned, distressed at the look of agony on Annie’s face. Would she be able to maintain the burden for long enough to bring Morag back? Just at that moment they heard a shout of joy, as Morag’s talisman lit up, and the golden thread shone from it.
‘Annie! Annie! I don’t know where the talisman is taking me! This isn’t the way I came!’
‘It’s all right, Morag! The talisman is taking you on its own route!’ Simon yelled. But even as he spoke, he realised it was no use. He was shouting into a void, and he knew, as they all did, that Morag could no longer hear them. For a long time, or so it seemed, they. heard nothing
Behind them, Annie gave a low cry. She was making one last almighty effort to maintain the golden thread, but she had borne it for over half an hour. The struggle was too much. With a low groan, she fell sideways, her eyelids fluttering frantically. Simon sprang to her side and felt her neck for a pulse. It was weak, but unmistakeably there. ‘It’s no good’. he muttered, half to himself. ‘She’s lost consciouness. Now what do we do?’
At the same moment there was a shrill scream of terror. ‘The talisman’s gone out, and the thread’s disappeared! Oh, God, I cant see anything at all. Please don’t leave me here, all alone in the dark. Please, oh please! I’m frightened! Please don’t abandon me! Oh, please! Please! Please! I can’t stand it in here! Please!’
Simon had never felt so helpless before. He pulled the talisman from his sister’s finger and put it on his own. But the talisman remained dull and lifeless. They could now hear Morag sobbing and whimpering in misery, a lost child in the dark.
They were by now standing around Annie, clutching each others’ arms and shoulders tightly in despair and frustration. A figure burst into the forlorn group. ‘I will take up the burden from Annie’. it announced excitedly.
‘How do you propose to do that, Demos?’ Simon said angrily.
‘With this’. Demos held out something that was attached to a cord around his neck. With a start, Simon recognised it. It was another talisman, identical to the one that Annie wore, and to the others he had seen. ‘I shall not let that poor girl die in the dark labyrinth’.
He settled down beside Annie and pressed his talisman against hers. The talisman he now wore on his finger began to pulsate with light. He groaned as he took the burden that Annie had had to endure, his body bent forward to take the unseen weight.
At the same time, there was a shrill scream of joy.
Simon still felt worried. He didn’t know how long Demos would be able to keep the thread in operation, and if Morag exhausted herself, how long she would be able to last. The crisis was far from over. They overheard Morag, this time talking to herself.
‘Keep going, you stupid plod. One foot in front of the other, that’s right. Oh, hell, how long is this going to continue? I’ve lost track of time, I don’t know where I am! This dust is getting worse. I can’t breathe properly, and I’m so tired. I’m literally wading through snowdrifts of dust, and I don’t know how much longer I can go on! I’ m so tired, I just want to fall down and go to sleep! Please, can someone help me! I feel like I’ve been in here for an eternity!’
Everyone ached for her, in her lonely misery. Simon thought of sending her a message in Morse code, but a quick glance at Demos stifled that idea. Demos was still trying to keep the thread going, and any interference would ruin that. He reluctantly decided that Morag would have to remain on her own, dependent on her own resources.
‘I can’t go on much longer. I can hardly put one foot in front of another!’ Morag cried suddenly. ‘I’ m too tired. This dust is driving me mad. It’s so thick, and I can’t breathe. Aaagh! There‘s a whole flock of things, that flew into me as I opened the next door! I can hear them flapping around me ! Wait! I’ve caught one of them. Ugh! Its squirming and wriggling in my hands! It’s a book! A flying book! I can feel its leather cover and the pages flapping about inside! Ugh! It’s alive!’
She tossed it away, hearing it immediately flutter away to rejoin its companions. She shuddered at the thought of a book that was alive and wriggling in her hands, like a live bird. She plodded on through the doorway and paused in despair. Another dark room! But this one seemed curiously familiar, as if she had been here before. She plodded forward and crashed into a large object in front of her, grazing her battered knees still further. She raised her hands cautiously and felt around the object. Her fingertips skittered across the crumbling surface of what once had been a wooden table, now rickety and decayed. She followed it along until her hand encountered another round cylinder similar to the first. Stretching up her hand, she discovered that it towered above her head, towards the unseen ceiling. At last she knew where she was.
Morag’s spirit finally broke. To find her way through time all this way, only to find her final path completely blocked, was a cruel blow. She hammered in desperation with her fists on the unyielding wall, and then turned, slid down it onto the floor and wept helplessly. Her cries turned into sobs, which also stopped as she fell into a deep dreamless sleep of exhaustion. She lay slumped against the wall, and the dust fell on her, covering her in its grey whispering mantle.
Mariko looked at the wall. She had heard something with her sharp ears. She pressed her head against the wall, and motioned to the others for silence.
‘I heard someone banging on the other side of the wall! Now I can hear someone crying! It must be Morag! She is trapped on the other side!’
They all bent their heads to the wall to listen. But they could hear nothing.
‘Are you sure you heard it, Mariko?’
‘ Yes, I am sure. It is her, Simon, I know it! She was in terrible distress!’
‘Damn it! Damn it to hell!’ Simon cried out in frustration.
In his anger he picked up a large rock from the floor and smashed it against the wall. Demos looked down at his feet, embarrassed by Simon’s outburst. He noticed something, and knelt down. There was a small mound of dust at the foot of the wall. He looked at the wall and called to Simon. ‘Strike the wall again, here, nearer to me!’
Simon looked puzzled. ‘I can’t break through the wall, Helios. You know that’.
‘Just do as I say! Now!’
Simon smashed the rock against the wall twice more. Helios pointed at the wall. ‘Now do you see’.
The unmistakable outline of a large round- headed door had appeared, where the dust disguising it had run down through the impact of Simon’s blows.
‘So there is a door after all, just as Morag said. But how we open it? It’s flush with the wall! We haven’t got any tools to lever it open!’
‘I have an idea!’ cried Mariko. She ran over and knelt by the newly revealed door. ‘You see the crevice here? It is a keyhole, I am sure of it! The edges are too rounded for it to be natural!’
What of it? We haven’t got a key!’
‘ No, but I think I may be able to open it’
‘With this’. Mariko held up her index finger. ‘My finger can fit in this crevice. I may be able to release the lock’.
‘Then try it, Mariko! But please hurry! Morag might be dying in there!’
Mariko turned to the crevice in the wall. She inserted her finger into it, and wriggled it around. ‘I can feel a mechanism. But I have to find the right part to unlock it’.
A long agonising minute passed, while Mariko desperately explored the mechanism.
Another long minute, then Mariko raised her hand. ‘I think I have it’.
She had heard a quiet click inside the door. It moved silently, outwards, about three or four inches, no more. But it was enough for Simon and Helios to get their fingertips around the edge and pull frantically. The door swung open suddenly, throwing them onto the hard stone floor. A flood of grey dust poured out, carrying with it a half-submerged body, that stirred feebly, then reached out an imploring hand.
‘Ughh! It’s a grey witch!’ cried Indira. But Simon knelt down beside the pathetic figure. He had recognised the talisman on her hand, grubby and discoloured. ‘It’s you, Morag, isn’t it? You’ve come back to us!’ He stroked the hand that she held out to him, with the talisman. The grey figure tried to speak, but all he heard was a sharp croak. That was enough for Indira. She rushed forward, elbowing Simon out of her way.
‘Can’t you see she’s suffocating! Pei-Ying, get a cup of water and a really damp cloth! Quick!’ Pei-Ying handed the cup of water to Indira who raised it to Morag’s dry lips. ‘Right, Morag. I want you to swill this around your mouth, and then spit it out. I said, spit! I know its not ladylike , but just do it!’ Morag hawked and spat on the floor. ‘Good. And again’. Once more Morag spat the dusty liquid on the floor. ‘Right. Can you speak now?’ Morag nodded and said faintly, ‘Yes’.
‘Another cup of clean water, Pei-Ying. Thank you. Now swallow this, Morag. You’re thirsty’.
Morag swallowed. The water was icy, but it tasted delicious to her parched throat. All through this, Indira had been carefully wiping her face with the damp cloth, particularly her nose and eyes, to free her from the clogging dust. She found she could open her eyes again, and see the faces of her friends once more! She had never expected to see them again.
‘You are the most despicable mess I’ve ever seen, Morag’. Indira said sternly. ‘This calls for desperate measures. Ragimund, where is the nearest source of running water?’
‘Just outside. The waterfall from the mountain, from which we draw our drinking water’. Ragimund said immediately. There was a small waterfall to the right of the entrance to the cave, which overflowed from a rocky ledge part of the way up the sheer rock face in which the cave was situated. It cascaded into a shallow rock bowl, which had been partly shaped by the force of the water. It flowed directly from the mountain above, and was icy-cold.
‘That’ll do nicely’ said Indira, meaningfully. ‘Can you walk, Morag?’
Morag shook her head miserably. She didn’t even feel she could get up. Her legs felt too weak.
‘No matter. We’ll carry you’.
Indira and Pei-Ying picked up Morag and carried her in a fireman’s lift, their hands clasped beneath her to support her weight, towards the entrance.
‘Wait, where are you taking her?’ cried Mariko.
‘As acolytes, we are bound to perform the sacred rites of ablution, in accordance with the wish of the great goddess, Hygeia’. Indira called over her shoulder. ‘And incidentally, these are private. So I don’t want any of you sticking your noses outside the entrance, until we’ve finished. Got it?’
‘I do not understand, Simon. What is it that they are planning? I did not understand a word of what she said. Who is this goddess Hygeia?’ Ragimund asked urgently.
‘What are they going to do with her? ‘ asked Mariko urgently.
Simon smiled at them both. ‘Don’t worry. It means that they’re going to give her a good wash, to get all that dust off. After all, we don’t know where it’s been. They won’t hurt her, just clean her up a bit, that’s all’.
‘The dust of time’ murmured Mariko, stirring it with her foot.
A shrill scream from outside split the air. It was followed by a stream of extremely rude expletives in the same voice.
‘I think Morag’s just found the water a bit cold’.
‘Why could Indira not just say what she meant?’ cried Ragimund, indignantly. ‘Why do you humans always have to make your language so difficult?’
‘Not us. Just Indira’. Simon shook his head in mock despair. ‘ The sacred rites of ablution!’ he muttered to himself.
After a few audible minutes of splashing and screams from outside, there was comparative silence. Then Morag reappeared, supported on both sides by her acolytes, since her legs were still so weak. But it was a transformed Morag. For one thing, she was now clean, clad in a belted white dressing- gown, with sandals on her feet. Her long dark hair was still bedraggled and wet strands of it clung to her cheeks. But she still looked rather beautiful, and Simon felt a sudden surge of affection for her, especially when he remembered the state she was in when she was finally released from the labyrinth of time.
He smiled at her, glad that she was back. ‘Permission to give you a brotherly hug?’ he asked. Morag smiled a radiant smile at him. ‘Of course, Simon. I could do with a bit of TLC after having been half-drowned by these two sadists’.
‘There’s gratitude for you! ‘ exclaimed Indira, indignantly. ‘Have you any idea of what you looked like, before we cleaned you up? Do you? Don’t blame the servants for having to clean up after you!’
Morag paid no attention. She was looking over Simon’s shoulder, suddenly alarmed. ‘What’s wrong with Annie and Demos?’ she cried anxiously. Annie was lying propped against the wall, her eyes closed. Demos was lying on the floor next to her, curled up, either unconscious or asleep.
‘Worn out with the effort of trying to get you back. We didn’t realise what an effort that was going to be’.
Morag disengaged herself from Simon and tottered towards them. Her legs still felt weak. She collapsed in an ungainly heap beside Annie’s prone figure. ‘Annie!’ she called. Annie’s eyes opened. ‘Morag!’ she cried out joyfully, ‘you’ve come back to us! I thought I’d lost you for ever!’ She held out her arms. ‘Come here, my sister!’ Morag crept into her arms and leant back against her, feeling suddenly weepy, her eyes pricking. Annie clasped her arms around Morag’s waist and leant her head against Morag’s. They lay together peacefully, entwined together. The others, standing around them, felt deeply moved, as they looked down on the two young women in their affectionate embrace.
But Ragimund was having none of it. She was exasperated with Morag and determined that she should realise it. ‘Do you realise what trouble you have caused this expedition, by ignoring the advice that you were given? Do you? We have wasted the best part of a day to retrieve you from a situation you did not even plan properly! You are a waste of my time, Morag. You are undisciplined and you have put others at risk through your own folly! Do you have anything to say?’
Morag stared up at her, feeling cowed. She knew that Ragimund could change almost instantly from a shy, almost diffident, young girl into a raging warrior queen. Worse still, like most faerys, she was unpredictable, and she was standing over Morag, forcing her to look up at her, which made her even more formidable. Morag was genuinely frightened, so she decided to be humble.
‘Ragimund, I’m truly sorry for what I did. I just thought it was the right thing to do. It’s what my mother would have done. I apologise to everyone here and thank you for not giving up on me and not leaving me in there to rot. It was worth it because, you see, I have found your missing library’.
‘What!’ exclaimed Ragimund and Mariko in unison. ‘Where is it? demanded Ragimund, her excitement overcoming her anger.
‘Through that door behind you, in the secret room where I found myself when I transported there’.
Without another word, Ragimund turned and went through the doorway. She paused in the threshold. ‘Simon! Mariko! Bring your torches! It is as black as night in here!’
They hurried after her, with their long electric torches, which they shone around, the beams flickering over the piles of old scrolls, piled high on the stone shelves around the walls. Simon shone his torch in a wide sweep around the room, which he calculated was about fifty feet square, hewn out of solid rock. He shone his torch upwards. The roof was vaulted, supported by the two central columns. Traces of red and green paint could still be seen on the walls. But the darkness and the silence were stifling, as was the musty smell of old dust and decay that filled the room.
‘Ragimund, there must be hundreds of scrolls here!’ exclaimed Mariko. ‘It will take years to decipher them!’
‘Yes, you are right. That is why we must remove them and take them to the Department Of Antiquities in Rhuan. They cannot stay here. They are already well decayed, and will deteriorate even further if they stay here. Besides, the light is too bad, and the atmosphere too. If we remove them, they can be preserved and studied properly’.
‘How did Morag survive this? ‘ wondered Mariko. ‘Trudging through room after room in the dark, with no light, and this dust! It’s a wonder she survived at all!’
They thought of the lonely figure making her way slowly and painfully through the labyrinth, not even knowing where she was going, or would even reach her destination.
‘I have badly misjudged her’. Ragimund said slowly. Simon knew that was as close to an apology that Morag would get from a faery. They went back into the cave.
Morag looked up as soon as they came back in. She could see by their faces that they were pleased.
‘There’s more’. She said brightly. ‘I don’t know if you heard me, but I said I was making notes of their names, as they sounded. They’re in my pocket-book, if some one can get it for me. They might give you the beginnings of a vocabulary’.
‘Yes!’ cried Mariko, in elation, ‘If we can match up the names with the marks below these figures, we can start a rudimentary alphabet. It will of great use to the translators. Morag, do remember which figures had which names?’
‘Yes, I do. Let’s start with the girl, Oolita. That’s what the others called her’.
‘Are you sure that is what you heard, Morag? Morag! What is the matter?’
She was staring at the image of the girl, with horror and distress in her face.
‘Look! Look, at her arm!’ Morag cried, then inexplicably buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.
They all turned to the image of the young girl on the wall of the cave. ‘Ohh!’ gasped Mariko. The image of the girl, shy yet inviting, was the same, except for a livid red bruise and fingermarks on her upper left arm, vivid against the whiteness of her skin.
‘I did that!’ sobbed Morag between her fingers. ‘I swear I didn’t mean to hurt her! I only wanted to talk to her!’
‘Typical plod. You go back in time without telling anybody, and then you start arresting them! And a child, too!’ Indira snapped.
‘Leave it out, Indira! It was an accident!’ Simon exclaimed.
Indira subsided, with a few muttered comments under her breath.
‘I’m sorry, my love. I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you, just to talk to you. I didn’t realise that you couldn’t hear me or see me. Please forgive me’. Morag was talking to the image of the girl, trying to comfort her from three thousand years later.
She felt hands on her shoulders. She turned and it was Demos, who looked at her gently and then turned away himself. He walked over to Mariko, who was already examining the images again. They both leant over the bottom part of where the girl was, looking at the lower part of her garment. Demos nodded to Mariko, who straightened up and looked at all of them. ‘These images are not what they seem’. she announced. ‘We were mistaken before, but not now. These images of the old ones are not painted images. They are photographs’.
Everyone ‘s mouths were open in shock and surprise. They had not expected this. ‘But how can a people who still write on scrolls, practice such sophisticated photography at the same time? cried Simon. ‘It doesn’t make sense!’
Demos shrugged helplessly. ‘I know. But it is the evidence that counts’.
‘ Morag, can you remember any more names?’ Mariko called out.
‘Yes, I can remember all of them. I saw all of them in flesh and blood, so to speak. That was Oolita, bless her. The one next to her is Demajan. I think, though I don’t know for certain, that he was her grandfather or uncle. They certainly seemed related. The next one along is Ongra, a bit bossy. Next to him is Barajoy, quite a character, always laughing and joking. The character in the red cap is Oongan………’
Simon felt a hand on his arm. He turned and saw Ragimund, her face bewildered. ‘Simon, what is a photograph?’
‘It’s a way of making a permanent image on a light–sensitive surface, through a glass lens or aperture. The photograph is the image that’s made’. He was embarrassingly aware of how inadequate his description sounded.
Ragimund sighed. ‘I have never seen a photograph’.
Simon took out his wallet, and drew something out which he gave to Ragimund. ‘That’s a photograph’. It was an picture of him, standing smiling in front of a doorway. Ragimund gasped in delight, and held it delicately between her fingertips. ‘It is you, standing in front of your dwelling in your land! I recognise it!’
‘It’s only a snapshot. Annie took it’.
‘What is a snapshot?’
‘An image you take on the spur of the moment, just to record something or some one at a particular moment in time. Why?’
Ragimund gazed at the images of the wall. ‘Because that is what they are! Demos!’
Demos came across. ‘What is it, Ragimund?’
‘These are snapshots of those who set up the library! They have recorded themselves as the ones who were responsible! Why would they do that? Because they were charged with setting it up, so that we could find it eventually! The old ones wanted us to find it! Why would they bring a young girl with them if they were doing it in secret?’
‘These are hardly snapshots, Ragimund’.
‘But to them they might be! Don’t you see, why would they efface all their inscriptions, yet leave a library and images of themselves!
‘But these are not snapshots, Ragimund. These would have taken time, and apparatus of which we are not aware!’
‘Does it matter? Cannot a civilisation be more advanced in one field than another? Who are we to judge?’
‘What is your point, Ragimund?’ Demos asked reasonably.
‘That these people were acting upon orders. It is not a conspiracy but an act that was ordered. The fact that these people had time to have their photographs taken would point to that, and that they were proud of it. But why should they efface all their inscriptions and leave us an undiscovered library?’
‘Perhaps they wanted to leave an open territory to whoever came after them but leave some means to discover who they really were’.
‘I think that is a very plausible hypothesis’. Demos grinned.
Ragimund smiled too. ‘Can I keep this…photograph?’ she asked, shyly.
‘Of course you can’. Simon replied, feeling rather flattered.
‘I feel our work here is now at an end. We can do no more. Would you not agree, Demos?’
‘Yes, I do. But we must arrange for all these things to be transported back to Rhuan’.
‘I will take care of that’. Ragimund said, going over to the small wicker cage of doves that she had brought with her, which was paced carefully near the mouth of the cave. She hastily scribbled a note on the small piece of paper, that she had specifically for this purpose, rolled it up as tightly as possible, and put it into the small metal tube attached to the leg of the bird she selected from the cage. They watched as she went to the mouth of the cave and flung the bird into the air, and saw it flutter away in the darkening evening air towards Rhuan.
‘There, that is done’. she said coming back into the cave. ‘But I have another idea which I shall tell you about later. Let us eat and drink first, however’.
They settled down around the fire outside, enjoying the balmy evening air, and sense of a job well done, and ate the last of their food – soft flat-breads, raisins and fruit, washed down with bottles of fragrant faery wine, that they all now permitted themselves. Annie felt slightly tipsy after the first glass, but the mood was convivial and jolly. They had achieved what they had set out to do, even if it had raised more mysteries than they could understand.
Demos raised his glass. ‘To this expedition. We have achieved so much. Thanks to all of you, despite the quarrels and differences of opinion. But that is inevitable. We are all still here in companionship, and that is what matters’.
‘There is something else’ said Ragimund suddenly, when the cheers had subsided. ‘We need to name this archaeology that we have carried out’.
‘How about Morag’s Cave?’ Annie said sharply. ‘After all, it was Morag who trekked through three thousand years of history, and met the ancient ones face to face, so to speak. If any one has the right, then she does’.
‘ I agree with that’. said Ragimund, unexpectedly.’ I think that is entirely appropriate’. She smiled at Morag, who looked flushed with embarrassment.
‘And I too. Morag, my love, do us the honour of allowing us to name this site after you’.
Morag caught the note of endearment. She blushed again.
‘ I think that’s a great idea! Really romantic. Brilliant! Morag’s Cave! I really like it!’ shouted Indira, overcome with enthusiasm and wine.
They remained around the fire for a while longer, and gradually slipped off to their palliases and sleeping bags inside the cave.
‘What have we learnt from this expedition, Demos?’ asked Ragimund, leaning forward to throw more wood onto the fire. Demos stared at the newly flickering flames. ‘We have learnt that the old ones have more technology than we realised. Strange as it may seem’, turning to Annie and Simon, ‘The ancient Chinese and other peoples knew far more about guns and explosives, and paper, than Europeans did, centuries before. Why should these people not know about photography, even though they are writing on scrolls?’
‘Another thing puzzles me about this expedition. Those flying books that Morag encountered, what were they? They must have come from the library, since they appeared when Morag opened the other door. But why? And how did they fly?’
‘All I know is, they flew into my face, and the one I caught was alive!’ Morag shivered at the memory.
‘Was there anyone else in the labyrinth, that you were aware of, Morag?’
‘No, no-one. It was deathly quiet in there. If there was someone, I would have heard them. I couldn’t sense anyone else near me!’
‘I see’. Demos replied. ‘I think you two had better get some sleep now. Ragimund and I have some things to discuss’. They gratefully went off to seek their sleeping bags. Morag slept near Annie, separated only by a large flat stone on which stood a solitary candle, which Annie blew out as soon as they got into bed. Morag wriggled and tossed. Finally she could bear it no longer. ‘Annie!’ she whispered. Annie suddenly sat upright. ‘What is it, Morag?’ she whispered back, agitatedly.
‘It’s just that….can you leave the candle burning? Its just that I won’t be in the dark again’.
‘Of course I can, Morag. Here’.
Annie struck a match from her matchbox, and relit the candle. Morag settled back in relief. ‘Thanks, Annie. Sorry to be such a nuisance’.
‘You aren’t a nuisance at all, Morag. Now go to sleep’.
But she didn’t, not immediately. She lay on her side for a while, looking at the flickering candle, taking comfort from its bright warmth. When she fell asleep, the light of that flickering candle lit up all her dreams.
Frank Jackson (06/05/2012) Word Count - 10987