Annie’s  Return

Morag is interrupted in her archeological dig with Sophie, her new-found friend by an urgent phone call. Her faery-sister is in trouble and is in urgent need of assistance. She hurries back to resolve it, but find she has to return to the faery land of Hyperborea. Her new sister, Annie, is back from her travels with dire news and unexpected behaviour. The news is very grim.


Her mobile phone went off in her back pocket. Its strident ringing at first startled her. For a few seconds, she wondered what it was. But Sophie recognised it. ‘Your mobile’s going off, Morag. You’d better answer it’. Morag was so unused to answering her mobile, since she had moved to Hyperborea, that she was baffled at first. At first she could not understand who was calling her, because she had not used it for over a year. She had only brought it with her to recharge the battery for emergencies. She looked at the screen, puzzled. Why was Simon calling her? Switching it to receive, she listened with growing horror to the torrent of words that flowed from the other end. ‘Slow down, Simon! I can barely understand what you’re saying. Where is she now? All right, I’ll come and fetch her. For God’s sake, stay with her, and don’t let her out of your sight! I’m on my way now’.

She turned to her companion and fellow digger, Sophie, an attractive blonde girl of about the same age as herself. They had been excavating the second round house together. ‘Sophie, I’ve got to go. Urgent family business. Sorry’. ‘No worries! Sophie grinned. ‘I’ll just carry on and keep the home fires burning. Hope everything turns out all right’. ‘Thanks, Sophie’. Morag said sincerely. She had come to like the blonde girl. But she hurried off to find her husband.

‘Demos!’ She called. She eventually saw him with the Professor, looking over the map of the Iron Age village that they had purportedly found, on a trestle table, close to where the original round house was. ‘Demos, we must go! Its Ragimund!’
Demos looked up and saw his wife, catching the note of urgency in her voice. ‘What is it, Morag?’ Morag didn’t reply. He put down his pen and went towards her. She was clearly agitated.

‘We must go, Demos!’ She replied, clearly upset. ‘But why?’ He persisted. ‘Because Ragimund is in trouble. Don’t ask me what. I couldn’t get any sense out of Simon! Now, come!’

He allowed her to drag him across the golf-course, ignoring the shouts of angry golfers. But when they reached the belt of woodland above the allotment, Demos decided it was enough. ‘Morag! Tell me why you have dragged me out of a meeting without a proper explanation. I am not going any further unless you tell me!’ She suddenly realised he was angry, and felt ashamed of herself. She retraced her steps towards him. She laid her hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry, Demos, but I’m so worried about my faery-sister. You see, not having had any sisters or real family before, they’ve become very precious to me. And Ragimund’s in trouble. She’s my faery-sister, and I feel responsible for her. According to what sense I could get out of Simon, she’s just had a traumatic experience. I don’t know what, but we’ll find out when we get there. The reason I wanted you to come, is because I love you very much, and I trust you, and because I really need you, now. This is my faery-sister, Demos, and I can’t bear it that she’s in trouble’.

‘Then why did you not tell me at first! Of course, I will come with you! Ragimund is a fellow faery and a sister of yours!’

‘ I meant to, but I couldn’t find the words’. Morag said dismally. She ran and caught up with him. ‘I’m sorry, Demos’.

He turned around and gave her a whirling kiss. ‘It does not matter. We can take your car. It will be quicker’.  

They ran down through the belt of woodland and crossed the Ditchling Road, and further down to Annie and Simon’s house, where John Wheeler, their father, let them in and handed over Morag’s car keys. ‘I used it yesterday and filled it up with petrol’. He explained. ‘Its running as sweetly as ever’. ‘Thanks ever so much, John’. Morag said breathlessly, as she tucked her driving licence and insurance documents into her satchel. Her car was parked in the driveway next to the house. Morag felt a surge of affection for her beloved little car, as they clambered in, and drove off down the Ditchling road. Rather than sell it, when she moved to Hyperborea, she had made an arrangement with John that he would look after it for her, in return for using it as a second car. It was an arrangement that suited them both very well. Demos broke into her strained thoughts.

‘Do you know where they are?’ He asked.

‘Yes’, Morag replied, not taking her eyes off the road ahead. ‘They’re outside a pub called the Western Union, just off Churchill Square. We won’t be able to get to it in the car’.  

‘If it helps, Morag, I have a valid driving licence. I could park your car while you look after your faery-sister’.

‘You’ve got a licence! Since when?’ She glanced at him in surprise.

‘Since I spent four years in your land. I took a driving test then, thinking it would be useful one day’.

‘But what about insurance?’

‘John has taken care of that. He has updated your documents to include all permitted drivers, including myself’.

‘I see. And when, pray, were you going to tell me this?’

‘When the opportunity arose, like now’.

‘You know, Demos, you never cease to amaze me’.

She stopped as the traffic lights ahead turned from green to red.

‘You mean, you are not angry at me?’ Demos asked, plaintively. 

She looked at him and smiled sweetly. ‘You know I can’t be angry with you for long’. She leant over and kissed him tenderly. An angry car horn sounded just behind. She looked up and saw the lights had changed back to green.

‘All right, you impatient bastard!’ She yelled through her open window. They drove on, past the Royal Pavilion, the sun gleaming on its bulbous domes and minarets, its front lawn crowded with tourists, and turned right onto the seafront road. Despite the heavy traffic, Morag smiled again. She loved driving with the white-scalloped sea below on her left, and throngs of people strolling along the promenade, and the tall Regency and Victorian hotels overlooking her on the right. She loved all the noise of  shouts and conversation, mingled with the buzz and roar of the incessant traffic, and the occasional screech of seagulls whirling and soaring above. This was her city and she loved it. But she thought of Ragimund, and how terrifying she must have found it, unused to all this noise and bustle.

She turned up West Street towards the clock-tower. Towards the top of the road, she was forced to stop at a pedestrian crossing. This was where she planned Demos should take over. She hopped out of the car, leaving Demos to slide over into the driver’s seat. She watched critically as he drove away. She had never before trusted her precious car to anybody else, But Demos drove it well and efficiently, so she was satisfied. But she turned and ran up the small pedestrian road that led up to the Churchill shopping plaza.

She saw Ragimund almost straight away. She stopped and groaned, ‘Oh, no!’ she said to herself. Ragimund was sitting bolt upright on one of the wooden benches outside the pub. She could see immediately that she was in a deeply distressed state. Even from a distance, she realised that  Ragimund was both crying, and trembling. She slipped onto the bench, opposite them across the table, appalled at the total change in her faery-sister. She no longer looked like a fearless young faery warrior, but a frightened, shivering young woman, terrified of everything around her. She seemed incapable of talking, so she turned her attention to Simon, who sat beside Ragimund anxiously. ‘How long has she been like this?’ She asked him, quietly. ‘Since just before I called you’. He answered, miserably. ‘ I don’t know what to do! I’ve tried talking to her and trying to comfort her, but she just won’t respond!’

‘What happened exactly? She asked again. ‘We were crossing Western Road to get to this pub, and she just stopped dead in the middle and froze! I had to bundle her onto the pavement! Then I sat her down here, and I rang you’.

Morag looked around at the welter of noisy traffic that filled the Western road.  
‘You took her through that! How could you, Simon? You blithering idiot!’

Ragimund spoke for the first time.

‘Please do not blame Simon, Morag. He has looked after me, as a husband should’. Her voice was low but steady.

‘Even so!’ Morag fumed. She glared at Simon, who shrank under her gaze. ‘Look, Ragimund, we need to get you home. The best way of doing that is to drive you in my car’.

‘No! I will not enter one of those beasts!’ Ragimund cried, vehemently.

Morag sighed, exasperatedly. She turned to Simon again.

‘You, go and make yourself useful! Go and get her a large brandy from the pub! Make it a double, and get one yourself! You look as if you need it too! Go on!’ Simon got up and went off, sulkily. Morag turned back to her faery-sister. ‘Now tell me what the problem is, and I’ll see what I can do to help. Look, here’s Demos as well’. Demos had quietly joined them at the table, looking with concern at Ragimund. In answer to Morag’s unspoken question, he answered. ‘I have parked your car in Ship Street, I found a space there’. ‘Ok’, she smiled at him again. She trusted her husband. Simon came back with two large glasses of brandy, greeting Demos jovially. He and Demos had always got on well since Morag’s birthday, when they had shared their love of cooking together. She hoped the brandy might make Ragimund soporific enough to be more cooperative.

But Ragimund looked at the glass in front of her, and the amber liquid it contained, in distaste. ‘What is this?’ She demanded. ‘Medicine’. Said Morag promptly, ‘Drink it down. It’ll do you good’. Ragimund stared at it in disgust, then made up her mind. She picked the bowl-shaped glass up and downed the brandy in two swift gulps, immediately gagging and choking. ‘Ugh! What is this medicine?’ It was not what Morag intended, and she looked at Ragimund anxiously. At least some colour had returned to her pale face. But she hoped the drink did not make her faery-sister aggressive. It was the last thing she needed. 
At least, Ragimund still seemed fairly comatose. She hoped it would last until she had to persuade her to get into the car. She looked at Demos.

‘Can you go and get the car, Demos?’ He nodded, looking at Ragimund. ‘Will you bring it down to where you dropped me off?’ He nodded again. ‘Give me five minutes’. He said. This time it was Morag’s turn to nod. They did not want to give Ragimund any cause for suspicion. Demos disappeared quickly, and Morag was left with her semi-comatose faery-sister, who now looked distinctly sleepy. She hoped she would remain so, for the time being, at least until they got her into Morag’s car.

She waited five minutes, and said gently, ‘It’s time to go, Ragimund’. Ragimund rose up rather unsteadily, and followed Morag unresistingly down the street, However, when she got to the bottom, where Demos was waiting with the car, she stopped dead. ‘I am not going to travel in that damned fire-chariot!’ She hissed angrily. Morag had anticipated this moment. ‘Its not a damned fire-chariot! It’s my car, and don’t you call it names! Now get in! Do as you’re told, for once in your life!’ Ragimund glared at her, then ostentatiously climbed in the front seat, sitting bolt upright as she had done at the pub. Morag sighed and got into the driver’s seat next to her.  

‘Do your seat-belt up’. She advised. ‘Do I have to be tied up in this fire-chariot as well?’ Ragimund snapped, bitterly. ‘Like this’. Morag said, levelly, and leant over to secure it, before putting on her own. Simon and Demos got in the back, and they drove out into the traffic. Ragimund sat stiff and silent in the front seat, speaking to no-one, not even Simon. Morag glanced across at her, realising her eyes were tightly shut, and her lips were trembling. Her exasperation with her faery-sister evaporated. Ragimund was clearly very frightened. She squeezed Ragimund’s right hand gently to reassure her, and was rewarded by a wan smile. Her eyes opened for a few seconds, but closed again with a shudder as she saw the traffic around them. Morag drove steadily, threading her way through the heavy traffic in the city centre. She was now desperately worried about her faery-sister. She had never seen Ragimund so fearful, so tense.

They drove smoothly up the Ditchling road, Ragimund having the courage to open her eyes now and look about her with apprehension at the oncoming vehicles, which, to her mind, seemed to flash past with a diminishing roar. She did not like these fire-chariots, and how quickly they moved. And they were so noisy! They roared like wild beasts! She could never settle in this land. It held too many terrors for her. They turned off towards Simon and Annie’s house, and pulled to a halt outside, much to her relief. As she got out, helped by her husband because of her crippled arm, she touched Morag lightly on the shoulder. ‘Morag, may I speak with you privately inside?’ ‘Of course’. Morag said, surprised. ‘Come up to my room in two or three minutes. Give me time to freshen up. I can change your bandages for you’. She wondered what Ragimund had to say.

Five minutes later, she heard a quiet, almost diffident knock on her door. She was not surprised to see Ragimund, but the faery woman looked different. Not physically, but mentally she appeared smaller, more shrunken. Morag was used to Ragimund as an imperious, almost arrogant, faery warrior: to see her as this diffident, trembling young woman was almost unbearable. ‘Come in and sit down’, she invited. Ragimund came in and sat on the bed, miserably. ‘Let’s have a look at your poor shoulder. Demos, will you make yourself scarce for a little while?’ Demos had just come in, behind Ragimund. ‘Of course’. He replied. ‘ I will go and see Simon. There is something I need to ask him, and I will need his computer’. She knew it was Demos’s way of signalling that he would keep Simon occupied, while they talked. So she beamed at him, and merely said, ‘Thanks, Demos’.

She turned her attention to Ragimund. She undid the sling, and carefully peeled off  Ragimund’s tunic, then set about unwrapping the thick bandages around her injured shoulder. When she had finished, she gave a gasp of surprise and delight. ‘Ragimund, your wound has healed completely! There’s not even a scar!’ ‘What!’ exclaimed Ragimund. She craned her neck around to look. ‘It is as if I had never been wounded! Thank you, Morag!’

‘Can you move your arm?’ Morag asked, practically. Ragimund flexed her arm, and waggled her fingers. ‘Yes! It is as it was!’  She declared, delightedly. ‘Good’. said Morag, quietly. ‘Then perhaps you could tell me what happened this morning’. Ragimund looked down at her hands nervously, then spoke, her voice little more than a whisper. ‘I…I was terrified! Of those dreadful fire-chariots and the noise! I was frightened, Morag! It has never happened to me before! And because of that, I am ashamed!’

‘But why? It’s not shameful to be frightened sometimes!’ 
‘It is to me. I am a faery warrior, Morag! It is shameful to feel fear in the face of an enemy!’

‘Nonsense! There’s no shame in feeling frightened! It’s happened to me lots of times!’

‘No, you do not understand. I cannot live with this shame! I must regain my courage! If I do not, it will be over soon, one way or another. I must get my courage back! I must! I will have to leave you now. Thank you for all that you have done for me’.
With that, she rose, dressed herself again, and departed through the door, leaving Morag in turmoil.

Her mind kept returning to what Ragimund had said. What did she mean by that? That it would be over soon, one way or another? She was filled with a sudden dread. Surely Ragimund would never commit suicide? That would be unthinkable! She could not see how a faery, once brave and arrogant, like Ragimund, could envisage such an act! Yet the dread persisted. What if her spirit had been truly broken, and she could no longer see a future for herself and Simon? Would she even contemplate such a dreadful thing? She kept thinking of the conversation they had had. What did Ragimund have in mind? She daren’t even think of that. She resolved to keep a very sharp eye on Ragimund in the next few days.

The next days passed without incident. Morag told Simon not to let his wife out of his sight, without telling him why. But Simon promised, and she and Demos returned to the camp on the hill-fort with some peace of mind. They found the camp exuberant and excited. ‘We have found all the round houses you indicated!’ exclaimed the professor, enthusiastically. ‘There is a village here! And the sponsors have given us the funds to carry on, in the light of this find! But, best of all. they are funding an educational project on reconstructing life in an Iron Age village! How they lived, what they ate, and what they did! We can work on that through the winter, until the next season. Thank you so much, Demos! I knew it was a good idea asking you down here!’

‘I am pleased for you, Diclos. But I cannot take all the credit. My wife, Morag’, Replied Demos, warmly, ‘gave me the inspiration for seeing this village. You might say that I saw it through her eyes’. Morag smiled at him, pleased that he had acknowledged her part, tactfully at least. She went off to join Sophie, who was busy excavating the hearthstone of the eighth round house they had found. ‘Hello, Sophie, I ‘m back!’ 

Sophie looked up and grinned. ‘Welcome back!  Did you get your family crisis sorted out?’

‘Sort of’. Morag said vaguely. ‘What have you found?’

‘Well, there’s not much to see, apart from the hearths, and a few post-holes. A lot of broken pottery, though. They must have had a lot of breakages’.

Morag grinned. ‘I would think so. Saves on washing-up, though’.

‘Yeah, that’s true. But we did find what looks like a big communal kiln over there’. She gestured with her trowel behind her. ‘Just imagine, Morag. They had to make everything themselves, literally. Even the iron pots they used for cooking’.          

‘You seem to know a lot about Iron Age people’ Morag observed with curiosity.

‘I made a special study of them while I was at Uni. I’ve always liked that period’.

Morag suddenly had an idea, but decided to keep it to herself for the time being. ‘What else have you found?’ She asked.

‘Well, we found some pits that we think are for grain storage. If they were storing grain for the winter, it means it’s definitely a permanent settlement’.

Morag nodded. She could confirm that, after what her sprite had showed her. Just at that moment, her mobile phone rang in her back pocket. She pulled it out and answered it. ‘What! Where’s she got to?  I told you not to let her out of your sight! When was this? Simon, you’re incoherent again! Tell me! All right, we’ll be back as soon as we can!’

‘Trouble?’ Sophie asked, sympathetically. Morag nodded. ‘More family trouble’.

‘If I were you, I’d change my family’.

‘I wish I could, sometimes. But I’ve got to go, Sophie’.

‘That’s okay. We’re about finished for the day, anyway’. Morag ran off to find Demos. She found him with the professor, poring over the map of the Iron Age village they had finally unearthed. ‘Demos!’ She cried. He and the professor, looked up, startled. ‘It’s Ragimund! She panted, as she reached the table they were working on. ‘She’s gone missing!’  

On the way back to the house, Morag told him about the conversation she had had with Ragimund that morning. ‘She would never take her own life!’ Demos said, indignantly. ‘She is faery!’ ‘No, but she still might do something stupid, to regain her courage, as she sees it. That’s why we’ve got to find her, and quickly!’

‘I agree, but I suggest we take your car in our search. We can cover more ground in that way’. Morag just nodded, too out of breath to say anything further. Demos was being at his most practical, for which she was grateful.

When they got to the house, Simon was waiting for them on the front step. He looked frantic with worry. ‘I’ve no idea where’s she gone1’ he stammered. Morag gently squeezed his shoulder to try to comfort him. ‘We’ll find her, Simon’. She said reassuringly. They all piled into Morag’s car, and set off on their quest. But it proved hopeless. They spent hours driving up and down virtually every street in the city centre, Simon even jumping out at intervals to make enquiries in pubs and shops where she might have been seen, but with no luck. Disconsolately, they turned for home. ‘You’d have thought someone would have seen her!’ Simon said, bitterly, ‘After all, she is a real stunner! Somebody would have noticed!’ Morag could say nothing to comfort her brother. The feeling of dread, that she had had all afternoon, threatened to swamp her. They drove back up the Ditchling Road, defeated, and miserable.

‘Wait!’ cried Demos. ‘Perhaps she did not go into the city centre after all! She would be more likely to find somewhere quieter, where she could reflect on what she was going to do’. 

‘That’s true’, Morag said. ‘Ok, let’s go on a bit. She doesn’t know Brighton, so she’ll stay close to the main road’.

They drove on slowly up the main road, in the direction of Ditchling village, looking to right and left, as they progressed. Suddenly Simon shouted in her ear. ‘There she is! Just ahead!’ Morag shook her head, momentarily deafened by Simon’s shout in her left ear. She peered ahead through the windscreen. She saw a tall, slim figure marching purposely away from them, on the left-hand side of the road. Even from behind, she recognised her as Ragimund, but where was she going with such purpose? Another car suddenly shot past them, its driver irritated by their slow pace. It bore down on where Ragimund was standing. She looked around, then deliberately strode into the middle of the road, and planted herself firmly, defying the oncoming vehicle. ‘Ragimund!’ Simon screamed behind her. He flung the rear door open and leapt out while the car was still moving. Stumbling, he fell to his knees, got up and ran up the pavement towards his beloved wife. Morag pulled her car in, parked it on the grass verge, switched off the ignition, and yanked the hand brake on, all in a matter of seconds. She set off at a run after Simon, closely followed by Demos. But it was too late.

Ragimund was no more than a white silhouette, against the blackness of the night, caught in the dazzlingly white glare of the headlights. Even her facial features, nose, eyes, mouth, became a pencil scrawl on the oval of her face. It was impossible to see her expression, as the car descended upon her. But she still stood, immovable. There was the agonised squeal of tyres on road, as the driver desperately slammed his brakes on, and the acrid smell of burnt rubber filled the air. Morag shut her eyes momentarily in despair.

When she opened them again, all was apparently quiet. Only the soft ticking of a rapidly cooling engine punctuated the silence. The car had juddered to a halt. Ragimund still stood in front of it, in the same defiant stance. Morag felt an irrepressible surge of joy and relief at seeing her apparently unharmed, apart from Simon, who  swept her off her feet, and forced her back onto the pavement. She turned and looked at where the car had stopped, apparently only six inches from where Ragimund had stood. She went over and rapped on the driver’s window. He wound it down, leaving her looking at a middle-aged man, whose face was as white as Ragimund’s had been. He was trembling, even more so when Morag held up her defunct police identification. She felt sorry for him. ‘Are you all right, sir?’ She asked. The man looked up, his jowled face still pale in the light from the dashboard. ‘Yeah, I’m all right. What about that lass out there?’ ‘She’s all right, too’. Morag replied, levelly. ‘That stupid bint! She just stood in front of me! What could I do?’ the man said explosively.

‘Nothing, sir. I’ve got it all in hand. If you’re feeling up to it, I suggest that you proceed on your way’. She suggested, smoothly. ‘I’ll deal with the matter’.

‘All right, then’. Muttered the driver. He put his car into gear and drove off up the road. Morag watched him go with a deep sigh of relief, then she turned to rejoin the others. It was time to deal with Ragimund.  Her previous relief had now turned to anger at her faery-sister for her folly. She strode up to her. Ragimund turned excitedly towards her approaching figure.
‘Did you not see me face down that beast?’ she cried. ‘I did not flinch! Not for one moment! I made the beast stop in its tracks! I have regained my courage!’

Morag abruptly cut in across this tirade. ‘You bloody, stupid, selfish bitch!’ she exploded. ‘Do you realise how much of our time you’ve wasted today? What for! So you can jump out in front of a car and nearly get yourself killed? What good is that?’

‘You do not understand’. Ragimund said. Her face was like stone.

‘No, I don’t! Now get back into my car! Now!’ Ragimund turned on her heel and stalked off to Morag’s car.   

‘She’s got her bloody arrogance back as well!’ Morag muttered under her breath, furiously. She glared at Simon, who looked embarrassed. ‘You! Go and make sure she stays where she is! Go on!’ Simon trotted off, sheepishly, to the car.

‘You should not blame her too much. Demos whispered in her ear. ‘She is faery. The only thing that matters to her is regaining her courage, and she did that by confronting her fears face-to-face. It is the faery way’.

‘Yes, and leaving everyone else to clear up the mess afterwards!’ Morag fumed. ‘Let’s get her back, before she causes any more mischief’.

They all got back into the car, Morag and Ragimund ostentatiously ignoring each other. Ragimund sat erect in the front seat, totally aloof, but Morag noticed that this time, she was looking around in curiosity, not with her eyes tightly shut.
However, she maintained her frosty silence until they reached home. Christine was waiting on the front doorstep. ‘Oh, you found her! She gasped. ‘Come in! I’ve reheated the supper for you!’

After enduring Christine’s endearments, they were left alone with the remnants of their supper. It was notable for the silence around the table, with its note of recrimination hanging in the air. After the meal, they all excused themselves as quickly as possible and went to their respective rooms.

As she prepared for bed, Morag suddenly heard a muted altercation outside the bedroom door. She recognised her husband’s voice. He was remonstrating with someone else, who’s voice she couldn’t make out at first. Then Demos opened the door. ‘It is Ragimund’. He said in a cold voice. ‘She insists on speaking with you’.

‘It’s all right, Demos. Let her in’.

Ragimund entered the room. She did not look arrogant any more, but she did look distressed and frightened. Morag’s anger melted away when she saw her. ‘Please, Morag! Please! I want to give you an explanation! Please hear me out!’ This was not quite what Morag was expecting, so she simply said ‘Come in and sit down’. Ragimund subsided quietly on the bed and looked at Morag nervously. Morag sat down beside her. ‘Well? She said, impatiently.

‘I will have to start at the beginning’.

‘Oh, no, I’m not going to have to listen to your life history, am I?’

‘Please listen to me, Morag. It is very important to me’. 

‘When I was born,’ Morag groaned.

‘I killed my mother’.

‘How could you do that?  You were only a newborn babe at the time!’ Morag cried.

‘She died giving birth to me. And my sisters blamed me for her death. They punished me for that! They never showed me any love or affection! To them, I was just an unwanted, bastard child! As I grew up, I was reviled and insulted constantly by them! I had no friends. I had no father to protect me!’

‘What happened to your father?’ Morag asked, quietly. She had already begun to be fascinated by Ragimund’s story.

‘He was killed in battle when I was four years old, in your reckoning. I was left on my own’. Morag saw a tear trickle down Ragimund’s cheek as she spoke.

‘Then I was truly alone in the world, with both my parents dead. But I was determined, Morag! Despite my sisters’ hostility to me, I was resolved to become a great warrior! I studied the arts of war avidly, despite my sisters’ ridicule. I rose through the ranks in my military training and received the highest awards of merit. I was going to prove to my sisters that I was worthy!’

‘Worthy of what?’ Morag asked, curiously.

‘Of being my own person, on having my own individuality! I refused to be downtrodden by my own sisters!’

Morag decided to change the subject. ‘When did you meet Simon? She asked, hoping to steer the conversation onto more amenable pastures. It worked. Ragimund’s face lit up.

‘When we rode into your land to give you warning of the daemons’ invasion. We thought that by riding through your land  panoplied in full armour, it would give your people an indication of what was to come. We also wanted to contact your Brotherhood of the Hand, as they were the only group that we knew of, that recognised the forthcoming danger. Instead we met two small humans, scarcely older than children. who knew of that’.

‘Simon and Annie!’

‘Yes. We  tested them for their valour. They defied us! We knew we could trust them. But, as a further test, Gloriana ordered me to kill Simon! But I found I could not! I cut down an old rotten tree next to him instead. I could not kill him, Morag!’ Ragimund cried, vehemently. ‘I liked him! He was so brave!’

‘Bit before my time, I’m afraid’. Morag said, apologetically. ‘But what about your sisters? Were they all really hostile to you?’

‘No. Duessa was not. I did not find out why until later. It was because I discovered that she had borne a love-child in secret’.

‘What! An illegitimate child!’ Morag cried.

‘Yes, her name was Seruban. Unfortunately, she was borne with a congenital disease. She was physically handicapped, and mentally too. But Duessa was devoted to her. So much so, that she devised a wicked plot to abduct Jezuban, Gloriana’s daughter, and replace her as heir with her own daughter, Seruban. Jezuban was dumped in your world, and left for dead by Duessa’s minions, where she was rescued by Simon and Annie.

‘But who was Seruban’s father?’ asked Morag, out of sheer curiosity.

‘Can you not guess?’ Replied Ragimund, mischievously.

‘No, I can’t. Enlighten me’.

‘None other than Thursday, the physician’.

‘What!’ cried Morag, in disbelief. ‘I would never have guessed it!’

‘Nor we. But that in turn led to another mystery. But I am hurrying ahead of myself. You asked me where Simon and I first truly met and fell in love’.

‘Yes, I did. I always did like happy endings’.

‘It was on the West Wall after the battle. I had just renounced my sisters for their dishonourable conduct of that action, in massacring the fleeing survivors of that battle, needlessly. I was miserable and in despair. But Annie had directed him to me, and he told me how much he loved me, for my sake alone. Oh, Morag, it was wonderful! Some one who loved me, for myself! I was so happy again!’

Morag smiled at her warmly. Ragimund’s face was radiant, as she thought of that moment. She looked truly beautiful. ‘I can see why Simon fell in love with you’. She said, sincerely.

‘Thank you. I take it that was a compliment’.

‘It was. But you mentioned another mystery’.  

‘Yes, I did. It concerns both Thursday and Duessa. You see, Thursday concocted his own plan for the truce that Annie and Simon had been sent to broker. He needed to get close to the old emperor to assassinate him. That was his plan. So he arranged that he would travel with Simon and Annie to do that’.

‘What? Did the faerys not know this? Or Simon and Annie, for that matter?’ Morag exclaimed, aghast with horror. ‘That’s awful!’

‘Yes, it was. But I swear to you, Morag, that we faerys did not know of this plan until later, and neither did Simon or Annie! We were all duped! It was a well-kept plan, only known to Thursday, and his accomplice, Duessa!’

‘I thought Gloriana had banished her, when she found out that Duessa had abducted her daughter!’

‘Yes, she had. But Duessa was cleverly disguised as a faery soldier to avoid detection. Due to Thursday’s cunning, the leader of the Barbarossi merchants, Socrato, believed she was a faery spy working for him’.

‘That was clever!’ said Morag, admiringly.

‘Yes but when Socrato realised his mistake, he had her killed. When Annie and Simon brought her body back, I was in fear that it might have been one of them, until they showed me her face. I cried, Morag! I grieved for her, despite her cruelty and wickedness towards Jezuban. She was the only one of my sisters to give me kindness and comfort! I owed her that at least!’

There was a moment’s pause. ‘Why do you think she did that?’ asked Morag, diffidently.

‘I think she felt sympathy for me, because of her own daughter. She was crippled, you see, and I was starved of love and affection. She treated us both with gentleness’.

Morag was silent. ‘Why did you tell Annie that you were afraid of her? You’re not afraid of anything. Why her?’

‘That was on the trireme I chartered on our way to the battle of the West Wall. I was doing my best to reassure her that I was not going to break the bond between her and her brother. That was the last thing I wanted to do! I could sense  that Simon and I falling in love might create a rift between them. I did not wish that, Morag! I could not do that! But I was in love with Simon, and I could not bear to be parted from him. So I tried to explain that to Annie, and fortunately she understood. But I could not bear to sunder their bond. But Annie realised that, and bade him to go to me. I was very grateful to her! I would never do that!’

Morag smiled at her, genuinely. ‘Somehow, I knew you wouldn’t. Break their bond, I mean’.

‘I could never do that!’ protested Ragimund, sharply.

They fell into a companionable silence, of two warriors recounting past battles. Morag felt a bond growing between them, one which felt comforting and secure, between her and this young faery woman, which she welcomed.

Ragimund broke the silence between them, ‘I am proud to know you, Morag’. She said, quietly. ‘I feel I can talk to you openly about matters which are private to me, without fear. It means a lot to me’.

‘Me too. I’m proud to know you, Ragimund’.

‘Thank you. Morag, may I embrace you?’

‘Yes, of course’. Morag replied, without thinking.

The next instant she was caught in a crushing hug by Ragimund, who kissed her hard on both cheeks. She broke away at last, feeling slightly breathless. ‘What was that?’ She gasped. ‘It was the warrior’s kiss’. Explained Ragimund, apologetically. ‘The kiss signifies the respect and admiration of one warrior for another. It demonstrates the honour that the other possesses. It is regarded in itself as a great honour, which I have paid you’.

‘You could have warned me!’ Morag said, still breathless from the crushing embrace. ‘I’m glad Exekiel didn’t me give one of those!’

‘But he will eventually. He is my old teacher in the arts of war. That is why I asked him to be your marshal partner’.

‘What!’ Morag cried in astonishment. ‘He’s your old teacher?’

‘You could not have had a better comrade. He thinks of you as a daughter, as he did me. He is very fond of you’.

‘Oh’. Morag could not think of anything else to say. Embarrassed, she decided to change the subject yet again.

‘What on earth possessed you to walk out in front of that car?’
She demanded, ‘We were all worried about you’.

‘There was no need!’ Ragimund replied with some asperity. ‘I knew perfectly well what I was doing! A faery warrior, if she fears something, will confront it face-to-face to destroy her fear, so she need never fear it again. I took a calculated risk in facing down that beast, to regain my courage!’

‘It seems a very drastic way of going about it’. remarked Morag, sarcastically.

Ragimund looked at her sadly. ‘Alas, you are angry with me again, faery-sister’.

‘No’. Said Morag. ‘But I do wish you’d drop the arrogance sometimes’.

Ragimund stared at her for a moment, then put her hand into her pocket. ‘Please, let me show you something’. She drew out a small package, Morag stared down at it, where it lay between them on the bed. ‘What is it?’ she asked. For answer. Ragimund began untying the string that held two small wooden panels together. She unfolded them, to reveal a small piece of paper in between. On it was pressed a dried, somewhat wilted, white flower, which Morag recognised as a common dog-rose, that could be found on bushes of the hill-fort.

‘What is this? What are you showing me?’ asked a bewildered Morag. ‘It is the first love token that I have ever received in my life’. Ragimund said, proudly. Simon gave it to me, soon after I first met him at the hill-fort, just after I disobeyed an order to kill him. It may seem  a trifle to you, Morag, but to me it was the most wonderful gift in the world! Someone, a complete stranger, picked it for me and laid it at my feet! For me and me alone!’

‘Ah’. Morag said. ‘That settles it then’.

‘What?’ Ragimund replied, puzzled.

‘You’ve just revealed that you really are an incurable romantic at heart’.

Ragimund laughed. So did Morag, glad to see that this young faery woman, whom she previously regarded as somewhat dour and austere, was capable of laughing at herself. It made her seem more…human.

‘Come on’. She cried, jumping to her feet. ‘Let’s go and see what our errant spouses are doing’. They sped out of the door, happy that they had established a new bond between them. They stopped short at Simon’s door, as they heard a terrible agonised scream from inside. It was a bloodcurdling sound. They both paled in horror, but Ragimund immediately kicked the door open without hesitation, and sprang into the room, her hand blindly groping for her sword, which she had left behind in Hyperborea. Morag leapt after her, picking up a chair just inside the door, to use as an impromptu weapon. Simon and Demos stared at them in astonishment, from where they were sitting on the bed, in front of Simon’s computer. It’s screen was filled with a maelstrom of hideous whirling figures complete with horns, scales and wildly thrashing tails, locked in combat with several dark figures in armour.

‘What is going on here? We thought you were being attacked!’ cried Ragimund in disbelief. ‘Well, we were. On screen’. Simon said, pointing to his computer. ‘The Devils from Hell versus the Dark Knights of Valour’.

‘You were playing just a….game?’ Ragimund asked, incredulously.

Behind her, Morag was sitting on the chair she had picked up, and was giggling helplessly. ‘Typical!’ she chuckled. ‘We come racing in to save these two small boys, and all they’re doing is playing with their latest toys!’

‘Turn that damned thing off !’ ordered Ragimund, fiercely. Simon meekly did so. The screen went blank and the grisly screams disappeared. The room was silent again. Morag looked apprehensively at Ragimund, prepared for an explosive outburst. but it did not come. Instead, she smiled sweetly, and simply said, ‘Thank you, my love’. with a meaningful glance at the bed. Morag took the hint. ‘Come on, Demos. it’s time we hit the sack’. and followed it with an almost imperceptible jerk of her head towards the open door. Demos immediately understood and followed her through the door, after wishing the remaining two good night. The last thing she saw, as she closed the door softly, was Ragimund and Simon locked in a passionate embrace. She smiled to herself, and the door clicked quietly shut behind her.


The next day was bright and sunny. Ragimund and Simon came down late for breakfast, as Morag had predicted. But Ragimund seemed happy and radiant, which Morag was glad to see. So much so, that she suggested, on the spur of the moment, an excursion into the countryside, with a country lunch. She wanted her faery-sister, for whom she now felt a deep affection, to see what her land was truly like. But Ragimund was now fully recovered. She looked around in delight at the countryside around them, with only a gasp or two, at the speed they were travelling. Nor was she disappointed in the small pub in which Morag had brought them. They sat outside in the warm sunshine, eating large ploughmans’ lunches, which Ragimund thoroughly approved of, judging by the way she devoured it. They washed it down with a bottle of chilled white wine.

Morag had by now entirely forgotten that she was eating lunch with a faery in her own land, so at ease, with her faery husband and Ragimund. So it was with a strange sense of disquiet that she heard Ragimund say ‘I believe Annie will be back soon’. She couldn’t understand why she felt such a strange sense of foreboding at the news. It was as if Annie, her own sister now, was the stranger, coming to disturb the peaceful tranquillity of this afternoon, as if Annie was bringing anger and disharmony to disrupt their quiet lives here. Was Annie was the disharmonious stranger bearing bad news with her! She couldn’t understand why she felt that, but she had a strange feeling of disquiet about what lay ahead.

The next day, she and Demos went up to the hill-fort camp-site to pick up their tent and belongings. They met the professor there, still exuberant. ‘This has been a wonderful dig! We have found even more grain-pits, which show that this is a permanent site. It will furnish so much material for this educational project!’

‘I wondered about that’ Morag said, somewhat innocently. ‘Might you have need of a research assistant? Someone you know who has extensive knowledge of the period?’

‘Yes, I believe I could. Are you thinking of yourself, my dear?’

‘No, but I was thinking of Sophie. She’s got expert knowledge of the Iron Age’.

‘A splendid idea, my dear! I shall draft a letter to her this afternoon!’

After they had made their farewells, Morag left Demos still talking to the professor, and went to find Sophie. She came across her kneeling over the hearth stone of one of the round houses, still scraping away. As Morag approached, she stood up, wiping her hands on her camouflage trousers. ‘Are you off already? she asked. ‘I’m afraid so’. Morag replied. ‘Duty calls’.

‘Well, best of luck. I told you, trade the family in for a new one’.

‘I might get a worse one’.

 Sophie laughed, ‘That’s true. But seriously, I’ll miss you. You’ve been good company. It gets a bit lonely when you’re stuck in a hole all day’.

‘I know. Anyway, best of luck, Sophie. I’ll miss you too’.

‘Perhaps we’ll meet again sometime’.

They briefly hugged and kissed. Sophie smelt of burnt earth from the hearthstone so many centuries ago. ‘I hope so. Goodbye, Sophie, and all the best’. 

She went  to rejoin her husband with the professor. The last time she saw Sophie, she was kneeling down over the hearthstone. She could even hear her trowel scraping over the stones. She felt a pang of regret. Sophie was the first friend she had ever made in her own land, since moving to Hyperborea. She hoped the professor would keep his word. Sophie needed the break in her fortunes.

              They set off for the portal, making sure that no-one saw them. Very soon they passed through, feeling the usual icy shimmer around them, and saw the familiar crystalline shape of the Palace of Elsace below them. They walked down the grassy slopes towards it, past the museum of art, where the joyous life-size figures, cast in bronze, created by the students of the famous sculptor, Meridias, disported themselves in a permanent exhibition outside the main building, including the ring of dancing girls created by Meridias himself. Morag smiled at them as they passed by. The sight of these figures always filled her with pleasure, the joy in life that they embodied giving her happiness each time she saw them.

              They passed through the outer gate, the guards saluting them as they went. They were well known and recognised here.  It was just as well, since they hoped to receive hospitality here, as well as the loan of two horses for the journey back to Druard. They were not disappointed. Gloriana, the chief governor, and elder sister of Ragimund, came down the main stairs herself to greet them, dressed in a flowing bright yellow gown, that set off her own flowing blonde hair. She looked ravishing. She was genuinely friendly and considerate, and invited them both to sup with her that evening. Morag was slightly wary of Gloriana, after what her faery-sister had told her of her childhood. But she need not have worried. During their supper, Gloriana proved to be both attentive and entertaining, asking shrewd questions about archaeology and police work. She seemed genuinely aware of the work they both were engaged in, and had a good working knowledge of it, that Morag found refreshing. She gradually relaxed. But then Gloriana said something that alerted her. ‘Is not your assistant, Persephone, is it not, now overworked?’

‘Yes, she is. She’s inundated with information that the marshals bring in’. Morag replied, sharply.

‘Does she need some help?’

‘What kind of help?’

Morag sounded suspicious. Gloriana sighed. ‘You do not trust me’.

‘No, I don’t. It sounds as if you’re about to unload some useless oik on me, that you don’t want’.

‘You are very forthright, Morag. Not at all, I was merely asking because I do have a scribe who is wasted here, in his position, and who could be a very valuable asset to you in your work. That is all’.

‘Who is this unwanted scribe, and why should he be so useful to me?’ Morag asked, bluntly.

Gloriana sighed patiently. ‘He is a human, from your country. He describes himself as a criminal profiler, and has worked in the police department before, in your world. His faery name is Alembo, but I do not know his human name’.

‘Hmm. Sounds promising. But what is he doing in Hyperborea?’

‘Ah, I was coming to that. He has apparently recently married – a faery girl – I believe, and he has expressed a wish to work with the marshals here. He believes that his talents will be of great use to them, particularly in the cases of unsolved crimes’.

‘I see. All right, I’ll give him a try. But only on probation, for the time being’.

‘That is all I ask of you, Morag. Nothing more’.

Later, when they were leaving Gloriana’s apartment, Morag asked her husband, ‘Do you think I was being a bit ungrateful about this Alembo?’

‘No, I think you were rightly cautious. Gloriana is both devious and cunning, but she is not wicked. I think that she genuinely feels that this character has qualities that only you can make use of’.

‘Well, we’ll find out when he gets there. If he can take some of the work off  Persephone, I’ll be happy’.


They rode out the next morning together on two borrowed horses from the palace. Morag was happy. She was riding alone with her husband, through a land that she had come to love. On their left, to the west, lay the great long mountain range that bordered Lake Tabitha, on whose eastern tip the city of Elsace was situated, and much further west, the large expanse of Lake Miletus. The tall white peaks seemed to glow in the bright blue morning sky, eventually tumbling down  to the craggy gray-blue of the foothills, themselves giving way to rough green slopes dotted by rocky outcrops, seared and pockmarked by the abrasive north winds from the distant sea. The westernmost tip of  the mountain range culminated in the city of Mila, part of which was built on the slopes of the last, most westerly mountains of the range. stepped up in layers above the river that flowed from Lake Miletus and effectively bisected the city. On the other, northern, side of the road, lay the fertile plain that eventually fell away to the coast where the port of Druard lay. Now, in the height of summer, much of it was covered with the soft yellow of  the cornfields, that lay over the land like a soft blanket, rising and falling in the wind, with a gentle soughing sound. The ripening corn was speckled with the blue of cornflowers and the vivid red of wild poppies.

Nor was the countryside quiet around them. There was a gentle hum about their ears from the small insects in the fields and in the air. They could hear the scurrowing of small animals in the hawthorn hedgerows, and, above them, the sweet cry of young birds circling and swooping above their heads, in pursuit of the small fat insects flying below. Morag loved it all. She had never known the countryside as a child, being raised in the city, and to her, it was a constant source of wonder and delight. Their horses ambled along the road, very content with this slow pace, gossiping quietly to each other. Morag had never felt happier in her life, riding beside her husband, whom she loved deeply, through her adopted country, which she had also grown to love.

They stopped for a night at one of the caravanserai, along the road, just before the junction of the road they were on, with the coast road from Pulos. Because of this, it was a large and busy establishment, full of travellers moving to and from the port of Druard, with their gossip and news. Together with the horses, they formed an invisible web of clandestine information. From their small table in a corner of the trattoria, they could overhear all the latest reports from other travellers.

‘I hear there are many grieving households in Circlassia’.

‘Yes, the new government is only just clinging to power. They will be dependent on trade with Hyperborea for many years to come’.

‘Amazing how Hyperborea defeated such a large force with only a handful of obsolete triremes!’

‘Yet they did. It was a wonderful victory!’

‘Will Hyperborea seize the opportunity and establish an empire in our seas?’

‘I fear not. Queen Gloriana will not countenance such a possibility’.

‘A pity. The prospects for trade would be considerable’. 

They heard more on the same subject, but quickly grew bored, and retired to bed, to make love, on the first real, though short-lived, holiday they had had together. Next morning, they rose early, and set off on their rested horses homewards. The remaining miles seemed to slip by in the warm sunshine, so that by late afternoon, they reined in on the crest of the small hill behind Druard and looked down on the great teeming port below. Even up here, they could hear the turmoil of a busy port – the rattle and clatter of the ships’ tackle, the creak and groan of the large wagons carrying merchandise to and from the myriad of moored ships in the harbour, and even the bawls and shouts of the seamen and harbour workers, as they hauled bales, or clambered in the rigging. Further out, in the great bay, shimmering with scalloped waves, were yet more ships, under sail, arriving or departing from, the great jetties that stretched out from the shore. It always reminded Morag of an ants’ nest, full of the whirl and buzz of incessant activity. She sighed. It was good to be back.

They rode down the sloping road towards the back of the port. The road veered round to the left to pass in front of the customs building and town hall, in a small, dignified plaza, very different from the haphazard sprawl of the rest of the port. They dismounted, leaving the horses to the care of the stablemen, and entered the main hall. The two faery guards greeted them. ‘It is good to see you back, my lady’. One of them said. ‘Thank you’. Morag smiled at him. ‘Has it been busy?’ ‘Only with marshals, my lady. And the lady Annie, she has come’. said the other guard. ‘What! Already! Where is she now?’ cried Morag, in surprise.

‘I do not know, my lady. She said that she would come back when all of you are here’.

‘I see. All right. Thank you, anyway’ 

Morag was disquieted. Why had Annie disappeared so suddenly? And what was the reason?
But she soon forgot her anxieties as she opened her office door and walked inside. Her two beloved microscopes stood on the tables on the right, in front of the tall, brightly lit windows. On the left, in front of the bookcases, now containing hundreds of bound ledgers containing fingerprint information, was Persephone’s huge desk, its surface covered with piles of fresh documents. and behind it, almost hidden by the documents, was Persephone, in her usual neat blue dress, and long plait of dark hair. She darted out from behind her desk as soon as she saw Morag, and gave her a big hug. ‘Oh, Morag, you are back! She cried in delight. ‘Yes, I am’, Morag said, smiling. ‘But’s what‘s all this paperwork?’
‘Oh, Morag, the marshals keep bringing in more and more. And marshals in other provinces are sending me them too. I cannot cope any further!’ Persephone wailed.

‘Don’t worry, Persephone. Gloriana is sending some help to you. His name is Alembo, but he’s human, like me. If he’s any good, he’ll be here to help you with all the paperwork’.

‘Oh, Morag, that is wonderful! But will I have to order him about? I am not good at that’.

Morag smiled at her. ‘Hopefully not. Just show him what to do, and tell me if he’s any good or not’.

She left Persephone at that point, and entered her apartment, looking around with delight as she did so. It was filled with vases of freshly picked flowers on shelves and cupboards around the living-room, including one set in the middle of the table in the dining recess. She looked in the cool larder, and saw with even more delight, that Persephone had shopped for them. It was full of packages and covered dishes. She immediately rushed back into the office, to thank her. Instead, she found, to her surprise, Simon and Ragimund standing talking to Persephone. They must have travelled immediately behind us, she thought, though she was glad they hadn’t joined them. Demos and she had wanted to share some time together.

‘ Will you have supper with us tonight?’ she asked them. ‘Only Persephone has shopped for us, and we have plenty. Thank you so much, Persephone. That was really good of you’.

Persephone blushed with pleasure. ‘It is only in thanks for the kindness that you have shown me’. She answered, gratefully. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and  Indira and Pei-Ying walked in. ‘Well, look who’s here! Home from the wars! Fighting corsairs on the briny deep! Tell us all about it! cried Indira, exuberantly. Morag grinned. ‘I take it that you both wish to dine with us tonight’. ‘Oh, yes, please, I’m famished. Especially since we’ve been out on patrol in the absence of our illustrious leader, keeping the peace!’ Indira exclaimed, in her usual flamboyant style. Pei-Ying, next to her, just smiled sweetly, and said, ‘That would be very courteous of you, Morag.’ Indira just snorted loudly.

At that moment, there was a sound, and the door opened again. This time it was Annie. But her face was remote and cold. This was not the Annie they had expected. She walked into the room, and turned to face them all. ‘What have you been doing?’ She spoke in a loud, cold voice. ‘Starting wars and killing people in their hundreds, while my back is turned? I should have known what a callous bastard you were, Simon!’

‘We were invaded! They would have killed our people and raped our women and children, had not Simon stopped them, with a handful of triremes!’ Ragimund snapped, angrily.

‘So what?  Giving you an excuse for slaughter? Mind you, that’s what faerys are like, isn’t it? Just to prove what a bunch of murdering thugs you are!’

‘That is not true!’ Ragimund raged, in a fury. Her hand was tightening around the hilt of her sword. But Annie had switched her attention to the others.

‘Oh, yes, you pair’. She looked sneeringly at Indira and Pei-Ying. ‘Got yourselves a nice cushy little position as marshals, haven’t you? All because you disobeyed an order! But you didn’t have to worry, did you? Because the reinforcements arrived in the nick of time, as you knew they would!’

‘Where’d you get that from? Horses’s gossip?’ Indira spat angrily, her face red with fury.

Annie smiled wickedly. ‘Oh, yes, the horses. You’ve virtually got them eating out of your hand, haven’t you? Is that because you get your big tits out for them to slaver over? I bet they enjoy that!’

Indira lunged for her, only restrained by Pei-Ying, whose own face was white with anger.

It was Morag’s turn next. Annie looked at her with the same sneer. ‘Oh, the happy bride. Have you told your pretty-boy husband how many times you’ve cuckolded him with some handsome young faery? Or asked him about how many deflowered virgins he’s left in his tracks on those archaeological digs? Perhaps you haven’t. Oh no, I forgot. You prefer tasty young slave-girls like Persephone over there. She’s quite a comely little slut, isn’t she?’

‘Leave her alone! She’s only a young girl!’ Morag shouted in desperation. Annie just burst out into peals of high-pitched laughter. It was the worst sound that any of them had heard, because it sounded so artificial and hysterical, not the sound that any sane person would utter. Persephone, unable to bear it any longer, burst into tears, holding her face in her hands. Why was Annie, who had been so kind and gentle before, behaving in such a terrible manner?

Morag looked across and saw Persephone weeping. The bloodlust descended upon her, and she lost her temper completely. She prised herself loose from her husband’s restraining arms and strode across to Annie. She hit her as hard as she could, in the face. ‘You bloody bitch, Annie!’ She screamed. The blow knocked Annie sideways onto the chair standing near her. The hideous laughter had stopped. It was replaced by the sound of sobs, loud in the sudden silence. They were deep, rending sobs, from someone in deep misery. Even Persephone had stopped crying, as she looked, open-mouthed, at the scene before her. Annie was slumped forward in the chair, sobbing bitterly. Morag stared down at her, wishing that she hadn’t hit her own sister. But she was still suspicious, though her anger had subsided. Simon strode forward. He seized his sister by the hair and dragged her face upwards to look at him. ‘I need an explanation, Annie, Now!’

He looked down into her face. To his amazement, he saw the sister he knew, not the vicious harridan that he had already seen. Her face was tear-stained, her large dark eyes luminescent with tears. Two more large tears dripped down her pale heart-shaped face, delicate in the fading light in the room. There was an angry red bruise welling on her left cheek where Morag had hit her, and her bottom lip was swollen and bleeding. There was a thin trickle of blood from her nose. But Simon still recognised her as his beloved sister. He let go of her dark mop of hair, and slowly lowered his fist, that had threatened her. ‘Why don’t you hit me, Simon?’ She said in a hoarse whisper. ‘I deserve it’.

‘No, Annie, you’re my sister’. Simon said, quietly.

She looked around at the rest of them. ‘I’m really, truly, sorry I had to put you all through that. Not a single word of it was true, as you and I know well. But I had to test you, and give you a warning of what will come’.

‘What will come, Annie’. asked Morag, curiously.

Annie shuddered visibly. ‘Armageddon. The battle of Armageddon is coming’.


There was a deathly silence in the room. ‘What is Armageddon? I’ve never heard of it!’ Indira exclaimed, brightly. Her ridiculous cheerfulness only heightened the general gloom. ‘Armageddon’, explained Demos, ‘Is in the Christian  religion, the final battle between good and evil. After that, comes the day of judgement, and the end of the world as we know it’.

‘What! So the world will end, if we don’t win this battle!’ Indira exclaimed, astonished.

‘Look, can we all sit down and I’ll explain everything I can!’ said Annie, heatedly. They all sat down in the chairs in the office. Persephone joined them. She didn’t dare to, at first, but Morag smiled at her and put her in a chair next to her. Annie explained how she had come by the information. ‘When I was coming home, I stopped off in Paris. I wanted to see Nicholas Flamel’s old tomb, that he wasn’t buried in, after he and his wife, Peronelle, became immortal. But he was there! Right beside me! Anyway, he wanted to talk to me, and I could see he was really troubled. He explained to me that he’d found this rupture in the fabric of time and it had enormous consequences,
allowing one dimension to invade another’.
‘Excuse me, but what are these “ruptures in the fabric of time”? I don’t understand’. Indira asked, plaintively.

Annie sighed. ‘Imagine if each dimension is separated by a thin fabric that you can’t pass through, unless it’s through a definite portal, such as the one between my world and Hyperborea. If there’s a small tear in that fabric, then it’s possible for some one in one dimension to pass through into a totally different one. And that’s what has happened. Only it’s worse this time. There’s a tear in the cosmic fabric between us and Hell!’

‘Wait a moment!’ Simon cried. ‘There isn’t a Hell! That’s just part of the Christian mythology, to frighten its followers onto the righteous path!’

‘But there is! Actually, it’s a dumping ground for all those really evil people that have lived! But it exists. I know, because I caught a glimpse of it when our headquarters was besieged! When you and Mariko persuaded me that I hadn’t! But I did! It was terrible!’ Annie shuddered and buried her face in her hands.

‘Was that why you put on that performance just now?’ asked Indira, practically.

Annie nodded. ‘Yes, it was. Oh, God, it was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do!’

‘Well, it was certainly convincing’. Remarked Simon, drily. ‘You had us all fooled. We thought you were bewitched!’

‘What on earth was the point of that filth that we had to endure?’ Indira asked, pointedly.

‘To test you, and to give you a taste of what’s to come, if they get into this world’. Annie replied, sadly. ‘I’m truly sorry. I didn’t mean any of it, whatsoever. I’m really ashamed of myself. But I thought it was the only way to make you listen to me’.

‘Well, you certainly got our attention! But why should we believe you, when all you’ve got is what this Flannel bloke told you?’

‘Flamel. The reason I believe him is because…he is a Watcher’.

‘Like your parents! But what do they do?’

‘They watch. For any disruptions in the universe. Only Flamel and his wife are more than that’.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Simon, sharply.

‘Because they are immortal, and because they have become caretakers of the world’.

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Because there’s no-one in charge, literally. There never has been. Simon, you were quite right to ask who’s in charge, before. The answer was always nobody knew, because they didn’t. Nobody is in charge. The universe runs itself, without anybody running it’.

‘Oh’. Said Indira. She took a few moments to digest this. ‘So there’s no God, no omnipotent Being running things?’

‘Not as far as I know’.

‘Pity. Might have saved a few centuries of turmoil and strife’. 

‘But there’s more!’ Annie insisted. ‘The rip in the fabric of time, if you can call it that, leads directly into the portal that the Ancients made between this land and Astroban! If it’s big enough to evacuate a whole people, it’s big enough to bring an army in! We must find that portal and close it, before it’s too late!’

‘I agree. If Annie is right, and this Nicholas Flamel is telling the truth, we must find this portal! We do not know when or where this attack will take place. We must find out! Time is of the essence!’ Ragimund cried. ‘I will communicate with the Griffins, and see whether they have noticed anything. We must organise another expedition to find this portal!’

As they sat down later that evening for supper, Annie suddenly had doubts. What if Flamel had lied to her? She had openly lied and insulted the others, her friends and companions, What if they did not trust her? But the potential risk was too great. They must defeat this final deadly foe. The whole world depended on it. Of that, she was sure.

Frank Jackson – 14/10/2015 – Word Count - 11532