The mission

Together, all the companions, this time, embark on a mission to  find the lost portal of the Ancient Ones, But things go badly wrong on the way. There are two botched assassination attempts on both Gloriana, the chief governor of the faerys, and Morag’s friend, Amelia, which causes Morag a great deal of distress. When they get to the supposed portal, they discover even more alarming things, which puts their lives in jeopardy.



Morag and Demos got up early the next morning. They washed and breakfasted together, then walked, lovingly, with each other, hand in hand, to the main entrance outside, where they found most of the others already there. Ragimund, in charge of the expedition, bustled up to them.

‘Morag, this is the wagon you will be travelling in’. She said, pointing towards a large, sleek wagon to which four horses were already attached. Morag noted that the baggage had been piled into the front of the wagon, while the rest was taken up with hay bales and loose hay scattered on the floor of the wagon.

‘I hope that you and your husband will be comfortable in this’.  Ragimund said, solicitously. ‘I cannot bear to see you so wounded’. Morag smiled at her. ‘It’ll be fine, won’t it, Demos?  Thank you, Ragimund’.

‘Think nothing of it’. Ragimund said, awkwardly. She hesitated. ‘You were wounded in the line of duty. Saving the lives of hostages. I truly thank you for that, and I hope you will recover soon’.

Morag realised that Ragimund was trying to thank her for her actions. She smiled again, then looked up. The sky was still dark, but there was a dull glimmer of light on the horizon. She could see the activity around by the light of the lanterns outside. There were Indira and Pei-Ying, her two new marshals, and friends from the Brotherhood of the Hand, mounting their horses. Then Ezekiel, her fellow marshal rode up on a vast black horse, obviously the only one capable of carrying someone of his weight and bulk. He dismounted, and strode over to Morag.

‘Who has wounded you, my daughter?’ He snarled. He had seen Morag’s arm in a sling.

‘It’s all right, Ezekiel!’ Morag said, hastily. ‘He’s dead. I slew him’.

‘Good’. Muttered Ezekiel. ‘Otherwise I would have killed him myself. Do you need some assistance in mounting into this wagon, Morag?’

‘No, it’s all right, Ezekiel, I can manage’. She said, feebly. But it was too late. She was hoisted up like a doll, and deposited on the floor of the wagon before she knew it.

‘Thank you. Ezekiel’. She called after him, but he had already gone, and was busy mounting his horse again. She looked around for Persephone, whom she saw at last, mounted on a small white horse, little more than a pony, ‘Persephone!’ She shouted. Both horse and rider came trotting over. ‘Persephone’. She said quietly, so that no-one else could hear. ‘I want you to ride with Annie this morning. She’s lonely. She needs some company’.

‘Her!’ spluttered Persephone. ‘After what she said to you and Demos!’

‘Yes’. Morag said, quietly. ‘Do it for me. After all, she risked her life, rescuing me when I was kidnapped. I owe my life to her’.

‘All right’. Persephone said, reluctantly. ‘I suppose I will have to’.

‘Thank you, Persephone’. Morag said, sincerely.

Persephone trotted off again. 

Annie came out. She looked miserable and forlorn, not like the Annie she knew, bright and vibrant. She turned to Demos. ‘What do you think is wrong with her?’ He answered immediately. ‘She is lovelorn. She has not seen Helios for nearly twelve months, and he, as yet, has not communicated with her. She is suffering from a broken heart. At least, that is what I think’.

‘Of course! Why didn’t I think of that! That must explain why she’s so out of sorts! Poor Annie! She must be really missing Helios!’

‘I think so. It also explains her outburst at us the other night’.

‘Poor Annie!’ Morag replied, miserably. ‘It does indeed, I can’t bear to see her so unhappy!’

‘When Helios returns, that will cheer her’.

‘I hope so. If he comes’.

They said no more, but settled down amidst the hay bales. Presently, their faery driver clambered aboard the front of the wagon and shook the reins. He turned around, and greeted them with a smile and a cheery wave. With a jolt, and then a rumble, they were at last on their way. The little procession wended their way, from the back of the port, on their way to Elsace, taking the northern road. It skirted the westward mountains towards Elsace and Persephone’s head, riding in front of them, was twisting and turning to see snow-capped mountains. Ahead of  them, Simon and Ragimund headed the small column, riding together. Behind them rode Indira and Pei-Ying, who, as Morag predicted, had volunteered for this expedition. Then there was Annie, riding alone, her shoulders hunched and forlorn. Behind her rode Ezekiel, with his baleful gaze fixed on her. Lastly, there was their wagon, drawn by four horses, instead of the customary two, laden with tents and provisions for a possible prolonged stay when they reached the crevasse, which was their destination.

Persephone trotted her pony up by Annie, true to her word.
She spoke to her for a few moments then trotted her pony back to the wagon. ‘She will not speak to me, nor to anyone!’ She cried. ‘Oh, Morag, what is the matter with her? She looks so miserable!’

‘Never mind, Persephone. You did your best. Thank you for that. Why don’t you go and ride with Ezekiel instead? I’m sure he will appreciate your company’. Morag said, quietly, to the young girl.

‘Very well, Morag. I will do that’. She rode off after Ezekiel, and joined him in conversation. Morag smiled. She knew that the old warrior was fond of the young Barbarossi girl and it meant that Persephone would have company on their journey. But she was still worried about Annie. She turned to Demos. ‘Will you tell me about archaeology, please, now?’

‘Yes, of course, my love. Sit down beside me’. She settled down beside her husband in the hay, and listened to him while he told her about the exploits of  the archaeologists who had excavated the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. She was enthralled by their stories. Demos was a good story-teller, making the account of their destruction come alive for her.

‘What happened then?’ Morag asked. She was genuinely curious.

‘When they excavated them again, they found both towns preserved, under the volcanic ash! The original streets and roads, even the individual villas, with their wall paintings still intact, as fresh as when they were painted! All their jewellery and ornaments! They are still there, Morag! We can still see Roman life!’

‘That’s wonderful! Demos’, She added, shyly, ‘Will you take me there, when we’re next in our land, to see these towns? Only, I don’t know anything about these places, and…..’

‘Of course, I will, Morag! I know your thirst for knowledge. I will take you there, and I promise you that I will tell you more about them’.

‘Oh, thank you, Demos’ Morag said, sincerely. ‘What’s that noise?’

Demos stood up and listened intently. ‘It is the sound of a galloping horse. It is coming from behind us. It must be a messenger’.

‘A messenger! For what and to whom?’ 
She stood up and shaded her eyes with her right hand, peering at the approaching horseman.

‘It’s Helios!’ She exclaimed excitedly. ‘I can recognise him by his long blond hair, streaming out behind!’

Demos shaded his eyes too. ‘You are right, Morag! But what is he doing here, and in such a hurry?’

‘Let’s find out’. They waited until the rider had drawn level with them in the wagon, then Demos called out. ‘Greetings, Helios!

Helios looked up at them in surprise. ‘Greetings, Demos! Greetings to you as well, Morag. But you are wounded!’ He had caught sight of her injured arm.

‘Just a broken wrist’. Morag said. ‘But where are you off to, Helios, in such a hurry?’
Helios became evasive. ‘I must find Annie’. He muttered. He turned his horse abruptly, and set off for the group of figures ahead. Their procession had stopped for the supposed messenger, and everyone had dismounted. Demos and Morag got down from the wagon, Demos helping her down, and hurried over to see what was happening. They arrived just in time to see Annie clasped in a passionate embrace with Helios.

Morag started. She had not realised, in the time she was listening to Demos’s  tales of  ancient Roman cities, that day had broken, The sun was hot on her head, above her. Further up, she could hear the humming of bumble-bees. Above them, the skirl and scuttering of small birds in the sky. And, on each side, she heard the dim rumble of the countryside, full of hidden noises of insects, and small furry creatures shambling through their own small green worlds.   

But her attention came back to the human tableau that was being played out on the open road in front of her. Annie had at last disengaged herself from Helios, and was standing with her hands on his shoulders, her face radiant with delight and pleasure. ‘Oh, Helios, you did wait for me! You really did! I was so worried that you might have forgotten me!’

‘Annie, I could never forget you!’ Helios gasped. ‘You are so beautiful, how could I?’ He paused for breath. ‘Annie, I have something important to ask you’.

He suddenly dropped on his knees in front of her, and fumbled in one of his pockets, finally holding up a small box. Annie stared at him in bewilderment. ‘Annie, this is a betrothal ring. I love you very much. Will you marry me?’

‘I, Oh!’ Annie stammered in sudden confusion. Then they saw her suddenly make up her mind. Her large dark eyes glowed with a sudden luminescence. ‘Of course, I will, Helios. I love you very much. Now get up off your knees, before you get cramp’.  

Everyone let out their breath with a sigh at this happy outcome.

‘Oooooh! How romantic!’ Cried Indira. Who else?

‘Oh, shut up, Indira! Why don’t you read some proper literature, instead of all that mushy romantic rubbish you’re so addicted to? Snapped Pei-Ying, clearly exasperated by Indira’s reading habits.

‘What! And turn into a miserable punk like you? No chance!’

‘Enough! Enough of this bickering! Any more and I will send you both back to Druard! This is a happy day for both Annie and Helios, so show some respect for them.  Now, be quiet!’ Ragimund ordered. ‘We are on a mission to find the portal of the Ancient Ones, and to see if there is any danger there! That is paramount!’

Both Indira and Pei-Ying subsided into silence.

‘What about me?’ Said Helios’s horse, plaintively. ‘I’m bloody knackered!’

‘We are only a mile away from the caravanserai. You will be rested and looked after there’. Ragimund said, shortly. ‘In the meantime, Annie and Helios can ride with Morag and Demos in the wagon. Your horse is spent, Helios, and both of you will want to spend a little time together’.

Morag looked around at the others. Their animosity towards Annie had now disappeared. They seemed delighted at this fresh news and Annie’s acceptance. She felt relieved. Of all people, she felt that Annie, at least, deserved some happiness. The four of them clambered into the back of the wagon, Morag once again being hoisted up by Ezekiel. Annie looked on with concern. ‘Oh, Morag!’ She burst out, when they all sat down amidst the hay bales, ‘I didn’t know you’d been wounded!’

‘It’s all right, Annie’, She smiled at her. ‘It’s just a broken wrist. Nothing serious. Annie, I’m really happy for you’.

‘For both of you’. Demos said, quietly.

‘Thank you. Morag, do you remember me asking you what happiness was like, just after your marriage?’

Yes, I do. I was so worried about you, Annie, at the time!’

‘Well, don’t be, now. I think I’ve just discovered it’.

‘I’m really glad, Annie. I couldn’t bear to see you so lonely and unhappy. You’re my sister!’

‘And you’re mine. Tell me about how you were injured’.

So Morag told them the details about how she had defeated the gang of thieves and murderers, and her battle with the leader, only two days before. When she looked across at Annie, she was surprised. Tears were welling in her eyes.

‘What’s the matter, Annie?’ She asked, fearfully.

‘You!  I couldn’t bear to lose you, Morag! Please don’t take any risks like that again1’

‘Annie, I’m a cop! I have to take risks! It’s my duty! It’s my job!’

To her dismay, Annie was beginning to sob. Helios tried to comfort her, but she shook him off impatiently. ‘Annie, don’t cry!’ Morag cried. ‘I can look after myself!’
‘I’m sorry. I’m just feeling a bit emotional. I just don’t want to lose anyone else that I love!’

‘It’s all right, Annie’. Morag crawled over to Annie, and embraced her with her right arm. Annie leant her head, gratefully against Morag’s shoulder. ‘What are you frightened of, Annie?’ She asked, gently.

‘Of what we’re going to find on this mission’. Annie replied, tearfully. She reached out her hand to Helios, who clasped it tightly. 

‘At least you’re back to your old self’. Morag said, smiling at her.

To her relief, Annie smiled back. ‘Yes, I am, at least for the time being. Morag, I’m truly sorry for those terrible things I said to you and Demos the other night. I didn’t mean any of them. But I wasn’t myself. I was just trying to warn you of what we might be facing. And I was missing Helios then, too’.

At that moment, the whole wagon jolted and turned to the right, and began to move faster, following the riders ahead of them.

‘What’s happening!’ cried Morag.

Demos got and looked ahead. ‘We have just turned off to the caravanserai. The horses have scented water ahead. That is why they are moving more quickly now’.

Morag settled down again, reassured. They swung into the open gates of the caravanserai. Like others they had stayed in, it consisted of fortified walls around a central plaza in which stood a large circular drinking pool. Rooms and stables were built up on the inside of the walls, with a semi-enclosed cantina at the far end. All caravanserai in Hyperborea were built to serve as fortresses if necessary. But they were still friendly and hospitable places for the tired traveller, looking for a break from his travels. They offered cheap but good food, and accommodation for the night, and were subsidised by the government, and staffed by soldiers as part of their military and civic training. All the horses, when unsaddled and unharnessed, made at once for the central drinking pool, before being led to their stables for the night. Their riders and passengers moved towards the cantina for a well-earned meal. It was towards the cantina that Ragimund led the members of her expedition.

They sat around a large round table at the back of the cantina and ordered the special dishes of fish stew with plates of fresh salad, which they all declared delicious. Annie and Helios excused themselves, soon after, declaring themselves tired and in need of sleep. Ragimund was puzzled. ‘Why are they so tired? It has only being a short day!’

Simon leant over and whispered in her ear. ‘Oh!’ Ragimund said weakly. ‘Then why did they not say so? If they wish to consummate their relationship by making love, then why did they not explain? You humans always try to disguise things with a display of words! Why can’t you be more natural as we faerys are?’

Indira gave out a large giggle, and gave Simon a lascivious wink.

Morag decided to intervene. She and Demos had had the same idea, and she was sure that Simon had too. But she was not going to leave Persephone alone with Indira to be corrupted by her coarse anecdotes.

‘Persephone, don’t you think that you should finish writing your diary and notes this afternoon, in your room?’

Persephone looked across the table at her with her bright, eager face. ‘Oh, yes, I will, Morag. I have seen snow- capped mountains today! They were wonderful! Ezekiel pointed them out to me!’

‘Good. Now Demos and I must retire as well. See you all at supper’. She hoisted Demos by his arm, and led him out of the cantina. 

Simon whispered quietly again in Ragimund’s ear. She suddenly smiled radiantly, and whispered back. ‘I think that is a very good idea, Simon’. She looked, sharply, at Indira and Pei-Ying.   
 ‘I trust that you will find some entertainment of your own’.

‘Oh, yes, we will. Don’t worry about us’. Indira gave her an innocent smile back. Simon and Ragimund rose up, imperiously, and walked out of the cantina.

‘Good. Now that lot have gone off for some married afternoon nooky, we can start off one of my famous “salons” ‘

‘Oh, no, Indira! Not again!’

For answer, Indira put up two fingers to her lips and blew a piercing whistle to attract attention.

‘Come on, you lot! Who wants to join two beautiful young ladies for an afternoon of ribaldry?

Pei-Ying just groaned.



Morag and Demos crept quietly up to their room, which was next to that of Annie and Helios. Morag stopped to listen at their door. ‘What are you doing, Morag?’ Demos whispered. ‘You are trespassing on their privacy!’

‘Shhh! No, I’m not. I just want to know that she’s all right. I’m a cop, remember!’

She listened attentively. She heard the rhythmic creaking of the wooden bed, accompanied by gentle sighs and moans. She stood up, satisfied.

‘She’s all right, sure enough. I just wanted to know. She’s my sister, remember?’

She paused at their door. ‘Demos, tell me you love me’.

‘You know I love you very much. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met!’

Morag’s voice grew husky with emotion. ‘Thank you so much, Demos. Forgive me, but I still feel a bit insecure sometimes, and I need to be reassured’. Her voice brightened. ‘How about an afternoon of pleasure with your beautiful wife?’

Demos smiled at her ‘I should like that very much’.

‘Come on, then’.

Clasping each other in a passionate embrace, they staggered through the door, Morag, only just remembering in time to turn the key in the lock after them.


It was still daylight when they eventually returned to the cantina for supper. To their surprise, they found Indira and Pei-Ying ensconced with a coterie of faerys, who Indira was regaling with a host of rude jokes and repartee,

‘Excuse me, Indira, but we would like to have our table back’.
Said Ragimund, mildly. Morag looked at her, astounded. Normally, Ragimund would have snapped at her, but this time she was in a beatific mood. Morag wondered why, but then she realised. Like Demos and herself, they had retired to their room for an afternoon of married bliss. No wonder she’s in such a good mood, thought Morag. So am I, if it comes to that.

Annie and Helios joined them. Annie looked particularly radiant and pretty that evening, her large, dark eyes shining in the darkening light, her lips slightly parted. Morag smiled at her. She smiled back. Meridias was right, Morag thought. She truly is beautiful. Her whole face lights up when she smiles. Bless her! As Annie sat down beside her, on her right side, she felt a sudden surge of affection for her, and hugged her with her good arm. ‘What’s that for? She laughed. ‘You seem in a good mood, Morag’.

‘Yes, I am. It’s good to have you back, Annie. Your old self, I mean’.

‘It’s good to be back. I feel human again’.

‘You lot have had afternoon nooky!’ Indira cried, pointing an accusing finger at them. ‘No wonder you’re all in such a good mood! Us poor spinsters have had to keep the troops entertained while you’ve been off having a good time!’

It was at this point that Morag expected Ragimund to explode. But she didn’t. Instead, she said, in a level voice, ‘Thank you, Indira. I trust you have not said anything about our mission’.

‘No! Not a word!’  

‘Good. Our mission must be kept secret, for the time being. You will soon have your wish to see our city of Elsace, Persephone’. She smiled at the young girl across the table, who squirmed on her chair in excitement.
‘Remember! We are going to explore this so-called crevasse to find evidence that the Ancient Ones used it as a portal, and only then will we seek other means of usage. Do you understand?’

They all nodded. ‘Also, we have an early start in the morning, so no more of your little salons, Indira, as you call them!’

Indira nodded again, now more subdued.

‘Good. Let us enjoy our meal’.

‘And I thought she was in a good mood!’ Muttered Indira under her breath.

Simon grinned at her. ‘You should hear her on a bad day!’ They dined on a tasty rabbit stew with fresh vegetables from the countryside around. It was followed by a fresh fruit compote with a rich cream sauce, also made locally, then a rich local cheese served on wafers of home-made bread, made in the cantina itself, washed down with a delicate, but fruity, white apricot wine, also made locally. The faery who served them claimed proudly that their dishes all came from the countryside around them. 

Persephone was captivated by this country. It all seemed so rich and fertile compared to her own land. She sat down next to Morag as they were all departing from their meal, suddenly sad and wistful. ‘Oh, Morag, I have seen such things that I dreamt of!  I wish that I could have been born in this land. I have seen snow- capped mountains today for the first time in my life’.

‘And you’ll see more, when we get to the Griffin mountains’. Morag promised, gently. ‘But until then, be patient’.

They all retired to bed. 


The wet morning glister still lay on the roofs of the caravanserai, when they arose next morning for a hasty breakfast. Before long, they were on their way again, on the second stage of their journey towards Elsace. Morag and Demos were back in the wagon as it trundled on down the road northwards towards the capital city. Annie and Helios rode together with Ezekiel and the small figure of Persephone close behind them. They were travelling closer to the mountain range now, and Morag could see Persephone’s head constantly turning to look at the mountain peaks alongside them. Ezekiel was pointing out the different mountains to her, and she was certainly enthralled. Morag was content that they were all together now on this journey, with their previous rancour and bitterness forgotten and discarded.

By midday, they had made good progress and were in the outlying areas of Elsace. Farmhouses and villas began to appear more frequently. Persephone caught her first glimpse of the great lake of Tabitha, on which Elsace was situated. She squealed with excitement, at which Ezekiel grinned. They finally rode in to the centre of the city, joining the Path of Mars, one of the great thoroughfares of Elsace.  

Persephone was spellbound. Accustomed to small dusty streets and alleys, she had never seen such splendour before. As they entered the Path of Mars she saw what she thought were wonderful sights. ‘That is our Observatory, where we can view the heavens and stars through a giant telescope’. She caught a glimpse of a tall round building with a copper domed roof with a large slot cut into it.

As they rode along the wide road, with carts and wagons going in each direction, Persephone ventured another question. ‘What is that great building over there? She pointed. ‘Ah, that is our great stadium of sport. It is there that we hold our annual athletic games’. She saw a huge amphitheatre with tiers of columns,  rising upwards. Her head turned to right and left, as she saw more enormous columns, supporting entablatures above, and great porticos with steps leading up, all in glistening marble. And the people that thronged the pavements each side of the road! There were all sorts and all nationalities. There were familiar groups of faerys in their tunics and breeches, but there were others in long woollen robes striped in blue and red, merchants in costly robes edged with fur and gold thread, their wives and children also expensively dressed in exotic robes, their hair coiled and bound with silver tiaras and brooches. She saw a family with the same features as Mariko, walking sedately along the pavement, holding their children by the hand, looking solemn. They were all wearing the same kind of robes that Mariko sometimes wore, embroidered with swirling pink and blue large flowers.

It was all too much for poor Persephone. She bowed her head and began to cry. Ezekiel bent over to her. ‘Why do you weep, little one?’ Alarmed, he decided to pluck her from her saddle, and take her to Morag in the wagon, which he did, despite her protests. Morag, dismayed by her tears and mortification, drew her down beside her, and cuddled the tearful young girl to her protectively. ‘What’s the matter, Persephone?’ She asked.   

‘Oh, Morag! It is too grand for me! I’m just a poor Barbarossi girl! I don’t belong here!’

Yes, you do!  You’re the daughter of a Barbarossi general! Of course you belong here! Now enough of this nonsense! Dry your eyes and stay here with us. We’ll be coming to the palace, shortly, where we’ll spend the night’. 

‘The palace! But I am not dressed properly!’

‘You can change there. Please don’t worry, Persephone. You’ll be all right on the night’.

‘Look, Persephone! There is our art gallery on your left’. Demos called.

She stood up to look. She saw the large pool at the back, enclosed by the wings of the marble building. She was amazed by the size of the pool. There was nowhere in her own land that could compare with this. ‘There are fish!’ she cried. ‘Golden fish!’

‘Look, Persephone! There is the palace!’ Cried Morag. She pointed ahead. Persephone gasped, and sat down abruptly on a hay bale. ‘It is so big! So marvellous!’ Morag looked back at the palace. It was resplendent in the afternoon sun. It glittered in the noon sun like a giant afternoon crystal, with its myriad surfaces, reflecting the sun’s rays. Persephone stood up again. ‘ Oh, brave new world, that has such wonders in it!’ Morag almost laughed aloud, hearing Persephone unconsciously quote Shakespeare, or at least a version of it.   

‘That’s where we’ll stay tonight’.

‘Oh, in a palace! I can hardly believe it! It is so huge and so wonderful! But I cannot stay there. I am not worthy’. 

‘Oh, stop it, Persephone! Of course you’re worthy! You’re part of this expedition! Where we go, you go! Got it?’

Persephone stared miserably down at her feet. Now she had vexed Morag, whom she adored.

Morag saw it and hastily hugged the young girl to her again. ‘It’s all right, Persephone. I’m not really angry at you. I just want you to be your normal happy, inquisitive self to cheer us all up. Promise me?’

‘I promise, Morag’.

That settled the matter. Persephone became her old cheerful self again. But she was still anxious about meeting the faery governors of this land.

Gloriana and her sisters met them at the entrance to the palace. ‘Welcome, my sister’. Gloriana said formally. Then she smiled and embraced Ragimund, who embraced her other sisters, one by one. Gloriana embraced the other members of the expedition, whom she knew. The last of all was Persephone. She quaked as she was pushed forward by Morag.  

Gloriana looked down at the small Barbarossi girl and smiled at her. Persephone looked up. The faery seemed impossibly tall to her. She felt like a dwarf. As if sensing this, Gloriana knelt down beside her. ‘Are you afraid of us, Persephone? ‘ She asked, gently. ‘Do not be. You must come and meet my daughter, Jezuban. She is about the same age as you’. She got up, and took Persephone’s hand. ‘Walk with me, Persephone’.  Astonished at her kindness, Persephone allowed herself to be led along by this tall beautiful faery, feeling even more dwarfed by her majestic height.

She walked with her through the entrance hall, her head turning to left and right as she saw the stately kouroi each side of the hall. ‘What are they?’ she asked, as they went up the grand stairs, to the balcony above. ‘They represent our warrior ancestors. Our previous kings’. Persephone decided to ask Demos about them later. But as they ascended the grand staircase to the upper floor, she craned her neck to look up at the ceiling frescoes above her head. What she saw delighted her. Delicate gazelles and antelope gazed down at her from a verdant landscape lit by a clear blue sky. They were so lifelike, she gasped in admiration. How had the artists painted them there, so high up on the ceiling? 

They had now reached the upper floor, and Gloriana flung the doors open to a large room, lit by tall windows at the far end. A small dark figure leapt up ‘Annie! Simon!’ They braced themselves for the impact. She literally threw herself at them, in her exuberance at seeing them again. She had a special affection for them since they had rescued her years ago from a dilapidated bus shelter when she had been summarily dumped in their world after being abducted by Duessa’s minions. When their effusive greetings were over, Gloriana beckoned Jezuban to her. ‘You must meet Persephone’ she said. ‘She is the official scribe for the expedition’. Jezuban went to Persephone and took her by the hand. ‘Come and sit with me, Persephone, and tell me about yourself’. Warmed by the young girl’s courtesy, Persephone did so, and was soon engaged in conversation.

Morag noticed them and smiled. She loved to see the young Barbarossi girl make new friends, especially since she had grown so fond of her. She nudged Demos, who also smiled when he saw the two young girls. They all settled down around the large low table for their midday meal, and helped themselves to the various dishes laid out there. ‘What do you expect to gain from this expedition, Ragimund?’ asked Gloriana.

‘I do not truly know’. Replied Ragimund. ‘I know that there is a possibility that the Ancient Ones used it as a portal from where they came, into our land. We hope to establish that possibility. Also. Annie thinks that it may be used for an invasion into our land by terrible evil forces, but I do not understand how she came by this information. We will investigate this’.

Gloriana looked sharply at Annie. ‘Is this true, Annie? ‘

‘Yes’. Annie said, miserably. ‘Nicholas Flamel told me’.

‘A philosopher and an alchemist! How can you believe him, Annie?’

‘I just do. He’s never lied to me before’. Annie said, defensively.
‘Well. I hope he is wrong. I do not want another attempted invasion like the last one’.

‘I hope I’m proved wrong. But we can’t take any risks’.

‘No, we cannot. That is why, Ragimund, you shall take a cage of carrier pigeons with you. It there is anything untoward there, I need to be informed as soon as possible’.

After their meal, they settled down to decide on a plan of action  when they reached the crevasse. ‘I can use my extra sense to see if anything has gone on in the past there’. Volunteered Morag. ‘Thank you, Morag. That would indeed be most helpful. We need to find out if there has been recent activity there, and if so, what kind, whether it be the Ancient Ones, or….something else’. Replied Ragimund.

‘We must also look to see if the Ancient Ones left any trace of themselves behind, so that we can prove it is a portal they have used’. Pointed out Demos.

‘Whatever you find, you must be cautious. I do not know what you will find, but if there is the least chance of an attack, you must leave immediately and report back to me’. Gloriana said, firmly. ‘Is that understood?’ They all nodded. Annie sighed in relief. At last, they were beginning to take her warnings seriously.

Gloriana turned to look at her daughter and Persephone. ‘Jezuban!’ She called.

‘Perhaps you would like to take Persephone on a tour of the palace? She will be lost otherwise in our labyrinth’.

‘Yes, mother’’ Jezuban said, obediently. ‘Come with me, Persephone, and I will show you the palace’. She pulled up a gratified Persephone and tugged her out of the door.
‘Thank  the gods! I did not want to alarm those two young girls. They are innocents’. Gloriana said, sadly.

‘Well, assuming that Annie is correct, and I’m not saying she is, what will we do if it turns out that half hell is going to come out of that crevasse?’ Simon, Annie’s brother, said, heatedly.

‘We fight them, of course!’ Ragimund, replied, equally fiercely. 

‘Wait! It might not be as simple as that!’ Annie cried. She knew Ragimund was as brave as a lion, but she was worried about the odds. ‘What if they’ve already enlarged the rift in the portal? They could bring an army of thousands through! What are we going to do then?’

‘We fight them in the same way!’  Ragimund retorted.

‘Wait!’ shouted Gloriana, bringing some order to the meeting. ‘This is to be an investigative mission, to see whether there really is a threat to our land! There is to be no fighting until we have found that out! Is that understood?’

The meeting calmed down, but there was still a sense of foreboding. What would they find when they got there? Annie felt guilty. It was she who had unconsciously instigated this expedition, and she desperately hoped that she was not putting their lives in danger.
Their meeting ended on a note of anxiety, as Annie had feared. The faerys were afraid that they might be invaded again, while the humans were still suspicious of Annie’s assertions. It was in this atmosphere of suspicion and doubt, that Gloriana announced, ‘There is to be a banquet tonight! We are entertaining some ambassadors from our neighbouring countries. Not the Circlassians. But others. You are all invited. This is to be a formal occasion, so please dress accordingly. I trust you all have formal attire?’
They all nodded their heads. Morag raised her hand, “Can Persephone come too?’

‘Of course! She is part of your expedition, is she not?’

Just then, Persephone returned with Jezuban. ‘Persephone! We’re going to a party this evening! So put on your best dress!’ Morag called to her.

‘Oh, Morag, how wonderful! Can Jezuban come with me?’

‘Yes, she can’. Gloriana said, happily. She was pleased that the two had made such friends with each other.

Gloriana smiled at Morag. ‘She sounds as if she thinks of you as her mother’.

‘Well, I’m not! But I have become very fond of her’.

‘That does you credit, Morag’.

‘I’m not her bloody mother!’ Morag shouted, angrily. She did not know why she was so angry. But it was too late. Persephone was still in the room. Suddenly, she ran out, sobbing as she did.

‘Persephone!’ she shouted, and ran after her. She pursued her up staircases, down corridors until she finally caught up with her. She was sitting, slumped against the wall of one of the many corridors of the palace. She was still weeping, her head down, her hands clasped around her upturned knees. Morag sank down beside her, panting from her pursuit. ‘I’m sorry to have upset you, Persephone, But I’m not your mother. That was the point I was trying to make. Do you understand?’

‘Yes’. She said, dolefully. She raised her head and stared at Morag with her wide, dark eyes. ‘Morag, do you love me?’

Morag stared back at her. ‘You know I do, Persephone. But as a friend and companion. I can’t be your mother as well’. As she said this, she remembered her own dead mother. The memory brought tears to her eyes. Persephone saw them, and was immediately contrite. ‘Please, Morag, I did not intend to make you sad’.

‘No, you haven’t, love, it was just a bad memory. Look, here’s Jezuban! She can guide us back out of this labyrinth!’

Jezuban came up to them, breathless. ‘At last! I have found you!’

‘Thank you, Jezuban. Can you guide us back?’

‘Of course. Follow me’.

They followed Jezuban down stairs, and through long corridors, back to the original room where the others were still waiting, anxiously.

‘At last! The wanderers have returned! I trust everything is well?’ Gloriana said, politely.

‘Yes, it is. Isn’t it, Persephone?’ Morag said, quickly.

‘Yes, of course, Morag’

‘Why do you two not help each other dress for this evening?’ Suggested Gloriana, tactfully, to Jezuban and Persephone.

‘We will, mother. Come on, Persephone! We can go to my room’. The two scampered out of the door.

‘May I have a word with you, Morag?’ asked Gloriana, and took her aside to a corner of the room. Oh, no!  Morag thought. I’m going to be told off.
But it was not what she had expected. Gloriana looked at her, sympathetically. ‘You are fond of that young girl, are you not?’

‘You know I am!’ Morag said, heatedly. ‘But I’m not her mother!’

‘Nor should you be’. Gloriana said, mildly. ‘But she needs comfort and friendship from you. Imagine that young girl, alone in a strange land, having been rescued from a sinking ship. It is only natural that she should come to rely on you, her saviour, for friendship and support. She has no-one else. Do not be hard on her. She is easily hurt’.

Morag realised that Gloriana was simply offering her advice, not the telling-off that she had feared. So she smiled and simply thanked her.  ‘No, thank you, Morag. You have already brought much honour to this land’. Gloriana replied, quietly. ‘It is small wonder that that girl looks up to you and admires you’.

Morag felt flattered that she had been complimented. At least that was something to be proud of. Their lunch party finally broke up, and they all departed to their rooms. Their bedrooms were all situated off the same large room they had used before, opening off a central space with a large, low table in the middle. It was an arrangement that suited everybody well, since it enabled them all to meet together before descending to the reception area in the grand hall downstairs.

Morag unpacked the green dress that she had worn on her previous birthday, and stretched it out on their double bed. Demos looked at it with approval. He loved Morag in the dress.

‘Will this be all right?’ She asked him anxiously. ‘With the sling, I mean’.     

‘Of course, it will. You are a wounded warrior after all. Oh, Morag, you look so beautiful in that dress!’ He burst out. Morag smiled at him in affection. ‘I must say you always know how to say the right things, even if your timekeeping leaves a lot to be desired’. She said this with a chuckle.

Demos looked glumly at his feet. ‘I am trying, Morag’.

Morag felt a sudden surge of love for him. ‘Oh, come here, you’. She pulled him to her with her free right arm, and kissed him tenderly.

‘I don’t mean to criticise you, Demos, I just want to know whether you’ll be there for me, and I sit there waiting for another ten minutes, before you appear. That’s not too much to ask, is it?’

Demos just looked down miserably again, looking like a naughty child being told off. Morag was touched. But she said, cheerfully, ‘Let’s go and have a bath before we change’. And so they did.

When they got downstairs, the entrance hall was crowded, with faeries from the palace, together with small groups of corpulent foreigners, resplendent in blue and red brocaded robes, together with their wives, or so Morag imagined them to be. They were equally plump, their necks and fingers festooned with opulent jewels and gold, so heavy that it seemed to weigh them down, and make them gasp with the effort of moving. Morag did not care for them, and did her best to avoid the merchants and their wives, especially since she knew they had large retinues of servants and slaves, a practice which she abhorred.

‘Morag!’ She turned swiftly, and gasped in relief. It was her friend, Amelia, looking very attractive in a long blue dress, with her long blonde hair streaming down her back. She liked Amelia, a staunch supporter of her finger-printing programme, and a fine fellow marshal. But Amelia was looking with concern at her injured arm. ‘You are still wounded, Morag!’ She cried in dismay. ‘It’s only a broken wrist’. Morag said cheerfully, ‘And  a slashed arm as well’. She said for good measure, to elicit sympathy. ‘But if you hadn’t given me that knife, it could have been much worse’.

‘I am truly glad I did’. Amelia said, genuinely, ‘But wait! Here is my new love come to greet us!’

 ‘What?’ Morag said, weakly.

‘This is Declos, my new paramour’. Said Amelia, proudly. A tall, handsome dark- haired faery man came up to them. ‘Greetings  to you, Declos’. Morag said politely.

‘And to you, Morag, daughter of Moran’. The faery man said courteously.

‘Your new love! And you never told me!’ Morag said, grinning.

‘There was no opportunity’. Amelia protested.  

‘There’s always opportunity’. Morag grinned again, then her eyes widened in horror. ‘Amelia, look out!’ A small dark man, bearded, whom she had not previously noticed, was running towards them, but with a long, sharp knife in his right hand. Before they could stop him, he screamed ‘Die, devil queen!’ 
and plunged his dagger into Amelia’s back! She screamed and fell forwards into Morag’s outstretched right arm.

‘Amelia!’ she yelled, and she turned and saw the man plunging through the crowd towards the main entrance, She pointed at him. ‘Stop him! Now!’ Two of the faery guards in the entrance hall ran forwards, crouched, then raised their bows with arrows already notched, took aim and fired. The arrows hissed through the crowded entrance hall and struck the would-be assassin in the back. He fell on his face, sprawled across the doorway.
Morag turned her attention back to Amelia. She turned her over onto her side, and tore her bloodstained dress from her back to reveal a bloody wound, where she had been stabbed. Praying to herself, she took her talisman from her left hand, and pressed it against the wound. Amelia’s body bucked and she screamed loudly. But the talisman had done its work. The stab wound began closing, and Amelia became calmer. But she was still shaking violently with shock, clutching what remained of her bloodstained dress around her to preserve her modesty. Morag propped her up into a sitting position, then looked around. She saw a crowd of shocked faces. She could hear screams from some of the merchants’ wives in the background, frightened by the sudden intrusion of violence into their very midst. Gloriana pushed her way through the crowd, and knelt down beside Morag.

‘What has happened here, marshal?’ She asked in a low voice.

Morag fixed her with a level look. ‘I believe it was an assassination attempt. On you’.

‘On me! But why should this marshal be attacked?’

‘Because the assassin mistook her for you. From the back, you both look very similar’.

Gloriana looked down at Amelia’s long flowing yellow hair. ‘I see what you mean’. She turned to her guards. ‘Seal the main doors! And question everybody! Nobody leaves until you have spoken to them! You two! Search the body and see if you can find out who he is! Do it now! And make sure to take this marshal to the physician, to have her wound attended to!’

‘I will do that, my lady’. Said Declos, beside her, ‘She is my paramour’. He added sadly. He bent down and scooped up Amelia in his arms, carrying her out of the hall to the physician’s quarters. Morag looked after them with unease. For some unknown reason, she felt something was wrong. At that moment, the two faery guards who been searching the body if the assassin came back to Gloriana. ‘Lady, we found these documents on his body’. One of them said. He thrust some documents into her hands. Gloriana began to read them, her face suffused with anger. Eventually, she thrust them into Morag’s hand.

‘Read that!’

Morag took the documents and read the top one slowly. To her surprise, they were written in her own language. ‘I, Neklos Antiwa , certify that I am an authorised merchant from Circlassia, in Hyperborea to trade legitimately…’

‘Nonsense! Cried Gloriana, sharply. ‘I never authorised such a person! These documents are forgeries by those damned Circlassian scum!’

‘But why attempt to assassinate you now? It makes no sense!’

‘Yes, it does’. Said a voice behind them. They both turned to see Annie standing next to them. ‘They, or what they are, are sowing discord and anxiety in our ranks. It’s a prelude to an attack’.

‘An attack! By whom?’ Said Gloriana, aghast.

‘From whatever is going to come out of that crevasse we’re looking at tomorrow. Don’t ask me what’.

Morag was suddenly reminded of Amelia. ‘Demos! We must go and see how she is!’ She seized her startled husband’s hand and dragged him with her towards the infirmary. She felt anxious. Something was wrong. She knew it. They burst into the infirmary. Atalanta, the physician, looked up from her desk, startled. ‘Morag!’ She cried. ‘What are you doing here?’
Morag ignored the question. ‘Where’s Amelia?’ She asked, abruptly.

‘In the bedroom there. She is safe. She has her paramour with her’.

Morag again listened at the door. To her alarm, she heard a number of muffled cries from inside. She tried the door handle. It was locked. She quickly turned to her husband.  ‘Demos, can you break this door down?’

‘Of course, my love!’

He gave the door an almighty kick, which tore the lock away from the splintered doorframe. They rushed in, followed by Atalanta, to confront a terrible sight. Declos was bending over a helpless Amelia, pressing a pillow over her face, to suffocate her. She was trying to fight back, but her movements were weak, due to her previous stabbing.

He raised a face contorted into a mask of malevolence, making his handsome face ugly to behold. ‘Leave her alone, you filthy bastard!’ Morag shouted. Both she and Demos leapt forward. Demos seized him and threw him away from the bed while Morag snatched the pillow away from Amelia’s face and threw it on the floor. Atalanta remained in the doorway, her face white with horror.

‘You filthy scum !’ Declos roared, aflame with anger. ‘I will silence that bitch! And yours, too! He pulled out his dagger. ‘You touch my wife and you will lose your life!’ Demos cried back. They circled each other, Demos having drawn his dagger as well. It was to be a knife fight. Declos shouted. ‘I serve the Beast! You will die!’ ‘You are demented! Demos said, more quietly. ‘ Demos, be careful!’ Morag cried.  

Declos lunged first, but Demos was quick to block it, twisting away, and grasping his knife hand, before plunging his dagger deep into his opponent’s chest.

Declos gave a shriek, before falling down on his face. He lay dead on the floor, in a pool of his own blood.

‘What has been going on here?’ Asked an angry voice. It was Gloriana, standing in the doorway, her tall figure silhouetted against the light from outside. ‘Amelia, what has happened to you?’

Amelia was now sitting up on the bed, supported by Morag, who was comforting her. She was still gasping for breath, and sobbing, alternatively. but she did manage to tell Gloriana that Declos had pushed her back on the bed and fastened a pillow over her face with the intention of murdering her. ‘I…I trusted him!  But he was a monster! I was too weakened to resist properly! But Morag and her husband came in and rescued me!’

‘And how did he come to be slain?’

‘I slew him’, Demos said, ‘In self-defence. He drew his knife, and attacked me’.

‘I see’. Gloriana said. She sank down heavily on one of the bedroom chairs. and dropped her head in her hands, then raised it again. ‘Or rather, I do not see. Has the world gone mad? Faery against faery! What a web of deceit and treachery there is here! I do not understand it!’

‘Lady, we must take this poor wounded woman to another room. I will give her a sedative to help her sleep’. Atalanta pointed out.

Gloriana roused herself. ‘Of course! Please take the poor child to her new quarters. Morag! I will come with you on your expedition tomorrow. But I will bring a large force of soldiers with me. I am not taking any chances’.

‘As you wish, Lady Gloriana’. Morag replied, politely. Inwardly, she groaned at the idea of a large armed escort riding with them. But Amelia had to be looked after first. She was still sobbing, and was clearly very distressed. Morag and Atalanta supported her between them, and took her to the next bedroom in the infirmary where they put her to bed. ‘I will prepare her a sedative’. Atalanta said, and disappeared into her apothecary’s room. Amelia clutched her arm. ‘I..I trusted him!’ She whispered tearfully. ‘He betrayed me, Morag!’ ‘I know, love’. She whispered back. ‘But you’re safe now’. Atalanta reappeared with a small mug. ‘Drink this’. She said, abruptly. ‘It will give you a good night’s sleep, and relieve any pain you might still have’.

Amelia drank down the concoction, and immediately lay back on her pillow, this time looking very drowsy. A few seconds later, she was fast asleep, her arm curled above her head. Morag looked down on her with a mixture of compassion and affection. Poor Amelia, she thought. It’s not been her night at all. She leant over and brushed a few strands of her golden hair from her face. ‘She will sleep soundly now’.  Atalanta said, soothingly.

‘I hope so’. replied Morag. She pulled the coverlet gently over Amelia’s bare shoulder, then they both left. Outside they were both surprised to find two faery guards outside the door. Gloriana still stood in the surgery. ‘I have taken the precaution of safeguarding that poor young woman’. She explained. ‘I want no more attempts on her life’.

‘Thank you, Lady Gloriana. Can I ask you something?’

‘Of course’.

‘Declos shouted something during the knife-fight. He said  “I serve the Beast”. Does that mean anything to you?’ 

Gloriana frowned. ‘I do not think so. What is this Beast?’

‘I don’t know’. Morag said, helplessly. ‘I’ll have to ask Demos’.

Once again, she cursed herself for not having this knowledge. I really must educate myself, she thought. She decided to leave the infirmary and seek her husband. 

She found him in their bedroom in the palace. ‘Demos, what is the Beast? Do you remember? Declos mentioned it?’

Demos looked troubled. ‘I wish I hadn’t had to kill him’. He said, sincerely. ‘But to answer your question, it means nothing in Hyperborea. But in your world, in past times, it refers to the Devil, or Satan’.

‘The Devil!’ Exclaimed Morag. ‘What on earth have we let ourselves in for?’

‘I do not know. But he was, according to your religion, a fallen angel, who was cast out of the  Kingdom of Heaven for leading a revolt against your God’s law, and has since become a symbol of evil and cruelty, such as….’

‘All right, I don’t want to hear the details’. Morag said,  hurriedly.  ‘I just wanted to know what it meant. It doesn’t mean that it exists, though’.

‘Of course not. It is simply a piece of religious superstition’.

But Morag was left feeling disquieted and anxious. What if there was some element of truth in this superstition? Were they about to encounter some supernatural foe? She decided to ask Annie.
She eventually found her in their quarters in the palace. She was sitting at the window in the large common room they all shared, gazing out across Elsace. ‘Annie’, She asked, ‘Can I ask you a question?’

Annie looked up, puzzled. ‘Of course you can. I’m just waiting for Helios’.

‘What are we up against, Annie? In that crevasse, I mean’.

Annie looked out of the window again. ‘I don’t honestly know. I wish I did’.

‘Is there any danger, seriously? Only I was thinking of Persephone’.

‘I tell you, I don’t know! We’ll just have to wait and see!’ Annie snapped.

Morag gave up at that point. Annie was clearly worried, but was not going to commit herself.

‘All right, Annie, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we’. Morag said, levelly. She walked away.

‘Wait, Morag! Please don’t go! Don’t hate me! Please!’

There was a tearful note to Annie’s voice that made her stop, and turn around.  
‘Look, Annie, I nearly lost one of my best friends tonight, and you dare to tell me that’s connected to what we may find in that crevasse tomorrow!’

‘I know, and I’m truly sorry about what happened to Amelia’. Annie replied, still with an edge of tears in her voice.

‘Annie, I’m not angry with you, but I can’t understand why you think there’s any danger. What happened to Amelia, and what you think we might discover in this crevasse, are totally unrelated’.

‘I really hope so’. Annie replied, miserably.

‘Cheer up. Annie. You’ll be getting married soon’.

‘Yes, I will’. Annie smiled, and for a few moments Morag saw her sister restored to her old self.

‘Be happy, Annie’ She said, and left for her bedroom. But she looked back and still saw that radiant view of Annie’s face. She felt gladdened, and hurried through into their bedroom, Demos was already preparing for bed.

‘Oh dear ‘ She said. ‘ I’m sorry I’m so late’.

‘You are never late, Morag. It is I who am the tardy one’.

‘Oh, come here, you’. she said affectionately. ‘Listen, I don’t mean to nag you, but it would be lovely if I saw you waiting for me, instead of the other way around’.   

Demos hung his head. ‘I promise that I will do my best’.

Morag laughed. ‘Then that’s good enough for me. Let’s go to bed’.


The next morning saw a hubbub of activity. outside the palace of Elsace. Horses were being saddled, and extra provisions and luggage were being loaded into saddle bags or into the wagon. Morag and Demos stood watching, disconsolately. At length, everything was ready, and the little procession was ready to start. Morag was hoisted up into the wagon as usual, by Ezekiel, and she and Demos settled down together. But Morag was unsettled and anxious still, about this expedition. ‘Demos’, She asked, ‘Would you tell me some more about past archaeology, just to take my mind off things? Only I’d really like to know more’.

‘Of course, Morag. But what are you worried about?’ 

‘I don’t know. Just talk to me, please’.

‘Very well, I shall tell you about  Howard  Carter and his discovery of  Tutamkhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings’.

‘Yes, please’. Said Morag, eagerly. She had known about it, but knew little of the details.

She settled to listen to Demos’s story, so much so, that she hardly noticed their departure, not even  the band of faerys that waved them off from the palace. It was not until Persephone rode up alongside them, that she realised they had left the city behind and were now in open country. They had ridden out across the Path of Mars, past the city museum, onto the Path of Mercury, where they had turned shortly, southwards, through the city gateway on the road that led ultimately to Rhuan. I was the same road that they had taken to reach Morag’s Cave, the site of Morag’s earlier escapade into the past of the Ancient Ones . But now, their destination lay earlier than that, at the base of one of the mountains that formed the landscape of what the faerys called the Griffin Mountains, a vast chilly region where the griffins made their nests in the looming hills and mountaintops. In the south, on the other side, the mountains tumbled down to a series of fjords – huge inlets from the sea, that extended to the very base of the mountain range. Few had explored these inlets, because they were difficult to reach and traverse, and partly through fear of the griffins themselves, who were fiercely possessive of their territory, and who rarely permitted visitors.

Their road led between the Griffin Mountains to the south and a deep forest to the north. Morag remembered riding through it on their way to Morag’s Cave. She pointed it out to Persephone.

‘I have never ridden through a forest before’. Said Persephone, wistfully. ‘There are no such things in my land. There are so many trees!’ 

‘I’ll ask Ragimund if we can ride through it on our way back’. 

‘Oh, yes please, Morag!’ 

With that, she trotted off on her pony to join Ezekiel, ahead of them.

‘Are you worried about her?’ Asked Demos.

‘Yes, I am.  You know when you’ve rescued someone from certain death, you still feel responsibility for them? That’s how I feel about Persephone’.
‘I do understand and I think that it does you credit’. He took a deep breath. ‘Morag, I am deeply proud of you’.

‘Me! Oh! Why?

‘Because you care. About Persephone, and about all the other people you come into contact with. It is what makes you such a good marshal, Morag’.

‘I do believe that’s a compliment! Thank you, Demos!’

She leant over and kissed him tenderly. But they were interrupted from the front of their little convoy.
‘Halt!’ Ragimund was holding up her hand. Then she pointed. ‘There is our destination!’ They all looked in the direction she was pointing. They saw, at first, a green meadow, that sloped down to a shallow valley below. On the other side, rose one of the high mountains of the Griffin range that overshadowed the small valley. At its base, they could see, at last, a dark cave.

They could tell, even from the distance, that it was large. But who had made it? Ragimund was clearly determined to find out. She signalled that they should dismount. ‘We cannot take the wagon or the horses down there’. She explained. ‘We will have to proceed on foot’. So they dismounted from the wagon, Demos helping Morag down. They then set off into the little valley and the cave beyond, not knowing what to expect. They clambered down into the small valley and up again on the other side until at last they were standing outside the cave entrance itself. It was not what they expected. Demos carefully examined the sides of the opening. ‘This has recently been enlarged’. He finally announced. ‘You can see the chisel marks that they made’.

‘Big enough for an army to get through’. Annie muttered, though no-one heard her. They walked in to the cave itself, a circular space over fifty feet in diameter, with a vast domed roof  above. On the other side, opposite the entrance, was a large black hole, which they all looked at, apprehensively.

‘Do you think that that is the hidden portal to Astroban, which the Ancient Ones used?’ Ragimund asked Demos. ‘It is hard to tell. But it has been used more recently. Look at the marks on the ground!’ They all peered down at their feet. Morag knelt down to take a closer look. ‘They’re marks made by cloven hooves!’ She exclaimed in horror. ‘Something has been here!’

‘Morag! Can you use your second sight to find out what has been going on?’ Ragimund said, sharply.

‘I’ll try’. She said, reluctantly. She closed her eyes and summoned up her second sight. It enabled her to see the immediate past, but not to alter it in any way. She had used it on rare occasions before when attempting to solve a crime, but this was different. She had no idea of what she would see.

‘I can’t see any activity at the moment’. She said, still with her eyes closed. She was speaking aloud for the benefit of the others. ‘Wait, there are two figures coming out of the dark hole! Urrgh! They’re devils, I’m sure of it! They’ve got beast-like heads and they’ve got cloven feet! They’re horrible!’

‘Can you describe them, Morag?’ Ragimund said, anxiously.

‘Yes. One of them has got a large hooked beak in the middle of his face, and the other has got the head of a pig, with a snout. Wait! They’re going back into the black hole now, but they’re scrawling something on the wall! I can’t see what it is’. 

‘That is enough! I have got enough information. Thank you, Morag. We now know that these ..things … are not from this world, and are indeed from this…Hell. We have to defeat them in combat!’

‘But how! We don’t even know how many they are!’

‘It does not matter. We will prevail. Simon, let us look upon these scrawls and see if they can give us any clues to their intentions’.

‘As you wish’. Simon muttered. The only disadvantage of  being married to Ragimund  was she involved him in all her heroic feats and plans, but the advantages far outweighed that. They loved each other, passionately, and they were able to forgive each other. Morag knew this, as did Annie, so they were able to forget the occasional quarrel.

But Simon was not happy this time, about going into a dark hole, which could be a place for ambush. So he followed his wife with some trepidation, with one of the electric torches they had brought, and which Ragimund resolutely refused to even touch. They could see its beam hovering over the walls of the cavern as the two of them proceeded down into its dark depths. However, they soon retreated back, coughing and spluttering.

‘The stench down there is terrible!’ gasped Ragimund. ‘We could not go any further!’ ‘It’s absolutely fetid, and the heat!’ echoed Simon. ‘But we did find Morag’s graffiti, on the inner wall’.

‘Show me!’ retorted Morag, briefly. She did not like them being referred to as her graffiti.  

 ‘You had all better come and look’. Said Simon, pointedly.
They all trooped down into the black hole for a few yards, looked where Simon shone his torch, and recoiled instinctively. ‘Uggh! That’s hideous!’ Indira shouted, and for once, nobody disagreed with her. They saw, drawn crudely, scenes of agony and torture. One of them depicted a naked man crucified to the ground by big cruel nails impaling his hands and feet. A devil sat astride his chest, gouging his eyes out with a long thin knife. Another devil crouched behind the first, busy castrating their helpless victim, again with a long sharp knife.

The second scene was even worse. A naked woman was similarly impaled to the ground, but this time her belly had been slit open. The same two devils had lit a fire in her belly and were fanning it with small bellows. Both seemed to be enjoying the suffering of the victims, judging by their smirks. Both victims’ suffering was depicted by drawing their mouths as a round O of agony.

Morag closed her eyes tightly in revulsion, though she could still see the scrawls behind her closed eyelids. She felt a terrible rage welling up inside her at these cruelties. She vowed never to let Persephone suffer such pain. and briefly wondered, if the worst came to the worst, she would have the courage to kill herself and Persephone to avoid such suffering.

‘Morag!’ She opened her eyes and turned. Persephone and Jezuban were running towards them from the entrance to the cave. ‘Do not let those young girls see these things!’ Cried Ragimund, desperately. Morag shouted at the two young girls. ‘Go back to the entrance! Now!’

The two girls stopped short. ‘But you asked me to report on our findings’. Persephone said, plaintively.   

‘ I know that! Now I’m telling you to go back to the entrance! Now!’

‘But, Morag I….’

‘Do as you’re told, you silly little sod! Get back to the entrance! Now! Both of you!’ 

Persephone’s eyes brimmed with tears. Why was Morag so angry with her? She tried one last time.

‘Morag, have I done something wrong, to make you speak so harshly to me?’

Morag softened a little. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong, little one, but you must go back to the entrance at once’.

Persephone turned around and walked back, her shoulders drooping. Jezuban put a comforting arm around her, as they made their way back to the cave entrance. There was a sudden shout from Simon. ‘Here’s another one! And it’s the worst of all!’

They all crowded around to see the last piece of graffiti. Simon was pointing to it, further down the black cavern wall. Morag felt almost sick when she saw it. She saw two naked young children, trussed to a spit, which was being slowly revolved above a roaring fire pit below. One of the devils was turning the handle of the spit, while the other brandished a carving knife and a large plate, pointing his knife at two naked human figures crouching opposite, bound hand and foot, who were being forced to watch. ‘Ughhh!’ Cried Indira. ‘They’re going to force them to eat their own children!’

It was like a slap in the face for all of them. They were both furious and vengeful against these fiends that had boasted so much about what they were going to do. Their faces were pale with anger. Suddenly, Simon held up a finger. ‘Listen!’ He cried. From far off down the black hole, they could hear a distant murmuring and scraping which steadily became louder.

‘Something is coming out of that hole!’ Ragimund shouted. ‘Retire back to the entrance! We will make a better fight there!’ They retreated to the entrance where Persephone and Jezuban  sat, disconsolately. ‘Get behind us! Whispered Ragimund. ‘Something is coming out of that dark hell-hole after us all!’


Frank Jackson – 15/ 05/ 2016 – Word Count- 11193