Doctor Flamel and the Astrolabe


It came as a shock when they got the news from home. ‘Nicholas Flamel and his wife have disappeared!  Annie’s mother lamented in her letter. ‘They have gone! Just disappeared!’

‘ No, they haven’t ‘. Annie said, sharply. ‘Mum’s panicking as usual.  We both know that they’ve moved to a villa just outside Elsace, just as Gloriana promised, and that’s where they’ll stay from now on. Speaking of which, we ought to go and see them, to make sure they’ve settled in’.

‘Fine. We can ride over there tomorrow, after our normal patrol’. Morag offered. Annie nodded her assent. They rode out after their normal patrol after lunch and found the villa they were looking for. It was a small white cubic building but with an atrium and a colonnaded peristyle, similar in style and plan to the house of Poseidon, where Simon had almost met his death at the hands of the infamous Grandfather Wrist. The first human presence they saw, as they entered, was the rear of Perenelle, who was bending over one of the planters in the atrium.

‘Hello. Perenelle’. Annie said, pleasantly.

The  small plump figure straightened up quickly and turned around.

‘ Why, Annie, is it not?’ She exclaimed in pleasure. ‘And Morag daughter of Moran, too!  What a delight to see you!

We thought we’d come and see you, to see how you’re settling in, in this new land’. Explained Annie.

‘That is very kind of you, my dear. As you can see, I am planting out nasturtiums. Nicholas and I are very fond of them’.

‘Where is Doctor Flamel? Morag asked, abruptly. She was not prepared to indulge in horticultural discussions now.

‘Oh, he is in his laboratory, which he has established in one of the rooms here. I barely see him any more. He is too busy working on his new toy. I never see him while he is so preoccupied’.

‘What is he working on?’ Annie asked.

‘A new kind of astrolabe, one which shows not only our solar system but that of this dimension as well. Nicholas says it will be the first opportunity to see everything in its rightful place!’ She chuckled. ‘Why don’t you go and see for yourselves? I’m sure he will be pleased to see you!’

‘Are you sure? Won’t he be busy?’ asked Annie.

‘Oh, no! I’m sure he will welcome you as soon as he knows who you are! Go and knock on his door’.

They followed Perenelle’s directions and  knocked on the stout wooden door.

‘Who is it?’ cried a querulous voice from inside.

‘Annie and Morag! We’ve met before!’ She shouted through the keyhole.

‘Do come in, my girls! Just a moment while I unlock the door.’.

They heard the sound  of shuffling feet, then the noise of  bolts being withdrawn, and the rattling of a key in the lock. The door was suddenly thrown back, and there stood Nicholas Flamel, in his shirtsleeves and braces. ‘Welcome. welcome!’ He cried. ‘Come and see my new toy, as my dear wife calls it!’ He led the way into his small laboratory behind. What they saw amazed them. They saw a small table, above which a number of small balls were suspended. travelling around each other in orbits. But what astounded them was that each small ball, or planet as they now recognised them as, were travelling around each other without any visible means of support, without wires or other means. They were literally suspended in space..

‘How have you achieved this?’ Annie cried. She was genuinely amazed at the sight.

‘By electromagnetic force. You see, I have created an electromagnetic field for each planet, It stops them bumping into each other, at the least. But I have succeeded in reproducing the orbits of every planet now, so we can see how the solar system works’.

‘What are those planets there?’ Morag asked, pointing at three small golden planets orbiting slowly in the midst of the cluster.

‘Those are Chryistra, Amaris, and Astraban, the three planets of this system. I have included them in this model to show how they interact with your world’.

‘Just a moment! Annie interrupted. ‘Did you say Astraban? Where is it?’

‘Beneath your feet, of course’. Nicholas Flamel said, sounding surprised.

 ‘What! You mean this planet has been Astraban all along? Right under our very noses! How could we have missed that!’

‘Of course. The faery race has been here for thousands of years.
In this land. This was no ramshackle colony. But many of your people travelled to our planet where they intermingled with the Celtish peoples, hence their language. They also had the opportunity to see the Greeks and the Romans building their homes and great edifices at first hand, and the techniques that they used. Hence the city of Elsace, the new capital of the faery world’.

‘But why establish a new capital here? Where was their original home? Morag asked, practically.

‘The big continent to the north-west of here. That was their original home. But a great plague overtook them, and there was much death and suffering. Weakened by the plague, they eventually retreated to Hyperborea, where they resettled, plagued by invaders who eventually took over their old continent This, then, was their new home, from about three thousand years ago’.

‘How do you know all this?’ Interrupted Annie, slightly irritated by this new knowledge.

‘Because I had access to certain documents back in the old days. Faery ones, of course’. He sighed. ‘There was a time when I knew everything that was happening in the universe. But not any more’. He fell silent.

‘But what about the faerys that settled in our world? Did they not return?’

‘Oh, yes, they did. They returned in their droves, from where they had scattered across your world. It was an exodus back to their own land. They brought their wives, husbands and children with them and began to settle this land again, with the results that you see now’.

Both young women were silent, thinking about the turbulent history of the faerys. Then Annie looked excited. ‘Do you realise what this means? The  Ancient Ones really were the ancestors of the faerys! Ragimund should be pleased about that!’

‘Pleased about what?’ A voice rang out from the doorway behind them.

They turned. Ragimund was standing there and her face was thunderous. ‘Why have you brought such an infernal machine into my land?  She shouted. ‘I am not pleased about that!’

‘Will you not look!’ Morag said, desperately.

‘Look at what? Some act of sorcery! Oh!’ She looked at the astrolabe and gasped. Her mouth had fallen open as she saw the miniature planets apparently revolving around each other with no visible means of support. ‘What kind of magic is this?’

 ‘No magic, lady, but the application of scientific principles to a given problem’.

‘How do you do this?’

‘Alas, it would take too long to explain. But it is done by electricity and magnetic forces’.

‘I have heard of magnetism, but what is electricity?’

Both Annie and Morag smiled. They knew it wasn’t an idle question. Ragimund had no concept of  science or of mechanics, brought up in a mediaeval society, where such things were unknown. She did not understand machines nor did she wish to do so.

Nicholas understood this, and kept his explanation as simple as possible.

‘It is a force which powers  my astrolabe. It is a form of energy which has to be generated. Hence my little generator here’. He pointed to a small, box-like structure mounted on wheels, underneath the table.

‘Is that a machine?’ Ragimund asked, furiously.

‘Yes and no. It is a machine that creates power, But it is only designed to power this astrolabe’.

Ragimund pondered this for a few moments. ‘The real reason why I have come to see you, Doctor Flamel, is because I wanted to ask you if you would consider exhibiting your astrolabe in our astronomical institute. I would like my people to see their planets’.

Doctor Flamel beamed. ‘I should be glad to, lady’.

‘Good. Then that is settled’.

‘Wait! Nicholas! Have you not told the lady Ragimund about the threats we have received?’

‘What threats are these?’ Ragimund said angrily.

For answer, Perenelle held out a handful of rolled scrolls towards her.

‘What are these?’ Ragimund demanded.

‘Written threats to Nicholas and myself. Written by a group that calls itself the Luddytes. Nicholas and I did not come to this land to be terrorised like this!’

‘Nor will you be! Marshals! Come and look at these with me’.

She unrolled one of the parchments. They all looked at it. The message was scrawled untidily across it. It read:

Beware, flee this land sorcerer and take your vile  magic with you. We want you out of our land.

The Luddytes

‘Well, that’s fairly clear’. Annie remarked. ‘I think that constitutes a threat’.

‘Yes, it does! But who are these ruffians who threaten our guests in this land? Morag, do you know of them?’

Morag shook her head. ‘No, I’ve never heard of them’.

‘Then find out! I am charging you and Annie with investigating these, these Luddytes so that we can deal with them! Find out who their leaders are, and arrest them!’ Ragimund swept out, having given her instructions, leaving them with the scrolls, their only clue.

‘Great! Thanks a lot! Where do we start?’ muttered Annie, petulant at this sharp order. ‘Don’t be upset’. Morag advised. ‘She’s worried about this gang. You should know what faerys are like by now, Annie’.

Annie grinned. ‘I know’. She said. ‘But I’m learning how to be a marshal, like you’. They smiled at each other in friendship. But Anne noticed something about the scrolls. ‘Look! She cried. ‘The parchment!’

‘What about it?’

‘Well, it’s brand new, and it’s high quality. Not the sort of stuff you’d be scrawling threatening notes on!’

‘You’re right, Annie. But who could supply such parchment?’

‘Their leader, of course. They must have someone telling them what to do!’

‘You know, Annie, I believe you’re beginning to think like a marshal’. Annie just grinned. ‘What’s the plan of action?’ She asked.

‘Tonight we go on a tavern crawl. Somebody, somewhere, must know who these creatures are, and where we can find them. I want to know how many there are, and where we can find their leader’.

‘Suits me’. Annie said, grinning again. She had recovered her good humour at the prospect of some action at last.

We’ll wait until this evening before starting out’. Morag decided. ‘We’ll stand more chance of catching them in their favourite hostelry then, and possibly their leader too’.

‘How will we arrest them? We haven’t any proof’.

‘No, but we’ve grounds for suspicion. That’ll be enough to bring them in for questioning, at least’.

‘All right then. That’s what we’ll do. With any luck, one or two of them might kick off, and then we can have them for attempted assault on a police officer’.

‘Annie, don’t do anything rash’.

Annie opened her eyes wide. ‘Since when did I do anything rash?’
Morag thought, numerous times, but decided to drop the subject.

They met that evening outside the Dog and Whistle, as a starting point. ‘This is as good a place to start as anywhere’. Morag said, in answer to Annie’s unspoken question. ‘It’s relatively clean and salubrious, unlike some around here, it’s free of prostitutes, and the landlord is a good friend of mine’. The hostelry, built of timber and wattle, with brick foundations, seemed friendly, situated as it was on the outskirts of the port. They entered a large room with square wooden tables, spread around large settles against the walls, with benches on the other side. The tavern was already busy, serving wenches flitting to and fro, bearing jugs of ale and mulled cider, for their thirsty customers.

Morag motioned to the landlord behind the bar at the far side of  the room, that she wanted a word. He nodded and pointed to the far end of the bar, out of earshot of the customers. They followed him round to the side of the bar.

‘Marshal Morag, what can I get you?’ He asked, beaming.

‘Nothing at the moment, Matthias. We’re on duty. But we would like some information, if you’ve got it’.

‘Ask away, Marshal’.

The landlord, portly, with an amiable face underneath his totally bald head, suddenly scowled at Morag’s question.

‘Do you know anything about a group called the Luddytes, and where we can find them?’

The landlord scowled again, ‘I know those scum. Right scoundrels, they are! Aye, I knows that lot’.

‘Can you tell us where we might find them ?’ Annie asked, eagerly.

‘Aye, I can. They hangs out at the  Ball and Trumpet, sometimes, but at this time of night, they’d be more likely to be in the Cat’s Plackett, further on down into the port. That’s a really bawdy house, Marshal’.

‘I know it’. Morag replied. Inwardly, her heart sank. She was no friend of that establishment, having closed it down twice in the last six months for immorality. They would not, therefore, be very helpful. She could only hope for the best. She thanked Matthias for his help,

‘What’s the matter, Morag?’ Annie asked.

‘Nothing. I just don’t like bawdy houses’.

‘What is a bawdy house?’

‘You’ll find out’.

They walked, deeper into the port. Now they could hear all the sounds of a busy port – the low shriek of rigging, the groan of winches, the shrill scream of seagulls, and the yells and shouts of the dock workers as they manhandled crates and boxes off the waiting ships onto the quayside. Annie still secretly envied Morag for her ability to adapt so well to this slow and  primitive world where all one could rely on were your wits and native intelligence. As Morag had said, it was back to basic police investigation, no matter how frustrating it was, and getting the right result. It was often frustrating but Annie was willing to learn from Morag’s methods So she was content to stop and watch and listen for the time being. At least they had finger printing and a profiler, of which she was still distrustful. But she missed her brother and his computer.

Down the street, they turned north towards the seaport down a narrow, dank alley. Morag stopped outside a black-painted door, its paint already congealed and peeling. She pushed it open, and she and Annie stepped inside. Nothing had prepared Annie for what lay within. The first thing she noticed was the smell, composed of a mixture of  human sweat and stale beer, which was overpowering. as was the smell of cheap perfume applied very liberally. Morag ignored  the throngs of  grubby young whores around the bar and the fat blowsy madams that accompanied them. and marched straight up to the bar, to accost the landlord. He was a thin, weaselly-faced man, who looked alarmed at seeing her.

‘You’ve not come to shut me down, have you, marshal?’ He complained.

‘Not just yet’. Replied Morag, cheerfully. ‘But I do want to know where the  Luddytes are’.

‘Them lot! What do you want them for? Have they done  summat?’

‘We just want to ask them a few questions, that’s all’.

‘I knew it! I knew it! They’re in trouble, aren’t they?’

‘Not necessarily’. Morag replied, disliking the glee in the landlord’s voice. ‘Well, they’re in that room over there’. motioning with his head towards a rickety door at the side.
‘They always meet in there’.

‘Thank you’ Morag said curtly. She had no wish for the landlord’s dubious company any more. She rejoined Annie, who was looking around with distaste at her surroundings.

‘Ugh! It’s filthy in here and it stinks! No wonder they call it a bawdy house!’

‘That’s not all, Annie. What do you think happens upstairs, where all those young girls go?’

‘ No, but I can imagine. We’ve got to put a stop to this, Morag. These places are death traps for young women!’

Just as they got to the door, it burst open, A young girl ran out, weeping, followed by a burst of raucous laughter from inside the room. Morag caught the girl by the arm, as she ran past them, still crying. ‘What’s the matter, love? Have they hurt you?’

‘’E  touched me up, ‘e did!’

‘Who did?’ Annie asked.

‘That big arsehole in there, sitting at the end of the table! ‘’E put ‘is hand right up me skirts, ‘e did! And all the rest just jeered!’

The poor girl was mortified and humiliated. ‘All right, we’ll handle this’. Morag said, gently. ‘Won’t we, Annie?’

‘Yes, we will. I can’t bear stupid oafs who molest young girls!’

Morag could tell Annie was working herself up into one of her famous bouts of temper. If so, she pitied any of the ruffians who crossed her. She kicked the door open, hoping to take the gang by surprise. She certainly succeeded.  The self-styled Luddytes sat around the large square table in total astonishment, their mouths open at the sight of two young women, swords drawn, who had burst in on them.

‘Who the hell are you?’ growled the big man with a shaggy black beard sitting at the head of the table. ‘Marshals’. Morag said, quickly. ‘We want the lot of you to come down to the customs hall to answer a few questions. Now! And leave your weapons on the table!’

‘Like hell we will! Get out of here, or I’ll turn your pretty face into mincemeat!’ The man growled, standing up, brandishing an ugly looking cudgel. Annie’s sword flashed suddenly, in an arc, whirling around to bite deep  into the flesh of his arm that held the cudgel.  The man yelped in pain, dropping the cudgel back onto the table. He sank to his knees in pain and shock, clutching
his injured right arm, red blood dripping though his fingers.

‘Annie!’ Morag shouted in horror.

‘Well, he deserved it! Threatening you like that! Let’s get this lot off to the customs house now!’

‘All right, on your feet, you lot!’ Morag ordered. ‘And leave all your weapons on the table! I mean all of them, including the concealed ones!’ She stared pointedly at them. They grumbled at first, but eventually there was a clatter as knives cascaded onto the table, from hidden pockets and scabbards. But the gang was subdued and demoralised, even more so when they saw Ezekiel standing by the door, hefting his two –bladed axe ominously.

‘Lumme’, gasped one of the men. ‘They’ve brought a giant with them!’

They shuffled out under Ezekiel’s baleful eyes. Outside, the other marshals waited, with drawn swords, to escort them to the customs house. The gang were too demoralised to complain. They boarded  the waiting high-sided wagon, Annie and Morag mounted their waiting horses, and the little procession set off for the customs hall. Morag intended to question the gang members individually to find out  more about their leader, but the men obstinately refused to answer any questions concerning him. It was only when the last man to be brought in was questioned, did they get any answers. He was a thin stoat of a man who reluctantly revealed what information he had.

‘His name’s  Dick Ludd, so ‘e said, and he’s a ‘uman, like you’, looking at Annie. 

‘How do you know that he’s a human?’ Asked Morag.

‘Cos  ‘e told us. Bt that’s not all. ‘E says ‘e’s going to blow them up, if they don’t leave’.

‘Who?’ Annie said, sceptically.

‘Them foreigners, of course, with their sorcery!

‘They’re not sorcerers!’ Morag retorted.

‘Dick says they are!’

‘Who is this Dick Ludd anyway?’ Annie said, impatiently.

‘Here I am’, drawled a voice from the doorway. ‘My name is Richard  Ludd. What is it that you want of me?’

They looked up in surprise. There, leaning in the doorway, was what appeared to be an effete young man, almost a youth still. What drew their attention  was the finery of his clothes. Both his breeches and tunic were immaculately cut, and his black riding boots were polished until they gleamed. His tunic was edged with lace at wrist and neck, and his round, boyish face, framed by dark curls, bore an expression both of amusement and innocence. Both Morag and Annie instinctively disliked him intensely. There was something artificial about the youth, something false about his manner and demeanour. Neither trusted him. Dick Ludd must have sensed it, for his face broke into a scowl, which was ugly to see.

‘I am a direct descendent of Ned Lud’, He said, loftily. ‘The original leader of the Luddites in your world, and I carry on his war against the machines. But  more effectively. You see, I am also a dynamiter’. He smiled, transforming his face  into an ugly mask, with no hint of humanity. His eyes gleamed. They were looking at the face of a fanatic.
‘What do you mean, a dynamiter?’ Morag asked, desperately. The last thing she wanted was a mad serial bomber on her hands. But Annie was not to be deterred.

‘You don’t look like a dynamiter! You just look like the effete young fop that you really are! What kind of joke is this?’

‘Is this a joke?’ Demanded the youth. Two red spots of anger and appeared on his pale cheeks. He quickly pulled off both the black leather gloves he had been wearing, and extended his hands. But there were no hands. Instead, there were two metallic prosthetic claws that protruded from his lacy white cuffs.

‘Is this a joke?’ He demanded again. ‘No, it isn’t’. Morag said quietly. ‘But what happened, Richard?’

‘Oh, just a little accident in the laboratory’. He said, airily waving one of his newly gloved hands in the air.

‘Where is your laboratory?’ asked Morag.

‘I can’t tell you that. All the world would know, and I would have no peace’.

‘Well, where do you live?’

He snapped his fingers with a distinctly metallic rasp. ‘Ah, I live in the air!’

‘What does that mean?’ Annie demanded.

You’ll have to find out! ‘ Laughed the youth. His laugh was high  pitched and shrill, not at all pleasant to hear.  He turned and walked out of the office door. As he left, he called over  his shoulder, ‘I think I should give you a little demonstration of  what I am capable of’.

‘What on earth is that supposed to mean?’ Asked Annie. ‘A little demonstration? He speaks in impossible riddles!’

‘I don’t know. I’m going after him. He’s still got more questions to answer’

Morag strode over to the door and opened it. ‘Richard!’ she shouted. There was no reply. She looked right and left down the corridor. There was no sign of him. Annoyed, she turned to go back into the office. As she did so, her foot bumped against something lying on the floor. Her face stiffened in shock. Rushing back into the office, she slammed the door shut, and shouted at the other occupants.

‘Get down on the floor! NOW!! There’s a bomb outside!’ 

The marshals in the office looked bewildered. None of them knew what a bomb was, much less it’s possible effects. But they heard the urgency in Morag’s voice, dropping to the floor quickly.

‘Persephone! Get down!’ Morag cried. ‘NOW!’

The young girl looked up from her desk with a frown. ‘I have not finished these files yet, Morag’. Morag did not waste any words, but threw herself at Persephone, physically bowling her off her chair, pinning her face down on the floor, crouching over her to protect her from the imminent explosion.

An instant later, the room shook as the bomb detonated. The office door flew back with a crash, hanging askew, on its broken hinges. A great sheet of yellow flame erupted into the room followed by the hot blast of the explosion, with clouds of white smoke. The blast swept the carefully sorted papers from Persephone’s desk and sent them swirling into the air. The office was full of fluttering sheets of paper and smoke. Then there was silence.
One by one, they rose to their feet, exclaiming in horror at the sight of the wrecked office. Falling papers still hung in the smoke-laden air, gradually fluttering to the floor. ‘Is anyone hurt?’ cried Morag, desperately. No-one was, though they were all badly shaken. Persephone was on her hands and knees, trying to gather up her scattered notes as they fell to the floor. Morag looked at her office door and groaned. ‘Look at my door’. She muttered.

It was a sorry sight. It was hanging by one hinge from the door jamb, it’s outer surface blackened and scorched, as was the floor immediately outside. Even her lovingly polished nameplate was badly tarnished. There was a clatter of boots outside and Ragimund stamped in through the gaping doorway. ‘What is going on here, Morag? We heard a great noise! What has happened here…..?’ Her voice tailed off as she looked around her.

 ‘We’ve been bombed!’ Morag said, tersely. She was still angry about her door. Ragimund looked blankly at her. Morag realised that Ragimund had no idea of bombs and their destructive potential. She decided to keep her explanation as simple as possible. ‘A bomb is an explosive device that causes a detonation. In my land, we use it in mining for example, but in the wrong hands, it can used to destroy buildings and kill people. The explosive here is called dynamite’.


‘Yes, it comes in the form of small sticks, with a fuse attached to a small charge in each one. You light the fuse, which ignites the charge, which in turn sets off the main charge, and BOOM! She spread out her arms for special effect.

‘What’s in the main charge?’ Annie asked, curiously

 ‘It can be something simple, like sawdust, or even cotton wool. But the difference is that those inert substances are steeped in nitro-glycerine, which is, on its own, a very unstable explosive.
But the sawdust, or whatever, stabilises it, so you can carry sticks of dynamite perfectly safely until you need them for your purposes’.

‘You seem to know an awful lot about explosives, Morag’. Remarked Annie.

‘I did a short course on explosives as part of my police training. Just to build up our anti-terrorist approach’. Morag said briefly. She no longer enjoyed talking about her police days. It carried too many bad memories.

‘But this is terrible!’ Ragimund broke in. ‘This man could hold the whole port to ransom, if he so chooses. What if he also chose to attack the ships in port?’

They all paused, thinking of the consequences. Such a man as Richard Ludd could ruin the whole port with threats of planting bombs on board ships. Who would run that risk? But where to find him?

Morag made up her mind. ‘We’ll ask Alex’. Alex, a Scotsman, had come to them from Edinburgh, as a skilled profiler, who could predict the behaviour of criminals. Annie didn’t like him, not for any reason, but for the fact that he was Scottish and he had carrot-coloured hair. It was her one prejudice.

Morag knew this and gave Alex the details about Richard Ludd herself. Alex gave a whistle. ‘Och, he’s a psychopath all right. But you’ll have to track him by his explosions’.

‘What do you mean by that?’ demanded Annie, already irritated by Alex. But he remained unruffled. ‘Och, it means that you’ll find him at the site of his latest explosion. He  may be a fop. but he;s an arrogant one. I think. He’ll be wanting to see the results.’.

‘What! You mean to say that we have to wait until he blows somebody else up before we can arrest him!’

‘Aye, that’s about the gist of it. How else are you going to find him in this port? Let him come to you and then you can nab him’.

‘Alex is right, Annie. It’s the only way we have of getting close to him’.

‘All right, but I don’t like it’.

But at least they had agreed on a plan of action.

‘When’s the next occasion that he might appear?’ Annie asked.

‘I think it might be tonight. Doctor Flamel is giving a demonstration of his astrolabe there this evening, in the Astronomical Institute’.

‘Where is it?’

‘The Institute? It’s in the annexe at the far right of this building’.

‘Not far away, then’. Annie said, sounding pleased.

‘No’. The Customs house, in which Morag’s office and apartment were situated, was a long, white, colonnaded building at the back of the port. At its centre, was the grand central entrance hall. To its right, was the Customs hall, a large basilica which housed all the customs activities of the port of Druard. On the ground and first floors were the marshals’ offices, since the Customs house was also their headquarters. The institute was not far away at all, which they were both pleased to see.
‘Great! If we stay close to the main doors, we can arrest him as he comes in, without any fuss’.

‘If he comes’. Morag said, gloomily.

‘He will. He won’t miss an opportunity to destroy the astrolabe!’

‘But why does he want to destroy the astrolabe?’

 ‘I don’t know! All I know is that he’s barking mad!’
Morag wisely decided to keep quiet. Instead, they found   themselves walking along the long frontage of the Customs Hall, hoping to apprehend a bomber and potential murderer. It was only late afternoon, but they both wanted to get there early, in case Richard Ludd did the same. They were apprehensive and worried. How were they going to get close enough to prevent him from detonating the bomb that he inevitably would bring? 
Annie broke the silence. ‘I think we should just rush him and disarm him before he can light the fuse on his bomb. You did say that dynamite is harmless until the fuse is lit, didn’t you?’

‘Yes, I did, but it’s not going to be as simple as that’. Morag said, despondently. ‘Who says he’s going to bring dynamite? He could bring something more despicably destructive!’ 

‘That’s a chance we’ll have to take’. Retorted Annie. ‘Anyway, let’s find him first’.

They took up their places each side of the main doors so that they could observe the audience as they came in. But there was no sign of  Richard Ludd. The people that came flooding in were a cross-section of the port population, ranging from fat merchants, with their equally plump wives, to the lowly artisans bringing their young families to see the astrolabe. With the exception of the merchants, Morag liked these people, despite their rowdy and garrulous habits. They were not faery, but had come from many different countries and lands to work in the great port of Druard, that the faerys administered.
Annie looked around at the throngs of visitors pouring into the hall. Nicholas Flamel stood by his astrolabe, welcoming his audience. ‘There’s no sign of him!’ She cried despairingly. By now, most of the audience had settled into their seats grouped around the astrolabe. Nicholas launched into his welcome speech and started up his generator. The miniature planets immediately rose in the air and began their stately orbits, again without visible means of support. There were gasps of amazement from the audience.

‘Charlatan! Rogue!  Get you gone from this land, you sorcerer!’

Standing in the doorway, was a tall, gaunt figure, clad in an ankle length robe, with a cowl over its head, which obscured the features entirely. What chilled Annie and Morag was the sight of a large bundle of sticks of dynamite, tied together with string, clutched in his right hand. ‘Die, you unbelievers! You, who have been contaminated by this foul science!

‘Young man, this is a purely scientific demonstration of the movements of the heavens’. Nicholas  Flamel replied quietly.

‘You lie!’

Without further words, he struck his tinderbox and lit the fuse protruding from the bundle of dynamite. He tossed it into the threshold of  the  building, turned and ran out into the  gathering dusk. It was Annie who reacted first. She ran forward, picked up the smouldering bomb, and hurled it as far as she could, after the fleeing figure. ‘You bastard! Take your damn bomb with you!’ She screamed, then threw herself flat on the ground. ‘Get down now, all of you!’ Morag yelled to the hesitant audience, throwing herself flat at the same time.

Outside, there was a dull ‘WHOOMPH’ followed  by an ear-splitting explosion. Annie burrowed her head into her arms in desperation. She felt the fiery blast above her, as it struck the building behind her, and heard the shatter of glass, as the windows blew out. She hoped Morag would be safe.
Inside the Institute, the building seemed to rock under the impact of the blast. The windows cracked and shattered, showering them all with broken glass. Morag waited until the turmoil had died away, and got up. ‘Is anyone hurt?. Fortunately, no one was, though all were badly shaken and frightened. Then she remembered Annie. She went to the door and looked out. ‘Annie?’   ‘Annie!’

‘I’m not deaf, thank you!’ Annie glared, as she hastily brushed the soil and clods of grass from the explosion, from her clothes. ‘That bastard! Where is he?’

‘He’s run away. He’ll be miles away by now’.

‘No, he won’t. I’ll catch him!’ She set off in the wake of Richard Ludd, bent on revenge. 

‘My lady!’ She swung around to see a young faery soldier standing at her elbow. ‘My lady, I have come from the lady Ragimund. She wishes you to attend her as soon as possible’.

‘Where is she?’

‘At the sign of the Cat’s Plackett. My lady, it is a bawdy house! The girls there are employed to….’

‘I know. What is she doing there?’

‘My lady, there has been an expos….explo…’ The word was clearly unfamiliar to the faery.

‘An explosion, I know. What has happened there?’

‘I do not rightly know, my lady. But there has been loss of life’.

‘I’ll come right away. But while you are here, can you safely escort these people from the premises, and take their names and addresses. I may want to speak to them later. Oh, and if the lady Annie returns, please tell her where I am’.

‘Certainly, lady’.

Her instructions given, Morag hastened on to the Cat’s Plackett, a place that she abhorred. Nor was she looking forward to the prospect of viewing the corpses of Richard Ludd’s latest victims. But duty was duty.

She arrived to find a large crowd milling outside the tavern, most of them  the tavern prostitutes, together with a few bleary eyed customers. Among them was the rascally landlord, and his equally rascally wife, a thin faced woman, who clung onto her husband tenaciously, not least because he was carrying their coin box, clasped in his arms. She was determined not to let him go, carrying all their earnings. 

Morag passed them by with distaste, going instead in to the sorry building. It was indeed a wreck. Ragimund and a group of other marshals were standing in the middle of the debris from the east wall, which had literally disappeared under the force of the explosion, which had caused the roof, deprived of its eastern support, to slide and  tip towards that side. But it was dangerously unstable, and threatened to collapse at any moment. Ragimund was looking up at it apprehensively. ‘I want you to see if you can identify any of the victims through that door’, pointing to a remaining wooden door that miraculously still stood in the remnants of the east wall. ‘I’ll come with you’. Said a voice behind them. They turned around, startled. It was Annie, back from her pursuit of Nicholas Fludd. Together, they trod over the shattered fragments of wattle and daub that lay scattered over the floor. They paused outside the door.

‘Are you ready, Annie?’ Annie nodded.

Morag pushed the flimsy door and they walked in, only to be stopped dead by what they saw in the remains of the room.

‘Ye gods! It’s like a charnel house!’ Annie exclaimed, in horror.

It was. Bodies lay everywhere, dismembered and burnt by the firestorm that the explosion had created. One lay across the charred table in the centre of the room. His head was turned towards them, his  sightless eyes accusing. his teeth, unnaturally bared in his charred lips, in  a rictus smile. They both shuddered. In the silence that followed, they could hear the plop-plop of  blood as it dripped on the floor from the table-top.

‘Can we get out of here, Annie? It’s only that I’ve had enough  of death!’

‘Just a moment. Look at that cadaver over there, At the head of the table. Doesn’t he look familiar?’

‘No, I can’t say he does. I don’t know many skulls’.

‘Look at his arm. Isn’t that a bandage?’

‘Yes, badly charred’.

‘I’m willing to bet that’s the character who threatened you with  a cudgel, and I sliced his arm, to teach him a lesson’.

‘But that means this must be the rest of his gang! Why should Ludd destroy his own men?’

‘I don’t know! Perhaps he thought they might have grassed him up, so to speak, so he took revenge on them’.

There was a shout from outside the door. ‘Morag! Annie! Get out of there now! The roof is about to collapse!’ They rushed to the door, thankful to be out of that macabre room. Ragimund was standing in the centre of the tavern, looking up anxiously at the drunken ceiling, creaking ominously.

‘Out! Out now, all of you!’ She cried as soon as she saw them. ‘This damned roof is about to come down!’

She hastily bundled all of them out of the ramshackle tavern into the street, where they stood in a line to prevent anybody from trying to enter the building. Ragimund turned to Morag. ‘There has been another of these …explosions. This time it is at the sign of the Dog and Whistle Do you know this place, Morag?’

‘Yes, I do’. Morag replied, dismally. She hoped her friend, Matthias, and his serving girls were unharmed. Ragimund was still talking, but was interrupted by a great crash and roar behind them as the entire roof and first floor descended abruptly into the remains of the tavern below. Ragimund continued. ‘I want you and Annie to go down there, and find out what is going on. I will follow you there when I finish supervising the demolition of this sorry place’.

They left quickly, anxious to quit that hovel, Morag wondering what would happen to its young whores now. Annie read her thoughts. ‘They’ll be all right. They’ll just find another insalubrious hole to work in’.

‘Thanks. That cheers me up a lot’. Morag was still anxious about what had happened at the Dog and Whistle. As they rounded the corner from where it was located, they paused in dismay. The front wall was blackened and charred         . There were great holes in it where the brickwork had been blown out, and the front door was lying on its back, just inside the doorway where it normally stood. The floor behind, usually so clean, was covered with shards of glass and metal,from the lead-paned windows in the front wall, blown out by the blast. But there was a space, which had been swept and cleared in front of the bar, on which lay a small fragile figure, covered with a white blanket. Kneeling beside her was a young girl, sobbing, loudly, still in her bedshirt and dressing-gown.

Morag knew the girl. She was one of the serving girls at the  Dog and Whistle, popular with both staff and customers alike.  Kneeling down beside the crying young woman, she asked gently, ‘What has  happened, Marjory?’

‘It’s Alice, miss. She got killed by that big bang!’

‘What! How?’

‘She got hit by a flying brick!  It must have been blown out by that big bang. She was hit on the back of the head, just by me! And now she’s dead!’ Marjory burst into tears again.

Morag stood up. ‘Matthias!’ The landlord stood up from behind the bar, where he had been making sure that all his pewter tankards were undamaged. ‘What is it, lady?’

‘Can you find someone to look after poor Marjory for a while? Only she’s had a really bad shock’.

‘Of course, lady. Oi, girls, take young Marjory to the back kitchen . There’s food and drink waiting for you there. And look after young Marjory. She’s just lost her sister’.

The serving girls, in their white dressing gowns, swooped upon  Marjory, like a flock of wild geese, bearing her off to the kitchen rooms behind the bar, not without some fearful glances at the little shrouded corpse of Alice.

‘Help me turn her over, Matthias’. Morag said, quickly, pulling the sheet down from the girl’s head. Her face still looked peaceful, but her eyes were tightly shut, and her mouth was wide open in a silent scream. After they turned her over, they saw why. 

The back of the girl’s head was crushed like a broken eggshell into a pulpy mass of broken bone , blood and hair. The girl’s blond hair, now discoloured by blood, still framed her slender neck. Matthias’s head was bowed. ‘It’s my fault she’s dead’. He muttered. Morag leant over and patted his shoulder. ‘It’s not your fault’. She said, quietly. ‘Poor Alice was just in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

‘Won’t bring her back, though, will it?’ Matthias complained.

‘No, it won’t. But we’ll get whoever is responsible. I promise you that’.

‘Did anyone actually see the bomber?’ Interrupted Annie.

‘I think one of the girls did. I’ll go and find her’. Matthias departed for the back kitchen.

‘It’s about  time that we stop the evil in this land!’ Annie snapped. ‘How many more innocent young girls are going to die before their time, before we act?’

‘We’ll act tonight, before he’s expecting it. We’ll get this bastard, Annie! I promise you!’

Before Annie could answer, the back door of the bar burst open, and Matthias reappeared, dragging an unwilling young girl behind him. , ‘This is Gertrude’. He informed them. ‘She saw the bomber through one of the front windows’.

‘Tell us what you saw, Gertrude’. Morag said gently. She could see that the girl was frightened and nervous. She was a short, plump girl with a round pug-like face, that, at that moment, was furrowed with apprehension.

‘Well, I seed this bloke, right, just outside, and I saw him carrying a bundle of sticks, like…. like a bundle of fireworks, you know what I mean? Anyway,  ‘e lit it with his tinder box, then ‘e  threw it down outside the front door and ran off like the ‘ounds of  ‘ell were after him!!’

‘Which way did he go?’ Annie asked.

Gertrude pointed a quivering finger outside to the street. ‘Up the road. Towards the port’.

They thanked the girl and dismissed her. She thankfully scrambled off to rejoin her comrades. ‘What did you make of that?’ Annie asked in frustration.

‘Not a lot. It’s still circumstantial. What we need is a confession’.

‘Is that all? Are you sure you don’t want him to put his own handcuffs on as well? We’ll never get a confession from him!’

‘We might if we speak to him first. Did you find out where he went to, when you pursued him?’

‘I think so. Do you know that long street that curves out and round the back of the port?’

‘Yes. It’s called Tulip Street’.

‘Funny name for a street. Still, never mind. Anyway, I followed him all the way down that street and stopped when he turned the corner. I didn’t want any nasty surprises like sticks of dynamite waiting for me! But I did hear him rattling his key in a door round the corner. So I peered round, and was just in time to see him entering the doorway. He stopped and looked around for a few moments, then went in and locked the door behind him. So I couldn’t follow him any more, but I listened to his footsteps as he went up the stairs. They seemed to go on for ever, right up to the top. That’s where he is, Morag.! Up at the top of that tower!

 Morag knew the building well. It was a tall angular structure that dwarfed its immediate neighbours, standing on the corner of Tulip Street. Adjoining it was a smaller tower. ’I know it’. Morag said quietly. ‘No wonder he said he lived in the air’.

‘What do we do now?’

‘We go up there and talk to him. I want to find out what his motives are’.

‘What motives? He’s  a psychopath and a murderer, Morag!’

‘I know that. But I want to be sure that we haven’t got another Melissa on our hands’.

‘Heavens forbid! No, but I still fail to see why you should go and talk to him!’

‘I just want to find out what’s in the mind of a murderer’. Morag said, desperately.

‘I can tell you that for nothing! Greed, avarice and hatred! Just like what I saw in our world, Morag!’

‘What did you see when you went travelling, Annie?’ Morag asked gently.

‘A world of avarice and greed! A world that exploits people, and destroys its natural resources! A world in which the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer! A world….’

‘All right, Annie, I get the message’. Morag said, hurriedly, anxious to avoid another of Annie’s diatribes. She succeeded, and Annie relapsed into a sulky silence, which lasted until they reached the base of the tall tower on the corner of Tulip Street. Annie halted outside the door that opened onto the street. ‘This is the door that he went in’. She said, unemotionally.

‘Right, I’d better open it’. Morag pulled out her set of picklocks that she carried in her scrip or pouch, slung from her shoulders.
These were carved iron implements used to open locked doors. Morag had confiscated this set from a burglar whom she once arrested, and  thought it might prove useful. After two or three fumbled attempts, she managed to open the door, which slid noiselessly inwards. ‘I’m in, Annie’ She called over her shoulder. Looking back, she was shocked to see  her sister slumped against the outer wall, crying.

‘Annie, what’s the matter?’ She asked, embracing her, not knowing what  the cause was.
‘You are’. Annie replied, tearfully. ‘Don’t go up there, Morag! I’m afraid that something terrible is going to happen!’

‘What?’ Morag cried. ‘He can’t blow me up without blowing himself up too! ‘

‘You don’t know what he’s capable of!’ Annie rejoined. ‘I’m going to find some reinforcements!’ 

She ran off down the street on her quest, leaving Morag standing alone in the doorway. With a sigh, she  turned and walked into the building. It was very dark inside, so she groped around for a light. She found one eventually, a closed lantern hung on a nail by the front door. Hastily opening it, and lighting the wick with the aid of her tinderbox, she started on her journey up the stairs. The stairs wound up and up, punctuated by landings at intervals that gave access to a series of large wood panelled doors, that were the apartments of the previous occupants. Pausing at each landing to catch her breath, she laboured on upwards.

At last she was rewarded with the sight of a tay of light under the last door at the top of the building. From the outside, she could hear the chink of glass vessels being moved, and a strange humming sound, which she realised was Dick Ludd singing to himself. She breathed a deep breath, opened the door, and walked in.

Dick Ludd was bending over a large wooden table, pockmarked with rings from the array of glass vessels that covered its surface – retorts,flasks and other strange implements. On the other side of the long room stood a simple wooden chair directly beneath a small skylight, set in the sloping roof, open to the stars above.

‘Hello, Richard’. She said in a clear voice.

Dick Ludd straightened up suddenly, and whirled round to face her. ‘You! He gasped. ‘What are you doing her? How did you get in?’

‘Through the door, like other people. What’s all this about, Dick?’

‘What? He said, almost sulkily.

‘This campaign of bombing that you instigated! What made you do that, Dick?’

‘Power! The bombs give me power!’

‘What power? Power over what and whom?’

‘Over those who have opposed me in the past! The scientists, the alchemists, the fools that derided me!’

‘In other words, all the people that you’ve grown to envy and hate!’

‘They are charlatans, and no proof against my bombs!’

             ‘Nor was Alice, and she died because of your infernal bombs!’


‘Alice! She was a young girl, full of hopes and aspirations, who came here to a better life near to her sister. Instead of which, she’s now dead, killed by one of your damn bombs!’

‘I am sorry to hear that. It was not intended’.

‘I don’t believe you!  You don’t care about Alice at all!’

‘Ah, but I do. You see, I was once like her. I, too was once like her! Full of hopes and ambitions, I could conquer the world!

The left-hand side of his face began to twitch, uncontrollably, though the right side remained curiously immobile. Morag supposed it was the result of plastic surgery.

‘Dick Ludd, I arrest you for the murder of twelve of your gang members, and for the manslaughter of Alice Perkins of Druard. You have the right to remain silent, but it may harm your defence if you continue to do so. Furthermore….’

‘Enough! I will not be arrested! You hear me, marshal? I shall not be arrested!’

The left side of his face was pulsating wildly now. He retreated to the other side of the table, snatching up a small corked flask from it. ’Get out of  here, marshal! I shan’t repeat myself  again! Get out now!’

‘No’. Morag said quietly. ‘You’re coming with me, Dick Ludd’.

‘No, I’m not! See this, marshal?’ He brandished the flask in the air. ‘This is pure nitroglycerine. If I drop this on the floor, it will be the end of both you and I. Now get out, while you can!’

Morag was perplexed. Not only had she got a suspect that refused to be arrested, but also one that had the means and ability to destroy both of them. She tried to resolve the situation.

‘What good will that do, Dick? She asked. ‘What happened to all your hopes and aspirations?’

‘Gone with the wind, like everything else! Now get out, marshal!’

During this time, Dick Ludd  had been casually tossing the flask from one hand to the other in a show of bravado. But something went terribly wrong.  Passing it from right to left, his left hand fumbled it. It started to drop towards the floor. Dick Ludd’s eyes bulged in horror, as he watched the flask turn over, end to end, on its way down.

‘Nooooo!’ he screamed.

Morag did the only thing she could. She bolted for her life. Bounding onto the chair below the skylight, she leapt up and elbowed her way through it, onto the roof outside. But where to go?  She knew she had to get off this roof as soon as possible. But where to? She half slid towards the edge of the roof, her boots scuttering on the pantiled roof surface. Looking down, she saw the ridged roof of the smaller attached tower. Bracing herself, she launched herself down towards  the lower roof, about ten feet below. She landed on it safely, but at a price.

Landing on the steep ridged roof, she had twisted her ankle badly. Ignoring the pain, she slid over the ridge of the roof and lay down on the other side, out of reach of the explosion above, holding on to the terracotta ornamentation that ran along the roof ridge. Raising her head, she saw the roof of the taller tower disappear in a sheet of yellow flame, followed by the loudest explosion that she had ever heard. But she was preoccupied with staying on the roof. The terracotta was literally crumbling under her fingers, leaving her in imminent danger of sliding off the roof altogether. Small bits of debris rained down around her, pattering on the roof.

To her horror, the last remnants of terracotta broke off, and she found herself sliding backwards down the roof, towards the inevitable fall onto the road below. She clawed at the patches of moss and lichen on the roof  to try to slow her fall, but they just fell away under her grasp. She slid down the roof towards the very edge. As she rolled over it, she caught the edge of the guttering below, holding onto it with all the strength she had left. She was left dangling from the edge of the roof, with a sheer drop below her. 

Sheer panic overtook her. She looked down. She saw several figures in the street below, one of which she recognised as Annie.

‘ Annie!’ She screamed. ‘Help! Help me! I can’t hold on much longer! Help! Help!’ 

She looked down again, her boots  cluttering against the blank brick wall of the tower, in a vain attempt to find a foothold. She saw the faery soldiers below her form a circle directly below. What were they doing? But her numbed fingers were slipping from the greasy guttering. She was about to fall!

‘Help!’ She screamed again helplessly. But it was no use. Her fingers slipped, and she fell backwards into the darkness with an agonised scream.


Annie looked up as she heard Morag’s frantic screams. To her horror, she saw her sister hanging desperately from the edge of roof by her fingertips. She pointed upwards. ‘Catch her! Please!’ 
The faery captain looked up, saw the pitiful figure of Morag clinging to the roof, and shouted an order to his men, who immediately ran and gathered in a circle directly below her. The officer shouted another order, and the men all clasped arms and hands together to form a kind of human basket. They heard a final shriek as Morag fell, and braced themselves for the impact.
They caught her neatly in their outstretched arms, bending and grunting under the impact.

Morag opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was Annie’s anxious face. ‘Where am I? Am I dead?’

Annie burst out laughing. ‘Of  course you’re not! These fellows caught you before you reached the ground! You’re safe, Morag!’

‘Oh’. Said Morag, weakly. She looked at the faery soldiers, and said simply, ‘Thank you, all of you. Thank you so much’.

They all grinned and bobbed their heads in acknowledgement, before gently decanting her on to the pavement.


‘What is it, Morag? Are you hurt?’ Annie asked anxiously.

‘Yes’. Morag said, ‘I twisted my bloody ankle on those bloody roofs, and now I can’t bloody walk!’ She inexplicably burst into tears. ‘Can’t even get home!’

Annie realised that Morag  was still in shock  after her fall, and gave her a reassuring hug. ‘I’ll get you home, I promise’. She muttered. 

She looked around for the faery captain, getting up from the pavement where she had been sitting with Morag. He was gazing up at the top of the tower, now pitted and blackened by the explosion, yellow flames licking from it . He turned as Annie accosted him. ‘Captain, do you have any transport? Only my sister has injured her ankle, and she can’t walk’.

The captain frowned and then grinned.  ‘Aye, lady, but I warn you, it’s no fit transport for ladies’.

‘I’ll be the judge of that’. Annie said, coldly, annoyed at being called ‘lady’.

The faery captain shrugged. ‘Damien, bring the wagon round!’

Annie’s heart sank when she saw the wagon. It was a ramshackle affair, with solid wooden wheels that threatened to come off with each revolution.

‘We’re going in that?’ Morag said, aghast.

‘Yes, we are. Beggars can’t be choosers, Morag. You know that’.

‘I suppose so’. Morag replied, miserably. She was hoisted onto the back of the wagon by two of the faery soldiers, Annie scrambling up beside her.

They set off, the solid wooden wheels finding every rut and bump they could. Annie and Morag were jostled together on the back of the cart, amidst the  fire-mats that the faery soldiers used to smother any residual fires. Morag  was  dejected and miserable, not just because of her injured ankle, but because  the night had not gone as she had hoped. She had failed to arrest Dick Ludd, and now he was dead, by his own hand. Poor Alice was dead too, as part of the damage he had caused. She had nearly lost her own life as well. It had been a dreadful night.

At last, they trundled to a stop outside the main doors of the Customs hall. The driver, a taciturn tall youth, who had not spoken to them at all during the journey merely turned his head. ‘We are here’. He said, abruptly. They thanked him politely, despite his bad manners, Morag easing herself down from the ancient wagon. ‘Owww!’ she yelped, as she inadvertently trod down on her injured foot. She sank down onto the ground and began to weep. ‘ I can’t even get up!’ She wailed.

Annie took pity on her poor sister, who was still in shock. ‘I’ll help you up’. Annie said, softly. ‘And then lean on me. Put your arm around my shoulders’.Together, they hobbled painfully into the Great Hall, then down the corridor on the left, towards Morag’s office. Annie turned the handle. They went in.

A small figure shot up from behind her paper-strewn desk. ‘Morag!’ It shrieked. ‘You are hurt!’

‘Hallo, Persephone’. Said Morag, pleasantly. She had grown genuinely fond of the young girl ever since she had rescued her from certain death on board a sinking ship, and brought her here to Hyperborea. ‘I’m afraid I’ve sprained my ankle’.

‘What! How?’

‘ I fell off a roof’.

‘What! Oh, Morag!’ Squealed Persephone in horror. She rushed at Morag in order to give her a customary hug. Annie saw the danger, hastily pulling out a chair and thrusting it behind Morag. Bowled over by Persephone’s headlong rush, Morag fell back heavily onto it, sprawling helplessly, just as Demos, her faery husband, came out of their apartment at the back of the office. ‘Morag!’ He cried, seeing the scene in front of him.
Persephone stood there, her eyes brimming with tears. ‘ I did not want to hurt you, Morag! I only wanted to give you a hug! I am so sorry, Morag!’

‘It’s all right, Persephone, no harm done. Oh, Demos, I’m shocked and injured! Please look after me!’ She pleaded, hastily rearranging herself into a more decorous position. Demos said nothing, but knelt down, propping her injured leg on his knee, carefully unlacing her boot. He gently drew it off, and rolled down her sock. Morag groaned in despair as she looked at her bruised and badly swollen ankle. ‘I’ll never be able to walk on this!’

‘You will. Tomorrow, I will go into the woods and cut you a pair of wooden crutches to help you get about. But first, I must bathe your foot and bandage it’.

‘Thank you, Demos’ Morag said, gratefully, before he swept her up in his arms, and carried her to the bathroom in their apartment behind the main office. Here, he set her down on a   bench, while he prepared a bowl of warm water into which he gently lowered her injured foot, whilst she watched him, not knowing what to say. Finally, she stammered ‘Demos, you will tell me when I’ve become a liability to you, won’t you? ‘

He stared at her in amazement. ‘You will never be a liability to me, Morag! What made you say that?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s just that…you always have to look after me, when I come home with some injury or other. You must be really fed up with it’.

‘Listen to me, Morag. Of course, I will look after you when you hurt yourself. I always will. Look at me, Morag! He cupped her face gently in his hands, so that she was forced to look at him. She placed her own hands over his, to reassure him.

‘Morag, I love you so much. You are such a brave and noble woman! I cannot bear to lose you’.

‘I promise you that I will be careful in future’. She said, quietly.

‘Then that is good enough for me. Let me dry your foot, and bandage it’.

‘Demos’, She said very softly, ‘come here’. She pulled him towards her. kissing him passionately on the lips. ‘I love you very much’. 

Demos finished bandaging her foot, putting her to bed afterwards. As he looked down at his wife, he felt an immense sadness at how close he been to losing her for ever, and felt a single tear from each eye rolling down his cheeks. Morag woke up and saw him crying. ‘Demos, my love! What is it?

‘Nothing. I was just thinking of how close to death you were tonight, and I..I…

‘You were worried for me? Oh, Demos! I was just doing my duty!’

‘ I know, my love, but it sometimes brings you into danger. That is what worries me’.

‘Don’t worry, Demos. I’ll be careful from now on. Come to bed’.  She clasped him to her , affectionately. They fell asleep together.


She woke up early the next morning. There was no sign of Demos, but a pair of  skilfully crafted wooden crutches were propped against the wall on her side of their bed. She hopped over and tried them out. To her delight, they fitted her perfectly, and she could, once again, move independently. Washing and dressing carefully, she at last hobbled out into the office. As she expected, Persephone was already at her desk. She looked up as Morag entered, giving a start when she saw the crutches. ‘Oh, Morag! I am so sorry about last night! It was so stupid and thoughtless of me!’

‘Don’t worry about it. There was no harm done’.

Morag suddenly had an idea, so startling, that she couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t thought of it before.

‘Persephone, you know I can’t be your mother’. Persephone’s eyes drooped. ‘Nobody can replace her. But I can be your guardian, if you would like that’.

‘Yes, I would like that. But, Morag, what is a guardian?’
‘Well, it’s someone who looks after your interests, and your welfare, until you come of age’.

‘I should like that, Morag’. Persephone said, happily.

‘That’s what we’ll do then. Meanwhile, you and I will clear our desks of all this paperwork this week’.

‘Yes, Morag’. Persephone replied, dutifully.


It was a few days later. They had arrived at the Institute at the far end of their building, where Nicholas Flamel was to repeat his previous talk on the planets, so rudely interrupted before. The party consisted of  Morag and Demos, Annie and Helios, and Ragimund and her husband, Simon, Annie’s brother. Also included was Persephone, trotting excitedly beside them. Morag, mindful of her duties as a guardian, had insisted that she be included in the little party. Morag was still limping slightly, but she could at least walk on her injured ankle. They were all looking forward to Doctor Flamel’s lecture.

He did not disappoint them. He had arranged his audience around the large table in the centre, lit from above by hanging lamps. More lamps were on the table, illuminating the astrolabe.

‘I am afraid that I have misled you’. he began, ‘Because this is not an astrolabe.  It is, fact, an orrery, an instrument designed to demonstrate the passage of the planets. As you can see, our planets, Astraban and her sister planets, Chryistra and Amaris form our planetary system, are interwoven with those of the earthly solar system, sharing the same sun!  Is it not fascinating that, though our systems are invisible to each other, because they are in different dimensions, they revolve around each other in perfect harmony’.

As he spoke, Annie felt a profound sense of peace settle over her, as if someone had draped a warm cloak around her shoulders. At least, there was some order in this world, even though there was no-one in charge. The thought gave her some comfort. Just then, Morag made a remark which changed her mood entirely.

‘Let’s go home for tea’.

‘What did you say?’ Annie whirled on her, face crimson in fury.

‘I only said…..’

‘I know what you said! Never say it again! Ever! Don’t you realise, Morag, that we can never go home to tea again! We’re not children any more! Not only have we lost our childhood, but we’ve lost our innocence as well! That’s the reality, Morag!’

Annie turned and strode off into the night, leaving her bewildered audience behind.

Frank Jackson -  24 – 05 -2019 – Word Count  10980.