DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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Et In Arcadia Ego
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Sister Teresa a dedicated nun with strange powers, and Pat, an Irish academic. A new member is Morag, half-policewoman, half-faery., and more recently, Cosmo, a young boy who has died, but has agreed to help them. Together they fight a war against their arch-enemy, Doctor Wrist, and his associates. Simon and Annie now have a task, that takes them out of their own world, to find out more, and to fulfil a promise to Morag. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
‘I suppose we can’t put it off any more’.
‘I don’t see how we can. It’s been a week, after all, since we came back’.
‘They’ve been on the phone every day! Not to mention Adrian squawking at my window, as he did yesterday’.
Did he? You never told me! What did you do?’
‘Turned over and went back to sleep. What else?’
‘Well, we’d better go and meet them today, not that I really want to. There’s been too much to think about’.
‘I know. And there’s still Morag to think of’.
‘Oh, please! That’s what worries me more than anything!’
‘They’ll all be sitting there, staring at us, expecting us to bring the ten commandments, in my notebook. All agog with anticipation. Sister Teresa will just look at us intently, and make her pronouncement on how good we are, and pat us on the head, metaphorically, I mean. Talking of Pat, he’ll make some pronouncement as well. And Sniffer won’t take any notice of us at all. Why do we bother?’
‘I suppose we bother, because we care’.
‘Are you really looking forward to giving a progress report on Purgatory?’
‘No, not at all. We’re going to have to lie, at some point. You know that’.
Annie stared glumly at her brother Simon. They had returned from a visit to the strange dimension of Purgatory, and had seen..misery.
‘Are you ready?’ asked Annie, quietly.
‘As ready as I will ever be’. answered Simon, wearily.
They got up from the kitchen table and went reluctantly to the front door.
As they crossed the threshold of the headquarters of the Brotherhood, the room echoed with cries of delight.
‘Home from the wars!’ cried Pat. Sister Teresa beamed at them. Adrian flapped his wings and cackled loudly, Noises of congratulation reverberated through the air. Even Sniffer raised his head and grinned, from his place on the floor. Annie noticed Morag on the other side of Sister Teresa, her head hung low. She suddenly felt sad. We should have let her know before this, she thought. How cruel of us!
‘What do you have to tell us?’ asked Index Finger, eagerly, clad as ever in his grey suit, and still as gaunt.
They all leant forward expectantly at Simon, who had agreed with Annie beforehand, to be their spokesman. He hesitated.
‘Annie and I feel that we don’t wish to talk now about what Purgatory was like. Its, its too painful’.
‘It was sad, almost unbearable’. Annie muttered. She kept her head down. (Let Simon do the talking. He’s kept the notes. How terrible this is!)
‘We found out, from a Mr Socrates, who our guide, Cosmo, knew, some further information about the Wrist family. He is actually dead, by the way, but he keeps knowledge, despite that little problem’. He hesitated, looking at Annie, who stared stonily across the table.
‘ The Wrist family range across many generations. They are rather like the Medici family, who ruled Florence, in Italy, back in the fifteenth century. That is an observation that Mr Socrates made. They have existed, in the past, as a kind of ruling family, in various dimensions. They see themselves as exercising power, control, influence, in what they regard as a greater universe, way beyond our history of the world as we know it. I’m only saying what was in the notes I read. They want to develop power and influence in everything, in as many spheres and dimensions as they wish. They want to be Magi, a ruling power, through magic, force and cruelty. They want to be dominant, and create a hierarchy for themselves. They feel it is their destiny’.
‘What’s Magi?’ asked Pat gently.
‘A ruling family, powered by magic and knowledge. At least, that’s what I understood. There’s more’.
Simon looked down at his notebook again. ‘Their arms are long. They keep themselves at a distance. They use paid assassins, nasty things, to do their work for them and eliminate potential opposition. That’s why they’ve attacked us before. They don’t like the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Hand, to say the least. They see us as enemies, but they don’t know what we do and how we operate. Mr Socrates’ notes were very precise. They are now frightened, partly because we have made alliances with the faeries and the dragons, and partly because they don’t know what we are capable of’.
Annie looked up. ‘There’s something else, that you should say, Simon’.
Simon glanced down at his notes again. ‘I don’t know how you will understand this, but Mr Socrates signed his statement. It said: ‘I, Frederick Socrates, state that these words are true, as I know them, and on behalf of my brother, who is known in my previous existence, as Albert Cuttleworth, Esquire’.
There was dead silence around the table. No-one moved, not even Adrian, who had shuffled to a stop.
Pat broke the gloom. ‘ I only know of him from what Simon and Annie have already said. Both brothers have gone. Forgive me, but did he not die in your battle, on the beach here? What a brave little man!’
‘Amen to his soul’. Sister Teresa intoned. She clasped her hands together in prayer. ‘I wish him to rest in peace’.
‘We didn’t know this. Who he was, I mean’. Simon said gently. ‘he must have known, when we spoke to him. But he never said’.
‘Perhaps he didn’t want to. Perhaps he didn’t, in case he compromised what you might do next. He sounds like a smart fella. I reckon that the Fingers here should tell you about the message we received’. This was from Sniffer, lying prone under the table.
‘What message is that?’ asked Annie, surprised.
Index Finger sighed, and spread a sheet of paper in front of him. Then he thought better of it. He pushed it over to them.
‘You had better read it yourselves. It is totally unprecedented. We have never received such a missive before’.
Simon and Annie stared at the paper. It was written on heavy brittle parchment, as if it was a state document. It was signed with a flowing signature, and an emblem of a pentagram, inside which was the outline of an open hand. The signature spelt “Gloriana” in a flowing script.
The paper read:
“Simon and Annie. We need you. As soon as possible. You are the ones that must come. I am breaking our tradition. You will come to our land, our faery land. The Brotherhood will make arrangements. You will come. This is beyond our experience. We must call upon humans.
There has been a murder in our land”.
‘No! groaned Simon. ‘We’ve had enough! Forget it!’
Annie’s eyes were still on the paper. ‘Simon, this is as best as a ‘Please’ that the faeries can make! We can’t ignore it!’
In those few seconds, Annie forgot about everybody around them. It became a still moment between her brother and herself: a small bubble of intimacy. At this moment, they talked only to each other.
‘Listen to me, Simon’. she said quietly. ‘We owe them. They’re our allies. They lost many of their own in the battle that we fought together, as much as we did. We have to do this. They have invited us to their land. We can’t refuse that. If you don’t want to, then I’ll go on my own’.
‘I don’t like it’.
Annie leant closer. ‘You might get to see your beloved Ragimund again’. she whispered mischievously.
‘Fine. When do we start?’
Annie grinned. She knew how to persuade her brother. But her smile faded as she looked at Morag, and remembered what they had to do.
Index Finger broke into their whispered conversation. ‘You will need to be at the hill-fort tomorrow, where you have met before, at eight o’clock in the morning. There will be someone to meet you. You might be some time, and therefore you must inform your parents. They already know about this. They will be prepared’.
‘What about school, and all that?’ asked Simon in surprise.
‘Your parents will take care of that. You may not be that long. It depends on how soon you can solve this terrible case’. added Little Finger, sadly, his small plump figure hunched in his chair.
‘Please…..could you tell me…..Did you see my mother?’
Morag was looking at them, her dark wide eyes open.
This was the moment of truth, or not. Their hearts dropped. Annie forced herself to speak.
‘No, Morag. We didn’t see your mother’.
‘I’m truly sorry. Morag. We didn’t see her’.
Morag’s face crumpled like a wet cloth. She stumbled blindly to her feet. ‘I must go…..sorry’. They heard her sobbing all the way down the stairs.
Annie couldn’t even look up. The knuckles of her right hand, with the talisman, were clenched tightly over the other. The talisman remained dim. She had never felt such sadness in all her life. Everyone sat immobile. The only sound was the scuttering of Adrian’s webbed feet on the table. In that moment, Annie realised.
‘I think, perhaps, that we had better close this meeting now’, said Index Finger quietly. ‘unless there is any further business’.
No-one had anything else to say. One by one, they filed out with smiles of sympathy, and a slow nod from Sniffer. The only other person left was Sister Teresa, her indomitable bulk daring them to move. She looked at them both, her large, round face now very gentle.
‘You lied to that poor child, didn’t you?’
‘Yes’. muttered Annie miserably. ‘We had to. We made a promise’.
‘Don’t worry. I am not going to charge you with any sin. It was for the best. No hope at all is better than vain hopes’.
‘That’s what Moran said’. replied Simon, rather sullenly. Then he realised what he had just said. ‘Damn! I meant to…..sorry, Sister’.
‘No matter. What was she like?’
‘As beautiful as her daughter’. said Annie sincerely. ‘She and Morag look, or rather looked, so much alike’.
Sister Teresa put her hands, palms together, to her lips, as if about to pray.
‘I have a suggestion to make. You may not agree, but I think it would help both you and Morag’.
‘Anything’s better than what we’re feeling now, Sister. What is it?’
‘Take her with you. To the land of the faeries’.
They stared at her in amazement. Simon pulled himself together. ‘I don’t know whether we can! In any case, she might not want to!’
‘Then persuade her. She is your new sister, after all, is she not? She is a policewoman. A crime has been committed. Who better to help you with your enquiries?’ She said this with a twinkle in her brown eyes. ‘Think about it. If she makes herself useful, it will help her overcome her personal grief, and it will help you over your own feelings of guilt and remorse. Why not? She is a half-faery. She must wish to see the land where her mother was born and grew up. It will heal her’.
Simon was thinking hard. ‘It does seem logical. I don’t think the faeries would mind, especially since she is one of their own. They can hardly object to that. What do you think, Annie?’
‘I agree with Sister Teresa. Morag has skills that you and I haven’t. It makes sense. Thank you for that, Sister. We appreciate it’.
Sister Teresa shrugged and smiled. ‘Go and see her this afternoon. Go and rescue her from drowning in her own pool of sorrow. She may not like the idea at first, but I am sure her own curiosity will prevail. Go, and stretch a helping hand to her. She will not let you down. I know it’.
They stood outside the entrance to the three-storey block of converted flats, where Morag lived, on the top floor. Annie’s finger hovered over the push-button labelled ‘Morag Wren”.
‘I’m too frightened to do this, Simon’. she mumbled. Simon didn’t reply, but reached over and pressed her finger firmly down on the button. They waited for about ten seconds, then, Annie, this time, pressed it again. Another ten seconds.
‘Who is it?’ came a muffled voice from the intercom.
‘Morag, It’s Annie and Simon, Can we come up and see you?’ Annie asked softly.
They looked at each other, startled.
‘Morag, we just….’
Simon decided. ‘Morag, please open the door and let us in. If you don’t, we’re going to sit out here until you or someone else does. We have something really important to say to you. Let us in. Please!’
There was another ten-second pause. Then the intercom buzzed, and the door clicked open. They walked slowly, and rather fearfully up the flights of stairs, and stopped outside Morag’s panelled door. Simon tapped gently on it. ‘Morag?’ he called quietly. There was no answer. Simon turned the handle and they both went in.
Morag was sitting on the floor, in jeans and a loose blue shirt. Her nose was running, and her eyes were red-rimmed with weeping. Crumpled tissues lay around her. A half-empty bottle of wine and an empty glass stood on the floor. Her knees were drawn up, with her hands clasped around them. She looked up with a slightly glazed and bitter expression.
‘Come to offer your sympathy, have you? Just say your words of sorrow and get out! Thanks to you, I feel I’ve just lost my mother twice! Leave me alone!’
They both sat down, cross-legged, on the floor facing her.
Annie looked imploringly at her brother. She knew that he and Morag understood each other. Simon caught her look. ‘Morag..’ he began. Morag reached out clumsily to the empty wine-glass, but only succeeded in knocking it over.
Simon took a deep breath. ‘Morag, we want you to come to the land of the faeries with us. Tomorrow’.
Morag didn’t seem to take this in at first. Then her mouth opened in amazement.
‘Me! Why me?’ she stammered.
‘Because we need you. You’re faery. You’re also a policewoman. We have to investigate a murder, remember? So pull yourself together, and think about it. I’m going to make you some strong, black coffee’. Simon got up and headed towards Morag’s tiny kitchen.
Annie sat and watched Morag silently. She could literally see her mind gradually returning from a dark place, back towards the present. She was staring at her talisman on her right hand, seeming to draw strength from it. Then she looked up.
‘Tomorrow. At eight o’clock. At the hill-fort’.
Morag stared into the distance, as if looking at some other place.
‘I’ve always dreamt of going to my mother’s homeland. She told me stories about it, when I was little. She always said she would take me there, one day…..’
Simon thrust a mug of hot steaming coffee into her hand. She clasped it absently, still lost in her memories. Then she came to, with a start.
‘How long are we going for? Do I need an overnight bag? Or party frocks, or something?’
‘I doubt it!’ Simon laughed. I think it’s a “come as you are” kind of trip’.
‘I’m on sick leave at the moment, after I last spoke to you. Good old Melrose fixed it for me, again! Bless him!’
‘Remember, this is a working holiday. We’ve got a murder investigation to look into’. Annie cautioned. But she felt happy as she looked at Morag, who now looked like a young schoolgirl, about to go on her first trip abroad.
Then Morag’s face fell. ‘I’m sorry about treating you like I did. I feel really ashamed. I was just hoping…perhaps….but, this also means you can visit your friend Mr Cuttle’s grave, doesn’t it? I know you’ve talked about him, and how fond you were of him’.
‘Yes’, said Annie after a moment. ‘We were. Look, why not come and stay with us tonight? It’s better than being on your own’.
‘Thank you. I would like that’. Morag said, pleased again.
It was a dank, chilly morning, the dew–wet grass slushy under their feet, already soaked by dawn moisture. They shivered against the sharp breeze, the distant sea barely visible, under a thin grey mist. They stood under a dismal wet sky, that threatened to pour a glistening drizzle at any moment, onto the already sodden landscape.
‘I hope they’re coming to fetch us soon’. said Morag, glumly. She and Annie had sat up late, unable to sleep. Annie had told her more stories about their adventures. She had talked affectionately about the dragons, her dragon-sister, Leila, and her mate, Dabar. Morag had sat on the floor, enthralled by what she heard. She had become a child again, listening in wonder about mythical creatures she had never seen, but only imagined. It had raised marvellous memories of her own childhood, listening avidly to the stories that her mother had recounted to her, at bedtime. She also remembered her father, a quiet, gentle figure, who sat and listened also. But she could only remember him as a shadowy presence, always there to comfort, but curiously insubstantial. He hovered on the edge of her remembrances, warm and comforting. I must find out more about him, she had decided.
‘What a foul day!’ Simon looked out across to the distant dim streak of grey-green that was the only indication of where the sea was. Both Morag and Annie looked, too. But the horizon was not even visible.
They heard, and felt, a dull thudding behind them. They turned around. Riding towards them was a horseman, with two other rider-less horses cantering in its wake. It rode up to them, pausing a few yards away. The horse whinnied and skittered, a real animal, huge, its nostrils snorting with clouds of breath, hanging in the cold air. The rider dismounted, wearing a long yellow cloak, with a hood that obscured its face. It strode towards them. They could see that, underneath the cloak, it wore breeches, and long laced riding boots, together with a short tunic, belted at the waist. A long, slim, sheathed dagger hung from the belt, within easy reach of the rider’s right hand. The figure threw back its hood.
‘Britomart!’ cried Annie in delight.
Britomart’s face gleamed with pleasure, Her dark, very curly hair was cut short, unlike other faeries, in a way that was very like Annie’s own. Her face, more rounded, than the others, dimpled bewitchingly. Britomart wore her emotions on her face, more so than her sisters. She hugged Simon and Annie in a ferocious grip, and then stood back smiling at them, her arms folded.
‘It is good to see you both again’. Then her gaze travelled to Morag, who stood suspiciously, also with her arms folded, staring at her in defiance. Britomart frowned. Her eyes had turned a flinty grey, but she was clearly puzzled.
‘My instructions were to bring you both to Gloriana, not a stranger! But I feel I recognise you. Why is that?’
Simon came to the rescue. Annie always grudgingly admired him for sometimes saying the right thing.
‘Let me introduce you. This is our friend and sister, Morag, the daughter of Moran, the faery. In our world she is a policewoman. She knows all about crime, and things. Morag, this is Britomart, sister to Queen Gloriana, who is our guide’.
Britomart stared at Morag in recognition. ‘Daughter of Moran! Of course! I knew, we all knew your mother! She was a renowned faery!’
‘You.. you knew my mother?’
‘We have never forgotten her! This is good news indeed! I must send a message to my sister!’ She looked at Morag’s right hand. ‘You bear a talisman also! This is wonderful! Forgive me!’ She hurried off to the snorting, restless horses. She called back over her shoulder, ‘I will send a dove to inform her’. as she opened a wicker cage mounted on the back of her saddle. ‘Then we will mount and ride into our land’.
Morag tugged Annie violently to one side, by the elbow.
‘Nobody said anything about getting on those…things!’ She looked in horror, across at the snorting horses, already impatient to be gone.
‘Why?’ asked Annie, innocently. ‘Have you never ridden a horse?’
‘All I know about them is that they’ve got a long head at one end and a tail on the other, and four legs at each corner!’
‘Stop being such a wimp. You’re a faery, remember? Should be second nature to you’.
Morag groaned. Annie decided to advise her. ‘Come on. Put your left foot in the stirrup. Pull yourself up. Then your right leg over the other side. There! Easy, wasn’t it?’
Morag looked down. It looked like a long way. She shuddered. Annie leapt up, lithely, into the saddle, in front of Morag. ‘Hold onto me’, she instructed. ‘You’ll be fine, especially when we break into a gallop’.
Morag made a sound that was between a small shriek and a moan. She gripped Annie firmly around the waist, and shut her eyes, desperately praying that it would all be over soon. She heard a distant fluttering above.
‘Britomart’s sent a dove to tell them we’re coming’. She heard Annie say. Then they were off. She could smell the horse’s warm flesh, as they seemed to crash up and down in a steady rhythm. She suddenly felt cold, as she felt the air shimmer around her. Then they seemed to be moving uphill, and finally stopped. She heard, despite the bright, dancing spots that swam across the blackness of her tightly shut eyes, a loud neighing bray from their mount, and a loud gasp from Annie. Somewhere, outside, she heard Britomart’s voice.
‘Look on Hyperborea, our land!’
‘Open your eyes, Morag! You can’t miss this, you stupid wet thing!’
Morag felt a surge of fury. She suddenly hated Annie. But she opened her eyes and looked, peering over Annie’s shoulder. Her mouth fell open with a gasp. She was looking at her mother’s homeland. She had no words to say.
Their horses stood, still pacing impatiently, on the brow of a steep grassy ridge, looking down on a broad, green plain. Morag could not take it all in at once. In the far distance, rose glistening blue mountains, ridge after ridge rising, one above the other, until they reached a single, gleaming, white point, that Morag knew was snow and ice. To the west was a glowing blue lake or sea, she didn’t know which, that seemed to stretch forever, into a hazy horizon, bordered by trees, that stretched down to its very edge. To the east, there were more ridges and mountains, criss-crossed by soft green-brown woods and tall pines. A long, snaking white road led eastwards, skirting the feet of the marching hills.
But before them, was another long, white road, that slithered and curved towards a great grey wall, pierced only by a gateway that straddled it. Beyond that, the gleaming road stretched towards a great towering cascade, that began to shape itself into a mountain of white, yellow and cream-coloured cubes and rectangles, that rose up, shape after shape, piling up into a massive pyramid of angles and facets. Small narrow black slits marked each face and shape of the great structure, a child’s construction, marked with purpose and logic, a well-ordered puzzle, every part of it marked with intent and purpose. It was magnificent, composed, and beautiful. Around this great castle, were rows of white cubes, some at right-angles to each other, interwoven with a mosaic of red, orange, blue and purple gardens.
‘That is our city, Elsace!’ cried Britomart, proudly.
Morag had now forgotten her fear, as they slowly rode down the slope to join the winding road, paved with great slabs of white stone. Their horses’ hoofs began to clatter on its hard surface. They rode in single file, Britomart leading, with Simon and Morag behind, and Simon’s horse cantering in the rear, as they drew close to the outer gate of the wall. The massive wooden doors opened slowly outwards, pushed by two tall figures, whose armour glittered in the warm sunlight. They trotted through, Britomart raising her arm in greeting, palm outwards, fingers upstretched. The two faery guards raised the same salute. Morag noticed that one was a slim girl, her Grecian helmet, that would normally cover her face, pushed back on her head, under which her dark hair flowed. She smiled, but looked curiously at them, as they passed.
‘Are they all so tall?’ whispered Morag curiously.
‘I think so’. replied Annie. ‘I’ve never seen any short faeries’.
They followed the road up to the other great wall that encircled the castle. Here was another great gate, that swung open to receive them. Now they were inside the inner fortifications themselves. More faeries passed them on horseback, or stood in groups to watch them pass by. They all greeted them politely with open palms, but they seemed reserved, and watchful. The three became increasingly aware that they were strangers, welcome, but not without a hint of suspicion. However, they rode on regardless.
At the very base of the huge cubic structure, they halted and dismounted before a large square doorway, its massive stone lintel frowning down upon them. Folded inside were two more great panelled doors. They could hear the sweet, shrill sound of birdsong, as they followed Britomart inside, without a word. They stood inside a high, vaulted hall, stone ribs and beams supporting a wide domed roof, painted with brightly-coloured images of birds in flight, antelopes and gazelles, half-paused in fear and curiosity, their dark eyes staring down on their heads with mild surprise. Along the white walls stood life-size, sculpted figures of warriors, both men and women, armoured, stiffly posed, arms at sides, right foot placed forwards, staring at them with blank eyes. Directly in front, a wide balustraded staircase rose up to a balcony that ran around the upper part of the hall. At the top, facing them, was a large, dark, panelled door.
Britomart gestured upwards. They followed her, slowly ascending the mighty staircase. The steps were shallow, and there were many of them. None of them had said anything since they had entered. They were too busy gazing around them in awe at the sheer size and beauty of this great space, that seemed empty, apart from themselves and the sound of their own echoing footsteps. Britomart reached the door at the top and thrust it open. ‘Come and meet Gloriana and our sisters’, she said, turning with a smile.
It was not at all what they expected. This was a comparatively small, low-ceilinged room, with what looked like a large open balcony at the far end, shaded with fretwork screens, filtering the light, reducing it to a gentle glow of sunlight. The floor was littered with rugs and carpets, decorated in geometric forms, with faded hues of ultramarine green, chrome yellow and vermilion red. They formed a patch-work path to the space before the trellis screen, festooned with deep cushions in the same colours. Set aside, against the sheen of the walls, were bright, green palms and other broad-leaved plants, set in great blue and white pots of delicate Chinese origin, covered in swirling, serpent-like dragons. And on the cushions, a group of young women lay or sat, chattering and giggling, in long flowing yellow and white dresses. They looked up, cried out with pleasure, and rose like butterflies to meet their guests.
Gloriana was at the forefront, her hair flowing and shimmering as Annie remembered, before she was caught in a great hug, forgetting how Gloriana had been so cruel and ruthless in the past. She hugged her back. Gloriana’s sisters crowded around her and Simon, with more hugs and delighted smiles. Last was a slim, almost slender girl, dressed in white, her eyes on Simon. She smiled at Annie, but her face broke radiantly as she saw Simon. She pulled him towards her, his face gazing with delight. Her jet-black hair fell in ringlets around her face, with the same acquiline nose and dark eyes, that Annie had remembered seeing enlarged in fury, her face tearful and sweat-stained, in times before, and after the battle they had fought together.
‘That’s Ragimund’. whispered Annie in Morag’s ear, who looked at her in amazement
Gloriana stood, hands on hips, laughing, her voice ringing in the small room. ‘You should have seen your faces when you entered!’ she chuckled. ‘You looked stupefied! Come and greet my sisters’. They came forward again, with cries of delight, and a clasp of hands – Lucifera, with her long brown curls, and Mercilla, a gentle face, framed by long fair hair that tumbled to her waist. ‘Over there, of course, is Ragimund, who seems preoccupied with your Simon!’
Morag stood back, nervous and uncertain, jealous of the attention lavished on Simon and Annie. Then Gloriana noticed her. ‘I was not expecting you, she said sternly, then smiled. ‘Welcome, Morag’. Her face faded. ‘We are truly sorry for your loss. We remember your mother, with great love and affection. But perhaps this may turn out to be a homecoming for you. Let us sit and talk, and have refreshments’.
Morag, in later years, would always remember that day, as a wistful, shimmering blur of bright dresses and robes, laughing faces, bathed in a soft yellow light, the murmur of excited conversation, and the retelling of memories. She remembered talking about herself and her mother, feeling a warmth seeping through her, as her childhood came back to life in that limpid pool of conversation, ripples and eddies of stories and jokes weaving and ruffling its quiet depths. But, try as she could, she could still not evoke any clear image of her father: her memories of him moved like dark, unknown fish below, never arising, never breaking the surface of their contented company.
Gloriana looked up at the trellised window. ‘It is nearly evening’.
With a start, they realised they had spent all day eating, drinking and talking. Annie looked around at Morag, and at Simon sitting a little apart, still holding Ragimund’s hand.
‘Perhaps we had better discuss what we’re here for’. she said quietly. The effect was as if she had dropped a large pebble into the whispering pool. The faeries faces’ hardened, expressionlessly. Gloriana nodded.
‘The one who was done away with was a member of our household, whom we held in high regard. His name was Hylas, and he was one of our best interpreters and negotiators with those who come to trade with us through our main port, two days’ ride from here. We valued him highly, both as a faery, and for his skill in dealing with merchants and buyers who visit our land’. She hesitated.
‘Three days ago, after returning from his duties, he supped with friends and returned to his dwelling, here, attached to this castle. His friends went to his house the next morning, as he had requested, for a morning ride. There was no answer, and his door was bolted, which was unusual. At the end of the day, having seen no sign of him, his friends returned, and fearing he was ill, eventually borrowed one of the castle’s master keys, and let themselves in, where they found his body. There was no sign of anything suspicious, and no trace of poison or wound was found upon his person. He had been killed, by what means, we know not. This has never happened before in Hyperborea, and we have no experience of this…occurrence. That is why we sent for you. You are detectives. Perhaps you can find out why such a thing happened’.
They were silent for a moment.
‘Clearly, you don’t believe that it was done by one of your own?’ asked Annie quietly.
‘Never! It would be against our sacred oaths! Only, perhaps, a traitor! But that has only happened once’. She ended sadly. She was thinking of her sister, Duessa, now banished. ‘But this deed, it has no reason, no purpose! What gain could it have?’
Morag was thinking hard. Her policewoman’s instincts had taken over.
‘Could we go and see the scene of the crime? It might give us a better idea of how, as well as why’. she suggested timidly.
‘I will take them, Gloriana’, Britomart offered. ‘We need a speedy end to this. perhaps now, immediately. They also might like to see the body. It is not disfigured’. she added, kindly. ‘He is preserved as he was found’.
Annie looked around. ‘Agreed?’ she asked. Both Simon and Morag nodded, as did Gloriana. ‘When they have finished, Britomart, bring them back here for our evening meal. They can tell us their findings then, if they have any’. They all rose.
Britomart led them back down the stairs to the courtyard, luminous in the warm evening air. Ragimund stayed with them, close to Simon. Another faery woman appeared, handed a set of keys to Britomart, nodded to them, and left. Britomart led the way to a small white building, set close to the lower part of the castle. She turned a key and they walked inside. It was dark, but Britomart began to light lamps over which were brass, filigreed covers. They cast a soft light in the dark room, the middle of which was occupied by a raised bench, upon which lay a clothed shape. Britomart walked up to the bier, and pulled back the cloth. ‘Behold our Hylas’.
Annie wanted to laugh. This was as if it was some kind of old story, from legend and myth. But it was not any longer. A tall, faery man lay there, as if he had been carved from marble. He was clad in a short tunic, arms at his side, as if he was asleep. He looked as if he was a tomb effigy. His eyes were blank, like stone, under deep, arched eyebrows, unseeing. He seemed to be a stone statue, that now rested in peace.
‘He’s beautiful’. breathed Annie. She stepped forward, and touched one of the frozen arms. She recoiled. His flesh was like marble, cold to her touch.
There was a sob behind them. It was Ragimund, her eyes wet with tears. ‘He used to play with us, and laugh, and sing, and tell us stories. He was our favourite uncle! Now he is dead! Find out who killed him! I will have vengeance!’ Ragimund had become not the gentle maiden, but a fiery-eyed warrior, her face suddenly contorted with fury and desperation. She looked around, hotly. ‘Find out!’ Then she sat down, in tears, despite Simon’s attempts to comfort her.
Morag walked quietly around the bier, upon which Hylas lay. ‘I think this is deep rigor mortis, brought on by an enormous shock’. She pointed at Hylas’s face. ‘He was surprised. See how his lips have opened? He saw something he never expected. We need to see the scene of crime!’
Annie looked at Britomart, who nodded. ‘Follow me’.
Again, she led the way, after carefully snuffing out the lamps around the dead faery, and locking the door behind her. She walked purposefully towards another part of the open ground around the strange cubic castle.. They passed through villas, strong and fortified, with narrow shuttered windows, their shape softened by gardens, full of sweetly scented flowers and vines, held aloft by small wooden poles. They came to the door of a large geometric building, attached to the very base of the castle itself.
Britomart unlocked the wooden door, and they walked in to what had been Hylas’s house, through a narrow front entrance. They stood and stared. In front of them was a large courtyard, open to the glimmering sky. A large rectangular basin, in the middle, obviously caught rainwater, from the inwardly sloping roofs above. There were rooms, and doorways opening from each side. The walls, painted a vermilion red on their lower parts, and whitened above, stood in plain splendour. Beyond the basin, was another narrow doorway, through which they could see a faintly trickling fountain, a figure of a nymph, holding a jug, from which water poured.
Britomart sighed. ‘He died through there. Please come’.
They walked through the opposite doorway, and found themselves in another open courtyard, surrounded by pillars on all four sides. Behind the pillars, ahead and to one side, were more rooms. The other side was simply a covered space. The statue of the nymph, laughing, poured water endlessly into the raised square of the pool in which she stood, ankle-deep. The floor was paved with great marble slabs, that glistened from the splashed water. As in the previous space, it was open to the sky.
Britomart pointed to a spot beside the fountain. ‘He lay there, when we found him’. She said, quietly.
‘Can we look around?’ asked Annie.
‘Of course. Nothing has been touched since then’.
They split up, peering into the rooms. They all had only one narrow window, shuttered and barred from the inside. They seemed to be bedrooms, with no other furniture than a single sleeping couch and a small cupboard. One was clearly a bathroom, with a wooden-seated lavatory, and a small basin alongside. But there was nothing that even looked suspicious, and nothing in the way of a clue.
They gathered together by the laughing nymph, who seemed to find mirth in something they did not know. ‘There’s nothing here to find out’. Simon said, dolefully. He looked across at Annie, caught her sharp gaze, and followed its direction. Morag was standing upright, her face pale, her hands clenching and unclenching into fists by her sides. Her eyes were open wide, and she was trembling, almost shaking.
‘What is it, Morag?’ Annie cried urgently.
Morag did not know herself. She had felt something when she entered the arcaded space. It had gathered up into a tight-knit rag ball inside her. She felt the sweat gathering on her forehead. She could see what was going to happen. (The faery, Helios, walked out into the open space, ready for bed, looking up for a last glimpse of the stars above him. Everything was secure, though no-one would disturb him, as he knew. He was looking forward to the ride tomorrow. But then he heard a sound. He turned around, puzzled, but saw nothing. He looked back towards the sky again. Then he heard the sound again, behind him. He turned and saw it, the last thing he would ever see).
Morag cried out, and fell to her knees, wild-eyed, her fingers scrabbling at the marble slabs of the floor. ‘I saw what happened!’ she cried out desperately. ‘Do you understand? I saw what happened! It came from under here, somewhere! I know it! I saw what happened!’
Annie, Britomart and Ragimund pulled a distraught Morag to her feet and sat her on the low wall around the fountain, soothing her in low voices, while the water nymph laughed endlessly above her. Simon was on his hands and knees, his face inches from the ground, looking intently. Morag was still shaking violently, when a shout from Simon stilled her, and everybody.
‘This stone is loose!’
They all gathered around Simon. ‘Look! All the others are really tightly butted together! But there’s a slight gap with this one! We need to prise it up!’ Without a word, Britomart slid out her dagger, and thrust it under the edge of the stone slab. She levered it hard, until the edge of the slab was raised slightly. They all put their fingers around it and heaved. For several moments, it resisted. Then it flew upwards and backwards. They all gasped and fell back.
The fetid stench from the dark hole they had revealed was almost overwhelming! It stank of bird droppings and animal excrement. They coughed and sneezed, backing away quickly. Finally they stopped, and stared at the black cavity they had now revealed.
‘So that’s how the assassin murdered poor Hylas! That’s why nothing else was disturbed! But how?’ Annie gasped, still trying not to sneeze.
‘ I think it must have just looked at him’. said Morag, quietly. They turned and looked at her. She now seemed composed, though her hands still trembled slightly.
‘Tell us exactly what you saw, Morag’. Simon said softly. ‘You said you saw what happened’.
Morag stood, hesitantly, her left hand caressing the talisman on her right. ‘I..I don’t know how to explain. I was very tense, when we came in. I can’t explain why. It was just a cold finger running up and down my spine. When we started looking around, I had this awful feeling of dread! I can’t describe how it felt! Then, when I looked at the spot where he..he died, I was just frozen! I saw everything as if I was here! Exactly! I could even smell the sweetness of his perfume! It was so real! And he looked around. I heard this scraping, as he did, but I couldn’t see what caused it! Then his eyes opened wide and his mouth opened as well! He just fell backwards, as if he was a statue! But that’s all I can remember! I didn’t see whatever it was that made him do that! I just remember him falling, and how shocked I was!’
Morag began to sob. Annie put her arms around her. Ragimund gently clasped her hand. She looked at Annie, fiercely, her eyes grey. ‘This thing, it killed him. He was dear to me! We will kill it in its turn, I swear to you!’ Annie suddenly saw again the ferocity in Ragimund’s face, that she had known before.
‘Wait!’ Britomart called. She was kneeling by the black hole in the floor. ‘This may be a tunnel! I will summon our people to search for the entrance! If, whatever it is, is still down there, they will seal it. It will not escape us!’ She got up and walked quickly back through the doorway, from where they had entered.
‘ I think we must return now’. Ragimund said. Annie was relieved to see her eyes had returned to their original dark brown. ‘There is no more we can do here, for the present. Gloriana will want to know what we have found out. She has prepared a banquet for you. And you will wish to change your clothes’. looking pointedly at their grubby jeans and sweaters. ‘We will lock this place after we go’.
They sat on their beds, in the large, but spartan apartment that they had been given. Apart from the comfortable couch-like beds, with quilts, there was no other furniture, apart from a large wooden cupboard, that housed the clothes they had just changed into, after washing from the hot water in the jugs and basins set out in the little bathroom, that opened off from the main room. Both Annie and Morag wore long, flowing yellow dresses, identical to those of the faeries. Simon wore a knee-length belted tunic, unfortunately without a dagger, with breeches and long boots, as Britomart had worn. He was secretly rather pleased with his appearance. But they were all uneasy.
‘I’ve got some ideas about this assassin’. He announced. The other two, still adjusting their admittedly rather comfortable dresses, paid him little attention. ‘My bum still hurts’. muttered Morag, twisting awkwardly to look behind her. ‘Does it look big in this?’
‘Oh, for goodness’s sake, Morag!’ snapped Annie. She had an uneasy feeling about this land called Hyperborea, though she could not think what it was. ‘Go and look in a mirror, or something’.
‘That’s it!’ cried Simon. ‘Another idea! I know what the assassin is, and how we can defeat it!’
He had their full attention now.
‘Go on, then’. Annie said, in a rather acid voice. ‘What?’
‘ I’ve been thinking’, began Simon. Annie rolled her eyes towards heaven. ‘ No, listen’. he went on. ‘What if I told you that I think the killer is some sort of basilisk?’
‘A what?’ asked Morag, bewildered, still trying to look at her behind.
‘A form of serpent, that turns whatever it looks at into stone?’
‘That makes sense’. said Annie, nodding. ‘That would explain why he fell, as cold as marble. Together with the rigor mortis, and why his heart just stopped beating. But I can’t see how a serpent could raise that slab and then replace it’.
‘But what if it could still turn a human being into something dead and immobile, yet not be a basilisk? What if….it was something like a cockatrice?’
‘You’re right!’ Annie cried excitedly.
‘Don’t mind me. I’m just a simple copper. You don’t have to keep poking fun at me all the time’. Morag mumbled, dejectedly. ‘Just leave me out of it’.
She stood up, her eyes unexpectedly wet with tears. Annie pushed her down again firmly.
‘We’re not making fun of you, Morag’. She said, sharply. ‘A cockatrice is a winged creature, with the head and breast of an eagle, but with a crest like a cockerel. They say it has the body of a lion, and walks on clawed feet, with a dragon’s tail, barbed at the end. Like the basilisk, its glance can turn you into stone. Not a very nice creature’. She shivered.
‘Fine. I believe you. Thousands wouldn’t’. Morag muttered, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
‘Morag, you are already in the land of the faeries. Simon and I have seen worse than this. Trust us, and believe us. Anything is possible’.
Morag did not answer, because there was a gentle knock at the door. Outside, stood Ragimund, looking more slender and beautiful than ever. ‘Please come and sup with us’. She smiled radiantly at Simon.
‘At least, he’s happy’. muttered Morag. Annie dug her elbow into her, and Morag stayed quiet. They followed Ragimund, arm in arm with Simon, along a long corridor, and into a banqueting room. It was, again, not what they expected. A long table sat in the middle with tall-backed wooden chairs around it. Along one wall was a long low wooden sideboard, heaped with sweet-smelling dishes of hot food. Ragimund gestured towards it. ‘Please fill your plates’. She said, softly. She smiled again. ‘There are no servants in our land’.
The food was delicious. Annie realised that the sweet and spicy dishes contained no meat, only a variety of succulent vegetables and fruit. So faeries are vegetarian, she thought to herself, not that she minded. They ate and drank happily together, with no mention of their immediate problem. Then Gloriana sat back. ‘Tell me what you have found out’. she asked gravely. They told her.
‘What do you propose to do?’ asked Mercilla. She was one of the few faeries there, in this small gathering.
Simon tore his eyes away from Ragimund, who had been feeding him small grapes, much to Annie’s disgust. ‘We have a plan. For tonight’.
(Thanks for telling me, Simon. About time. This had better be good), Thought Annie. She looked coldly at Simon, who took no notice.
‘We will set a trap. But we need a large mirror, and a cloth to cover it. And the talismans. We need them as well’.
(We! You haven’t even discussed it! This had better work, Simon or else!). Annie felt rather infuriated.
‘When?’ asked Lucifera, sharply.
‘Now’. Simon replied simply.
Half an hour later, they all sat crouched behind a large cupboard, dragged out into the enclosed courtyard that had belonged to the late Hylas. Facing the laughing fountain nymph, was a large mirror, heavily encased in a wooden frame, that Gloriana had ordered to be placed there. It was covered with a heavy woollen robe, to which a long rope was attached. Annie’s talisman lay on top of the cupboard, above them, angled towards Morag’s talisman, lying on a smaller cupboard to their right. A white sheet of parchment was pinned to the back of the large cupboard before them.
‘Ready?’ Simon shouted. His voice echoed slightly against the white pillars around the courtyard, luminous in the quiet moonlight. He walked silently to the fountain. They heard a brief splash as he plunged his hand into the pool and picked up two large pebbles. He threw the first down into the exposed, gaping hole in the courtyard floor. They heard it crash from one side to the other, deep below their feet. But there was nothing else to be heard. A faint breeze rustled across the open space. Simon threw the other. Again they heard it cascading from side to side, deep down in that black mouth. Then they heard something, very faint. A rustling and a scraping, nothing more. Simon retreated, and joined them behind the cupboard.
‘It’s coming’. He whispered.
They waited. They heard nothing for several seconds. But there it was again, a scraping sound, as if something was slowly climbing up. The two talismans began to glow softly. A picture formed on the parchment before them, at first barely visible, then taking outline and form. Something was emerging from the black cavity. As the image on the parchment intensified from the reflected light of the two talismans, it took shape. A large, beaked head, clad in feathers, slowly turning to right and left. Its eyes were blank and grey, like those of a statue. Strong claws reached out, and gripped the edge of the stone slabs. It rose out of the ground, a heavy sinuous brown body, covered in fur, and finally a strong, snake-like tail, its barb quivering viciously in the quiet night air. It turned its head towards the laughing nymph for a moment.
Simon tugged hard at the rope. The cloth fell away, revealing the mirror. The cockatrice screamed as it saw its own reflection! The blank eyes opened, piercingly black! Two incandescent beams streaked out and hit the mirror, splintering and starring it. But, broken as it was, it gleamed back defiantly. The cockatrice went berserk! It leapt at the mirror, hacking and gouging with beak and claws, screaming, desperately trying to destroy itself! On and on it went, hurling itself against the reflective surface, over and over again, until it began to disintegrate. One wing fell off in the savage flurry. A leg collapsed, and lay on the ground. Again and again the cockatrice hurled itself in frenzy at its own reflection, slowly dismembering itself. The head fell to one side, its sightless eyes sparking and flashing. Slowly, the body crumpled and fell, mangled and broken. Only a faint hissing and crackle remained, and finally ceased. It was dead.
One by one, they came out from behind the cupboard, and stood around the shattered remnants. Simon kicked at the inert carcase, that spilled out fragments of electronic boards and silicon chips. The metal joints and tubing that had powered the thing, lay scattered about. One metal eye hung sightlessly from its socket, attached by thin wires. Feathers floated like wisps in the warm breeze. The faeries gathered around it, mystified.
‘What was this thing?’ asked Gloriana, in a sombre voice.
‘Just a machine’. replied Simon, absently. ‘Not a real mythological beast. Just something man-made, and controlled. I suppose its eyes were some kind of lasers that could destroy by stopping the heart and inducing a kind of paralysis of all the bodily functions. That’s how poor Hylas died. A kind of killing machine, that’s all it is. But very effective. Just a machine, like a gun. It’s the person who made it, who is really evil’.
Gloriana stared down at the wreckage. ‘Whoever made this has declared war on my people. They have killed one of our own, in our own land. They are now our enemies!’ The venom in her voice was unmistakeable. She turned abruptly and strode off, leaving the others to gaze down on the broken fragments.
‘ I thought that was a wonderful idea of yours, Simon. Just for once, it really worked! Using the talismans as reflectors like that, so that we weren’t struck down by the basilisk glare! Just like a camera obscura! So long as we only saw the reflection, and not the thing itself, we were safe! In fact, I would go so far as to say it was rather a stroke of genius! I just wish I’d thought of it’. Annie lay sprawled out on one of the beds, back in their quarters. Morag sat cross-legged on another, easing her sore bottom every now and again. Simon stood by the open window, looking out at the dim landscape.
‘I thought you were great too, Morag. Seeing the crime and…’ She was interrupted by a gentle knock at the door. It opened to reveal Ragimund, still in her dress, but with bare feet. ‘I thought I’d come to see if you needed anything, and to tell you that Gloriana will want to see you in the morning’. She said, her eyes fixed on Simon.
‘Thank you’. said Annie mischievously. ‘ I think Simon would be happy to escort you home, wouldn’t you, Simon? Just to make sure you get back safely, of course’.
‘Of course’. Simon mumbled happily. The door closed on them both.
‘Yuk, I can’t stand a soppy brother. Tell me, Morag, what happened to you earlier?’
The question was so unexpected that Morag was confused and uncertain. She hesitated. ‘It just seemed to present itself, the whole scene, almost as if, look, this is what happened! I don’t know how!’ She gulped. ‘I’ve never experienced it before, not as if it was real’.
‘The reason I asked you, is to try to find out whether this is some kind of psychic gift, or not. So you can see something in the past, but not in the future?’
‘I suppose so. I can tell you what happened, but I can’t prevent it!’
‘Perhaps its your faery intuition, that’s beginning to surface. It could be very useful, you know’.
‘To see a murder happening, and not being able to do anything about it? Thanks!’
The door opened, and Simon came in.
‘Morag was telling me about how she saw the crime’.
‘I think I know. Faery intuition. A good thing too. But its not over yet’.
Annie sat up. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Ragimund was just telling me. She and her sisters are very worried about Gloriana. She’s become sort of fey, if you know what I mean, about this whole thing’.
‘What do you mean, fey?’
‘Gloriana’s brooding. She’s taken all this very badly, about a murder of one of her own people in her own land. Apparently she thinks it has something to do with us’.
‘We weren’t even here! How can it?’
‘She thinks it might be to do with some enemies we’ve made. That’s all I could get from Ragimund. But I don’t think she knows either’.
‘Wait a moment’. interrupted Morag, ‘it isn’t over! Remember motive, method and opportunity? We got the method and the opportunity, but what about the motive? Who’s behind this?’
‘We don’t know yet. But it sounds as if Gloriana seems to associate us with what happened. As if we might be the unwitting cause of it’.
Annie crossed her legs. ‘That explains why our arrival here has been so low-key. She certainly hasn’t advertised our presence publicly, has she? I feel like I’ve come into this land by being smuggled in through the tradesman’s entrance!’
‘That’s true’. said Morag, surprised. ‘They’ve been very hospitable and courteous, but very reserved. Its not exactly been a state visit, has it?’
‘I think we’ve been brought in to do a job, and do it discreetly. In other words, we’re here to do the dirty work for them, because they don’t want to soil their hands. It does imply that they think we might in some way be responsible. “You created this, you sort it out”, that kind of thing’. Nor have they mentioned seeing Mr Cuttle’s grave, which I feel cross about’.
Morag looked desperately from Simon to Annie.
‘I’m sorry, I just don’t like the way you’re talking. You sound as if you want to pick a fight of some kind. Can’t we leave all the suspicion until tomorrow?’
Simon and Annie looked at each other, and sighed resignedly.
‘You’re right, Morag’, Simon replied, wearily. ‘But I think there may be a few surprises then’.
This was what Morag was dreading. Ragimund had brought a delicious breakfast to their room, and they were walking down another long passage towards the “war-room”, as Ragimund unfortunately described it. But her face was confused and uncertain. They entered a room in which there was a long oak table, behind which Gloriana sat, her back to the window. She looked up, her face hard.
‘You will be leaving later this morning. I have no further need of you. Britomart will see to your departure’.
‘Not until we have visited Mr Cuttle’s grave’. Annie said sharply.
‘You will leave now!’
Perhaps it was just that one word which sparked off great wars, Morag would think later, on looking back. And here, it was a spark that ignited the fuse.
Gloriana sprang up in fury, her eyes as grey as granite, her hand already on the sword-hilt, slung behind her. There was a sharp swish, as Mercilla and Lucifera half-drew their swords, and began to move sideways.
‘You insolent brat! Get out!’
‘Try it, you filthy bitch!’
‘You heard my sister! Tell your stinking minions to keep their distance!’
Morag stood, transfixed in horror. (This can’t be happening!) She looked at Ragimund, her sword half-heartedlly drawn, her eyes flickering between brown and grey. (Morag, do something! Please!)
Something, stretched taut in Morag, finally snapped. She ran forward, and began beating her fists on the table. ‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’
Her voice seemed to echo in her own head. ‘This is madness! You’re squabbling like little school-children! Imagine what my mother, Moran, would say now! A faery and a policewoman! She’d bang your heads together! If any of you have any respect for her, stop this stupidity now! You’re supposed to be friends and allies! This is what our enemies want! Can’t you see that?’
She stopped, gasping for breath. Her eyes were running, and so was her nose, though she didn’t care. There was dead silence in the room. Then Simon began to giggle helplessly. He burst out laughing, and collapsed onto a chair. Then Annie began to giggle and sat down, her clenched right hand, with the talisman, dropping to her side. The other began to laugh also, sliding their swords back into scabbards. Gloriana sat down abruptly, her hands over her face, also laughing, between her fingers.
‘I can’t believe it!’ gasped Simon, helplessly. ‘We’ve just been ticked off by a faery copper!’
It was too much for Morag to bear. She rushed blindly out of the room, and subsided onto the floor in the corridor outside, not even aware of her sore bottom. She wept in embarrassment and shame. Somebody slipped down the wall next to her and took her hand. She looked up through tear-glazed eyes. It was Ragimund. Her eyes were a deep, warm brown. ‘Come back inside, Morag. Our little battle is over’.
‘Back into that bear-pit again? No way. I’ll just go home, thanks very much’. She wiped her eyes. Why am I always wiping my eyes, she thought, irritably. She was pulled to her feet suddenly, by this deceptively strong faery. ‘Please come’. She invited. Morag allowed herself to be drawn back into the room, where she sat sullenly on a chair. The atmosphere was completely changed. It was relaxed and welcoming. Gloriana stood up.
‘We thank you, Morag, daughter of Moran. You brought our little strife to a close. Forgive us. We were, as you said, like silly children. It was’, she took a breath, ‘wrong, of all of us. Our emotions ran more deeply than we thought. You spoke with your mother’s wisdom. We can see your mother in your eyes. She was our great peacemaker. I offer all three of you a comrades’ handshake’. She extended her arm, her hand open and outstretched. Morag stood up, disconcerted, not quite knowing what was expected of her. Then some instinct instructed her. She gripped Gloriana’s wrist, as Gloriana gripped hers, in an ancient Greco-Roman blessing. Gloriana did the same with Annie and Simon, and sat down again.
‘I want you to stay with us for longer’. She held up her hand, palm outwards, to stifle their protests. ‘Your time is different from ours. What may be weeks here, may only be a matter of hours or minutes in your world. Please. We need you’.
She looked at their stiff faces. ‘What’, she asked slowly, ‘if I told you, that there is a ship in our port, amongst many ships, that carries a passenger, who is previously unknown to us?’
‘So?’ asked Annie, frowning.
‘What, if I told you, that this passenger is tall and has a red beard, and that he wished to unload some material for taking images?’
Simon and Annie sat frozen in their seats.
‘What, if I told you, that Hylas, who was the harbourmaster, felt suspicious of this passenger, and intended to report to me his misgivings about his intentions, and particularly his enquiries about when humans, such as you, might arrive? Is that perhaps, what you might call, a motive for death?’
‘I want that pig!’ snarled Simon.
‘Then stay, and make your enquiries. I have ordered a blockade. For the time being, no ship will leave without my permission, particularly that one. Will that satisfy you?’
Simon and Annie nodded in unison. ‘We need to discuss this between us. With your permission, we need to retire for a while’.
‘Of course, Annie. I am sorry for what I said. I love this land. I protect it. Hyperborea is precious to us’.
‘I know’. replied Annie softly.
Morag stared out of the window, at the warm green meadows, beyond which the blue mountains reared benevolently, like ancient shepherds. She heard Simon and Annie talking loudly behind her. She suddenly felt desperately tired, and walked awkwardly to her bed, and lay down with a gasp of relief.
Annie sat down solicitously on her bed. ‘Are you all right, Morag? This must be a bit much for you. Coming to your mother’s homeland, with all our silly tantrums as well’.
‘No, it’s not that’. Morag replied drowsily. ‘You see, I noticed something about you and Simon. when you were, sort of, having your row with the faeries. I think, you have more in common with this place, and them, than you might think’.
‘What do you mean, Morag?’ Annie asked sharply.
‘You see’, Morag yawned, ‘I noticed you. When you were really angry, violent almost, your eyes turned grey, Both of you. Just like the faeries’. She turned over, and fell into sleep, leaving them stunned.
Frank Jackson (23/11/10) – Word count - 10763
A map of Hyperborea – the land of the faeries. Elsace is the capital city.