Satan’s Rock

Part Twenty

Marionettes

Jeremy Piggott’s phone bleated piteously enough to make him answer it.

“Hi Jerry, its Sullivan.”

“Howard, how nice!   I thought you’d forgotten us.”

“Nothing to report, Jerry old thing; until now, at least.   Whole issue’s gone a bit stale, if you ask me – my prospective stepdaughter’s out of the picture….”

“That was a pun, I take it – since she created the bloody picture?”

“Oh very good!”

“What is our boy up to, then?”  Piggott asked:   “Exams and such?  Being ordinary?”

“Well yes, actually.”  Sullivan replied.  “Apart from the physical differences we spoke about last time – lads do grow around about his age, don’t they?  He’s picked up with this rather nice little girl (surname Walker, Lesley;  I’ve asked office to get some background) and they have a pretty warm thing going, I can tell you.   He took her to the house at Crowley yesterday, so he’s obviously still obsessed with the history issue…”

“Did they find anything?”

“I don’t know:  I’m curious about that.  I went over the place myself quickly afterwards and there’s something odd.  It’ll be in my report.  History wasn’t all they were researching, by the way.   A certain little girl will have paid a visit to a chemist’s this morning, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Okay, send the photos – I’ll see if there’s anything in the gen. on this Walker girl.   Cartwright hasn’t been back to the rock, or met up with your girl?”

“Photos should be in your mailbox.   And no to both:  in fact, my young friend with the stepdaughter potential is still as mad as a cat with him: I doubt if they even speak.    Look, how much longer should we keep this up?   Melanie senior is spewing wedding bells whenever she opens her mouth, so it’s getting difficult to side-step, if you see what I mean?”

“Maybe for years.  Cartwright could be a sleeper, your Melanie girl may take us off on a different route?  I don’t know, perhaps it is time for a change.  I’ll keep you posted.”

“Right’o.  Just a thought, hm?   Take care, Jerry.”

The line closed, leaving Jeremy Piggott, British Secret Service, to ponder events in Levenport.  Howard Sullivan’s brief  had been to keep tabs upon Peter Cartwright, but the whole investigation had begun to look like a dead end.  Since his bureau had traced this boy; he whose printed image adorned the scrap of floating paper which saved a Senator’s life, surveillance had revealed little or nothing.  Yet a burning question remained:  why the picture?  A clue, a signpost to something more?

“Someone’s pulling your strings, Jerry old mate.” Piggott mused.  “You’re a bloody marionette, that’s what you are.”

            He dialled a number from the phone’s memory.   “George,”   He said when a voice answered.  “Levenport file.   I’m sending you some stuff on a family called Walker, focus the daughter.  Pictures follow.  Check it out.  Then I want a conference call tomorrow morning with anyone still on the case.  Circulate the appropriate memo, will you?”

Piggott replaced the ‘phone, settling down to an interrupted viewing of a television soap for which, were he quite honest, he had little regard.

In the meanwhile, returning from his day at Crowley, Peter Cartwright had to submit to some well-meaning interrogation by his mother and father.   Lena’s horror was limited initially to the state of his clothes.

“Well, you might as well throw those away.”

“I can’t!  They’re designer jeans!”

Bob, who knew both where Peter had been and who had been there with him, was concerned for different reasons; but he was wise enough not to say so.   There were questions he did not need to ask – the alterations in his son’s demeanor told him all he needed to know.

“Well, Peter my son, the Crowley place must have impressed you mightily, that’s all I can say.  He seems to have brought most of it back with him, doesn’t he, darling?”

Lena was fussing:  “Go up and run a bath.   And get those clothes off you, for heaven’s sake!  I’ll do what I can with them.”

There was an interlude while Peter went through the business of undressing, and Lena ran his bath for him, collecting his soiled clothes from outside his bedroom door.   She re-entered the kitchen, laden with these, to find her husband in reflective mood.

“Odd, I’d say.”

“What?”

“Well, I had a call from our novice Bishop today.  He asked about Peter again!  Again!  And I told him where Pete was going today.  Strange thing is, he seemed to know already.”

Lena frowned, “You’re imagining it,” she said.

Somewhat later on this same evening, Peter finally broke free of parental curiosity and bathing rituals for long enough to switch on his PC.    There was one email with an enclosure.  

Hi Peter:

You deal with this.   I can’t.

Melanie.

He opened the enclosure.  It read:

Hiya:

You don’t know me, or I you, so I’m hoping I can convince you I’m not some pervert by using a phrase that’ll mean something:  ‘ the stones are awake’, gettit? Because it’s vital that we meet.  

Here’s the plan.  For the weekend of 8th September you and Peter are going to stay with an old school friend, Mary Wilson, who’s moved to Mancheste.  Birthday?  House party?  You choose.    You’ll forget to take your mobiles, so you’ll be difficult to trace.   You and Peter can both use this same story – the pitch is that there will be six of you going.   That’s just in case you’ve got parents who worry (Sorry, but I don’t know your parents!).

 Train tickets to Manchester for you both on the reference number below.   You’ll be met at Piccadilly, and measures taken to see you aren’t followed.

  Look, this is for real.  Keep it between yourselves.   We believe you are being watched, so be careful.   I know how iffy this looks but if you travel together and if I add that Vince Harper gave me your email I hope that will be enough to persuade you.

 Bung this in your trash straight away.  It’s got a little gizzy all its own to take care of it from there.   Then wipe your history and we should be safe enough.

PS.  If your parents get suspicious or I haven’t earned your trust,  don’t worry – we’ll set up something else.   Remember, no mobiles.   See you soon!

The mail concluded with ticket references.   There was no signature.

Peter thought for a moment, and then sent to Melanie:. 

 “I’ll go.  Are you coming?” 

He waited for a reply, that night and the next day.   Nothing came.

#

These early days of September were the countdown days, last precious remnants of the long summer break.   Lesley and Peter spent as much of this time as they could together, although it was littered with tedious bouts of revision.  For light relief Lesley practised on an acoustic guitar, melodically enough to inspire Peter to join in with vocals until he lost the key so entirely she made him promise to stick to his intended mathematics-based career choices. For most of the time they could work in each other’s company:  their disagreements were rare.

Peter dwelt less and less upon thoughts of Melanie in these days.  He was loyal to his friendship with her, even a little guilty at allowing Lesley to eclipse her so completely, but he could not relate to her if she wanted no contact with him, and the silence was thunderous.    So he went on with the business of preparing for his final year with fewer backward glances than he might.  And he was taken by surprise when Lesley gave him the news.

“Melanie’s gone.”

They had broken from studies for a morning coffee at Hennik’s.

“What?”   Peter could not help a reaction:  “How do you mean, ‘gone’?”

“Like – gone – gone away.   To live with some relation or another up-country, I think.  She’s changed to another college.  She won’t be back next term, for exams or anything.”

Lesley studied Peter’s face, trying to suppress the tiny lump which kept coming back into her throat:   “You still fancy her, don’t you?”

He came to himself.  “No.”  He said, rather too quickly.  “No, I don’t.   I never – I mean we never…..we were just friends, Les.  But I hoped we still would be, you know?”   

There was a wisp of betrayal in his girlfriend’s eyes.   “No.”  Peter repeated more carefully.  “I could never feel for Melanie the way I feel about you.  I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.  You know that really, don’t you?”

Lesley tried to tell herself she did.

“It was just a shock.”  Peter reasoned.   “I mean, why?   I know she didn’t get on with that Howard bloke who lives with her mum, but surely…”

“Exam year?   Has to be a good reason, doesn’t there?   The reason is you, Peter dear; or rather, us.”

‘This honesty thing is out of control,’ Lesley thought to herself: ‘What are you doing to me, Petey?  I’m turning honourable!’   She said:   “Mel may just have been a friend to you; but to her you meant a great deal more. You were, like, the love of her life?   Oh, don’t look like that!  I’m sure of it.   I shouldn’t say these things to you, but I can’t help it.  Mel is – or was – my friend too, yeah?”

Wisely, Peter made no reply.  He could not tell Lesley what he believed to be the real reason for Melanie’s departure, any more than he could admit to the bereft feeling now clawing at his heart.   Okay, so maybe there had been something deeper there, once, but what use was there in revisiting it now?   Melanie had gone; not in flight from a lost love, but running from the inevitable. Like his, her life had changed irreversibly:  that email had to have been the catalyst.   She did not want to be found so easily again.

Lesley meanwhile knew, despite Peter’s pretense, that he thought a lot of Melanie; that they had been more than simply friends.   She was also aware of a mystery in Peter, a part of him she had yet to see.  There were no deliberate lies or subterfuges, no evasive moments or avoided looks:  but he had something within him that was hidden.     All of which would not matter, if her relationship with him had not become, that afternoon at Crowley, at once so simply definable and so complicated:  she was very young, but she was also very much in love.

“Don’t you dump me, Peter.”  She warned him:  “Not ever, do you hear?”

Hidden away in her bed room under the guise of shared homework, Peter did his best to reassure her he would not.

#

Lena Cartwright led a chaotic life: this was the construction she always placed upon her ‘higgledy-piggledy days’ as she called them, when anyone asked why she seemed to be flying about for no reason.   Should any of her friends try to pin her down to an itinerary, or to delicately suggest that, for all her rapidity, she was actually going nowhere and doing very little, she was inclined to fall back upon ‘her art’ and given to explaining that artists don’t think in the same way as other people.   These were the only times when she would refer to ‘her art’ at all:  for the most part she kept her paintings very close to herself.  They were personal to her, the hours she spent in her studio, and very carefully unrecorded.  Production was slow.   A sherry bottle was usually present.

This is not to say Lena was lacking in work or commitment: she had plenty of both.  Long ago, she had forfeited all pretensions to “High Art”.   Her talent, she knew, would never rival Rauschenberg or Hockney, she had no great message to leave to the world.   But that did not inhibit a modestly profitable stream of local commissions, seaside views alongside sketched portraits and a smattering of graphics.   Besides, she had, as she put it to anyone who would listen, ‘a vicar to run’,  in her role as a vicar’s wife.   Altogether these things, generally, filled her day from eight o’clock breakfast to eight o’clock supper. 

Lena exercised one strict discipline; she would never drink in the presence of her only son.   These days Peter was usually somewhere other than home, he touched base more and more rarely, so the sherry bottle was wont to stray into the kitchen as well as her studio, guaranteeing her affability for the evening to come.   On this particular Saturday,  Peter being elsewhere, the mistress of the house could be found doing a little desultory baking when a knock on her kitchen door announced a very distraught Karen Fenton.

 “I didn’t know where else to go.”  Karen said.   Her face quivered on the brink of collapse.

“Come in, love.  Come in.”     Lena shepherded her friend hurriedly indoors.   As soon as the door was closed, Karen broke down.  

“Oh god, I had to come to you – I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to do this!”

Clutching Karen’s sobbing shoulders in her arms; Lena guided her into her kitchen.    “Sit down and I’ll make some coffee – or maybe you’d like something stronger?   What’s happened?”

“Melanie.”   Karen said simply:   “Has disappeared.”

This was not a Richter-scale shock.   Peter had already told his mother that Melanie had ‘left town’.

“She’s moved to Saurborough, hasn’t she?  To your sister’s?”   Solicitously pouring  solace from the sherry bottle, Lena presumed this was the cause of Karen’s misery. 

“You know she and Peter aren’t close anymore?”  Karen sniped,  “Lesley Walker, now, isn’t it?    A  focussed young lady is Lesley.  She sets out her stall really rather well, doesn’t she?  But the let-down wasn’t exactly gentle, Lena dear, was it?   No ‘Let’s still be friends’; no ‘Let’s still see each other, just play it cool for a while’?”

Lena would not be goaded.   It was the old vicar’s wife thing again.  She knew how to resist such crudely cast bait.  “Ah, the young!”  She went for a fatalistic sigh and very nearly made it:   “My lord, it’s hard to believe we were like that once.  Karen, I’m deeply sorry for the hurt Peter caused her, you know that. But we can’t live their lives for them, darling!”

 “No.   No, we can’t I suppose.   And Peter wasn’t the only reason.  Apparently – Christ, I didn’t know – she really hates Howard!  Hates him!  I suppose that happens, doesn’t it?  I mean, just because I love him, it doesn’t mean….”   Karen accepted the proffered glass, pausing to drink.  “She wanted to get away:  start fresh somewhere. I said it was a shame, with it being exam year, and everything, but it seemed for the best.”

Lena listened as her friend recounted how Melanie had left to stay with Bianca, Karen’s younger sister.    Bianca was no stranger to her niece and at last Melanie appeared happy – happier than she had been for some time.   Then the hammer fell.

“She sent me a text.”  Karen said:   “She never texts to me.  Everyone else, yes, but when she wants to tell me anything she likes to talk, you know?   But then, suddenly, a text!    It just said that she was well and I wasn’t to worry.   All day after that I went about trying to tell myself there was nothing wrong.   It was half-past seven when Bianca called.  She hadn’t come home.  Oh, Lena!

“This was yesterday.   No-one’s seen her since yesterday morning.  The police found her ‘phone – it was still switched on – in a waste-bin in bloody Thorngate.  That’s about thirty miles away!  Someone’s got her, I know they have!”

Melanie had left her aunt’s house early, determined to take advantage of some September sun.   She had declared her intention to go for a walk on the beach, but had, in fact, been last seen heading for the fish-dock further up the seafront.   The police?    An officer had visited Karen this morning.    Oh, they were doing everything they could, but really, apart from circulating her description, what else could they do?

Where was Howard?

He’d gone up there, to Saurborough; rushed off early that morning – strange, though, that he hadn’t contacted Bianca as expected. 

“He hasn’t called me either.”   Karen managed a wry smile:   “I suppose it’s possible I’ve lost both of them….”

The sherry bottle had joined them at the table, a centre-piece of telling significance, its level sinking like sand in an hour-glass.    In the dwindling light of a late summer afternoon the two women faced each other both through it and around it, and the words hung unsaid for a long, long time.

“Lena,”   Eventually breaking the silence, Karen spoke carefully; “The policewoman who came to see me said violent abductions are more likely to happen at the end of the day, you know, after dark?   Disappearances in the morning, well, sometimes there’s a plan, like running away with somebody, or something?   It got me thinking.”    She drained her glass.  “Lena, where’s Peter?”

Karen’s words cut through the gentle gauze of sympathy like a woodman’s axe.  Lena bridled:   “Good god what do you mean?”

“I mean, is he here?”

“Well, no.  He’s away for the weekend.  An old schoolmate is having a bit of a birthday and he’s staying over,”   Lena was brusque;  “My stars, Karen, just now you were censuring him for dumping Melanie, are you now saying he’s abducted her?   That’s nonsense, surely!”

“Am I the only one who’s noticed?  There’s something between Peter and my daughter – something that has nothing to do with relationships.  It’s a sort of connection which I know is there but I can’t put my finger on.  Don’t tell me you haven’t seen it?”

 “Well,”  Lena scrabbled her mobile ‘phone from the worktop beside the ‘fridge and tapped Peter’s speed-dial angrily;  “We’ll find out!”.

In the pause which followed, Karen said:    “You don’t believe they could be together?   I do.   I’ve tried to add up the possibilities, and that is one.  It really is one.”

Faintly, from above them in Peter’s bedroom, they both heard Peter’s ring tone. 

© Frederick Anderson 2021.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Image Credits: Header Image: Sagar Dani from Unsplash

Bottle: Vinotecarium from Pixabay

Continuum – Episode Twenty-Two: An Eyeglass to Infinity

In the previous Episode:

Alanee has pacified Hasuga after what she thinks was a sexual attack, and learned that he wants her to steal one of the High Council’s sacred books for him.  Sensitive to her own danger, she has discussed Hasuga with Sala, who tells her Cassix the Seer is very ill.

When she returns to her apartment, Alanee gets a summons to the watchtower…,

 The arched entry to the watchtower is flanked by a pair of rampant stone lions at least three metres in height.  A planked oak door bars the way.  Alanee knocks, a latch creaks and the door elbows itself out of its jamb.   A face fills the gap thus created.

“Ess?”  The questioner is in military uniform.  He has the blunt head of a Proteian, the missing consonants of an Oceanic, and the hostile look of one who is unappreciative of being disturbed.  “Ess ‘Ady?”

“I have come at Sire Cassix’s bidding.”

“Ave ‘ou now?  He’d be ‘sleep I think.”

Alanee persists.  “He called me less than half an hour ago.  I believe he might be quite annoyed if he learned you’d been difficult.  Let me past.”

“Ess,”  The Proteian with Oceanic tendencies acknowledges:  “’e would.”

“Well?”

“Ess,”  The Proteian concedes:  “Go on, ‘en.”

Alanee shuffles warily past the bulk and odour of the sentry, to embark upon the first of  seven flights of stairs.  Worn stone treads punish her sandaled feet as she climbs, cold walls induce her to shudder in spite of the warmth of her exertions.  By the time she reaches the top she will have counted one hundred and forty steeply raked, sparsely lit stairs.  She will have risen high above the roof of the City.

Her breath is short when at last she ascends into an unfurnished hallway.  Lights made to resemble burning brands are bracketed to naked stone walls, the furthest of which is broken by another door as dauntingly uncompromising as one Alanee remembers all too well, in the vaults below the palace on the day of her introduction to Hasuga.  But this one answers to her hand upon the iron ring of its latch; it creaks open to reveal a few last steps, and what lies beyond would, if she had any left, take her breath away.

The observatory of the watchtower is not large, an area no more than a dozen paces to either hand, a dish, in simple terms, the rim of which is around three feet in height.  The rest; roof and upper walls, is one transparent dome, an eyeglass to the night sky.  And such a night!  A black starscape in which each galactic smear, each delicate pinpoint of light has perfect integrity.  No moon, although she might imagine the brighter planets to be almost as bright, no earthly interference – just heaven, in absolute and utter majesty.

There is little artificial illumination within the watchtower to guide her.  So she hears him first.

“Come here.  Join me.”

That clear, crystalline voice has a resonance she remembers, and it speaks slowly, brittle with pain.

“Sire Cassix?”  A cluster of textiles is heaped on a mattress at the centre of the floor.  Around it, the basic essentials of living:  chairs, a shelf with plates and drinking bowls, a ewer.

“Lie here.”

Closer now: standing over him; her eyes accustoming themselves to the dim light, seeing the muddle of fabrics resolving itself into a shrunken ghost of the man she met in Balkinvel, skin pale, lips cracked, hair in soiled disarray.  Is there nothing left of him?

“My heart, Alanee, has failed the test.  As you see, I am not well.”  A weakened hand pats the mattress at his side.  “Join me, please?”

She does as she is bid, arranging herself so that laid upon her back with her head next to his she must look up into the marvellous vista of night; and this a night she is part of, at one with, floating amidst. 

“Wonderful!”

“Is it not?  Eternity.  Depthless, endless:  distance and time beyond our knowing.”  Cassix shifts his body laboriously.

“You should be in a warmer bed, Sire.”  She tells him.

“This is warm enough, warmer at least than my next bed.  And here I may contemplate the voyage to come.  There is very little time to prepare.  So I called you at this hour.   I hope you are not too annoyed with me?”

“Annoyed with you?”  Alanee replies with a trace of irony,  “How should I be that?  Anyway, I asked to see you, did I not?  Lady Ellar passed on my message?”

“Ellar?  No.  I summoned you for my own reasons.  Tell me now, how do matters proceed with Sire Hasuga?”

She sighs.  Her answer will displease him, she supposes, but there is no point in denying the obvious.  “He is not to be placated, Sire.  I see no way he can be controlled by me.  He is young and set upon asserting his manhood.”

“Of course.”

“You aren’t angry?”  She is surprised by Cassix’s mild reaction.  “I am not succeeding in the task you set me.”

“Really?”  Cassix shifts himself once more.  “I wonder, Alanee, could you fetch me a little water?  The ewer is full.  My lips and mouth are so dry….”

“Yes, Sire, at once.”  Hurrying to her feet, she takes a cup that stands by Cassix’s shoulder, filling it from the ewer.

“You see the two stones beside the jug?  Bring them, too.”

Two ovoid stones,  each in length about five inches; one a refulgent green that shines even in this sparse light, the other a colourless crystal.  She juggles them about with the filled cup until she can carry all three before returning to moisten Cassix’s lips with water.  She helps him raise his head so he may sip from the cup. 

“Alanee, I did not expect you to control Hasuga’s will.  Even to contemplate such a thing would be punishable by exile or death.  We should have moved on from those times, but frightened people have scant regard for progress.  The High Council are very frightened, so they employ the phrase ‘kerb his excesses’ as a compromise:  no more nor less than they have done since time immemorial.  But with Hasuga’s added maturity those excesses will become unmanageable.  For the whole history of time Hasuga has been the player of our music:  now he is the composer.”

“They think he will become a despot.”

“Lady, they know he will.”

“So why did you bring me here?  If not to pacify Hasuga, then what was your reason?”

“One which until now has remained closed in my heart.”  Cassix hoists himself onto his elbows.  The water seems to have revived him a little.  “Take the stones and go to the window; you will  see two cradles there.”

On the sill where the dome and low foundation wall of the Watchtower meet rest two small brackets of black metal, a fraction more than a yard apart.  Each bracket is topped by a horizontal cup about four inches in diameter.

“I see them.”

  Alanee, who has an instinctive dislike of heights, has been avoiding this giddy edge, yet it does not occur to her to disobey.  Tentatively she edges towards the glass, then tests her weight upon the ledge, leaning forward so she may peep over.  For the first time she sees how far above the city she has climbed:  below a mass of lights refract and waver in the rising air. 

“Do exactly as I say – exactly, now, do you hear?.  Place the larger end of the clear stone in the left-hand cup.  Have you done that?”

She affirms that she has.

“Now remove your hand from the clear stone.  Place the green stone in the other cup.  Do not touch both stones simultaneously – do you understand?”

Bemused, she does as she is told.

“Be very careful.  I want you to look out into the eastern sky, Alanee.  Look deeply, find texture, find detail.”

Texture:  what is he talking about?  Has the old man’s mind gone – is he senile or fanciful?  Yet there is a sort of vague meshing effect, a kind of weave – and yes, odd though it may seem, she can see something. 

“You have found it?  You can see the vortex?”  Cassix knows that she can.  “Now put your right hand upon the green stone.”

Alanee does so.

“The other hand upon the clear stone.”

The universe becomes alive – or so she will describe it in some future time when her memory returns to this moment.  A current shooting through every physical and mental corner of her, a charge of such voltage her whole frame is rigid within its grip, as though some infernal angel’s long fingers are reaching in to grip her heart.  So extreme is the sensation her mind is seared free of the watchtower, of Cassix’s distant voice, of the City and all its sights and sounds.

Instead?

Through her arms, her hands, the stones and far, far outwards an intense flare of herself is joined with the firmament:  for a blinding instant she can comprehend what it means to be at one with the stars.  Alanee is the sky – Alanee is the earth – Alanee is melting…melting….

And then – she sees!  The sky is not clear, or majestic, or free.  The heavens are a stirring, rolling ocean of light, waves that flicker and stab, expressing their instability by small flashes of discharging lightning.   There are clouds there; clouds that whirl and twist and there is burning – burning that flares from the dark recesses between the galaxies, hungry orange tongues consuming, devouring, withdrawing once more into mouths deeper than infinity.  A battle of flame and thunder, filled by cries of tortured souls.  She must observe: a spectator at the corrida when the sword strikes home and the horrid fascination as the blood spurts forth; she may not avert her consciousness, may not redirect her inner eye.  She stands mesmerised before a window.  She watches Armageddon.

The experience will end as unexpectedly as it began, whether within a few seconds or an hour Alanee has no idea.  Her hands are released; she may lift them from the stones.  Though her body feels enervated and her knees shake she cannot feel that any harm has befallen her.  When she comes to herself the sky is calm – once again a tapestry of innocent stars.

“What was that?”  Is all she can think of to say.

“I have named it the Continuum.”  Cassix answers.  If she could see his face from where she stands she would see that he is smiling the smile of one whose theory has just been vindicated.  “The Continuum as only you and I may witness it, Alanee.  Every day it grows:  a disturbance in the ether that began less than a generation since, and until a cycle ago no more than a distant maelstrom in the skies of the south-east.  Now – well, you saw its immensity.”

“So, it’s what:  a kind of solar storm, or some form of illusion?  It’s gone now.”

“It is no illusion, and no, it has not ‘gone’- though few can see even a small part of it and none at all without the presence of a Seer, it is real enough:  it is a prophecy.  You saw it:  how did it speak to you?”

“I believe it cut across time.  I don’t know whether I was watching the present, the future or the past.  Is that an answer?”

“A part of an answer.”  Cassix acknowledges.  “The rest will come.”

“I must watch it again?”

“And again, and again and again.  Alanee, now do you see why I brought you to the City?  Do you see what the High Council has missed, what is so far above their heads both physically and conceptually they could never hope to understand?”

“No, Sire.”  Alanee is mystified.  She is sure any reasoning so obscure as to defeat the learned Councillors must be incomprehensible to her poor brain.

“No-one in the City has this gift; no-one attuned to Hasuga’s huge telepathic powers can follow me.  He is in my head now, wrenching, tearing at my inner vision.  You – you can resist that, give him the clear balance he needs and, as we both just witnessed, you have the gift of sight.  Alanee, you are my successor:  you are the next Seer.”

Alanee staggers, almost loses all sensation in her legs.  “Me?  Sire, I am honoured, but….”

“Please do not consider this an honour!”  Cassix’s voice rises.  “There is no honour in this!  There is a great task, a momentous task that comes upon us quick as thunder and neither of us has time to ponder it as we should.  You must accept it and meet it alone.

“The Continuum and Hasuga are associated – linked – one and the same.  I am certain of that.  He must be shown what it will do to the City, Alanee.  It is destruction and it is upon us!”

“Sire I cannot…”

“Don’t try to say no.  You have no choice.  Even from this lofty perch I see the cauldron stirred by those poor, frightened colleagues of mine.  They are not pleased with their new Hasuga, Alanee, and they are equally displeased with you.  Whereas they are compelled by Lore to suffer one, they can dispense with the other.”

Cassix’s voice now has a tired finality. His strength is failing.  “I knew when I first met you:  I knew you were the only possible way forward.  I had planned to take so much longer in training you, in showing you ways through The Lore to grow in your craft.  But Hasuga would not have it so, and my health is forfeit.  You must study the Lore for yourself and you will learn as he wants you to learn, which is how it should be.  Now go. Take the stones, for although you will not always need them you must keep them close to you.  I have to use what time remains to me to ensure your election.”

She would stay, protest further, but one look at that ashen face is enough.  She quietly takes her leave, and with feet scarcely finding the treads and sometimes clinging to the rope that serves as a rail Alanee makes her way down from the sick-room in the sky.

“’Een un then?”  She passes the sentry without noticing, or smelling, his presence – back into the city.

Watching her pass, the sentry scratches himself reflectively, wondering what business so beautiful a woman can have with a sick old man in the early hours.  As she disappears into the bright maw of the Avenues he settles to his nocturnal routine, the pacing discipline which is all that will keep him awake through the watches of the cold hours.  A visitor on this shift is an event: at least now the stillness has returned and he can attune his ears once again to that distant music from the bazaar – music which always plays, no matter what the hour.  The night has not long to go, now.  There should be no more such interruptions.

But out there in the official residences and the resplendent salons of the High Councillors, Altor the Convenor is busy.  Behind the superficial calm a rising tumult; summoners buzzing; mighty heads stirring from their sleep.  Before much longer the sentry’s night will become very eventful indeed.

#

 “You have done what?”  The Domo’s face is purple with anger.  Actually it is also purple with expended effort; the protracted climb to the Watchtower is one he rarely makes, and then always with the assistance of two drabs.  He is not alone in his reaction.  The others present have also vented their disbelief.

“I have nominated the Lady Alanee as my successor to the office of Seer.”  Cassix has been propped up so he may face the assembled gathering, though he is so weak his head can hardly support itself.  “It is my duty and my right.”

“NO!”  Portis cries.  “Seer is an office of the High Council, for Habbach’s sake!  Sire, what on earth possesses you?”

For Trebec the climb has also been an arduous one, and now, in the presence of so many High councillors in so small a space, the heat is stifling.  “This is intolerable.”

“Really my Lord, why?”  Though weak, Cassix’s words command attention.  He has prepared for this battle.  “She alone among you can see The Continuum for what it truly is.”

“This Habmenach-forsaken bloody Continuum again!”  Such expressions of intolerance from the Domo are rare.  “You are not well, Cassix.  You realise we must question your mental state?”

Cassix assents:  “I do.  In a total absence of precedent, though, should you even try?  I have already published my intent and taken the required test for my sanity.”  He nods towards a screen that has been set up beside his pallet.  “The whole city knows, My Lord Domo.”

There ensues one of those pauses wherein no-one feels free to speak, yet such a volume of thoughts fills the space that whole philosophies are wordlessly exchanged.  At length the Domo breaks the silence.

“Well then, we must ratify your choice, Sire Cassix.”

Trebec sounds as if he might explode:  Remis grunts, Ellar says softly:  “Oh, Cassix!”

“It is the Lore.”  The Domo says.  “We must observe the Lore.  Clearly, this is Sire Hasuga’s wish.”

“And where is that wish to take us?”  Ellar demands, ignoring Portis’s warning glance.  “Where?”

The Proctor cannot ignore this.  “Lady Ellar, you are guilty of a blasphemy!”

“Sire Remis!”   Cassix intercedes:  “The lady is a High Councillor elect!  Of course we should – no – we must question where Hasuga is leading us!  I am no longer able to fulfil a role which is vital to us all; a role Alanee can play.  She will show you Hasuga’s intentions Ellar, if you let her.  She might even be able to moderate them, though maybe not in the way you wish.  I repeat to you:  I nominate Lady Alanee as my successor.  She shall be Seer to the High Council.”

There is no more to be said, and if there were Cassix no longer has breath to say it.  His task complete, he sinks back into the cushions that prop his torso erect for this meeting, deflated, spent.  The sight of his decrepitude affects the Domo especially, who lumbers across to him, placing a gentle hand on his forehead with the quiet words:

“It shall be done.  Goodbye, old friend.”

For the others, too, this obvious sign dispels any further wish for argument and each in their turn pay their respects to the great man who has served with them for so many years.  Ellar, last to come to him, feels his touch upon her arm.  Sees, rather than hears him whisper:

“Stay?”

So she waits, listening as he does to the receding quarrels as the rest of the High Council makes its laboured descent back to the City.  Then she sits upon the floor beside him, cradling the man who has loved her, in his patrician way, ever since she met him in the womb of the Palace so many years ago.

“My Lord?”  She asks him softly.

For a moment she thinks he has already embarked upon his journey, but behind the parchment skin a candle of life still flickers.  After a while he speaks.  “Lady.  Take care of Alanee.  You alone.  Understand?”

“That will be hard, Sire.”

“You disapprove of her.”  It is not a question.  He has not time or energy for questions.  “She will need you.  The world will need her.”

“If you wish it, I will do all I can.”

Cassix allows a ghost of a smile to play across his dry lips.  “I know you will.  Ellar?”

“Yes, my Lord?”

“You’ll stay, won’t you?”

“Cassix my dearest, I’m with you always.”

With her arm about his shoulders and her hand clasped over his, Ellar sits with him to wait for the sunrise.  And in the first warm rays of morning, Cassix dies.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

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