Chapter 11: From Pillar to Post
Chapter 11 of the City of Gargoyles – Second Book in the Light Father Trilogy Nightingale’s parents flee the Order and the police in Brigstowe to save their albino daughter only to meet a police cordon where ill omens await them…
From Pillar to Post
Nightshade fell silent as a great swathe of hail clattered upon the flagstones. Mouse looked up at the enigmatic Wiccan, who was lost in thought, her red irises unfocussed as long-buried memories resurfaced and tears mingled with the rain upon her face. Mouse wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged her, driven by such a deep, natural empathy that Nightshade eventually smiled.
“Bordan and Kendra sound like wonderful parents,” Mouse said. “I can’t recall my parents’ faces as I had so few years but I do remember being loved. I still remember the sun in our garden, music and marquees full of roast chicken and cake…”
Nightshade embraced her, set her mouse-ears straight and placed a hand upon her cheek. “Dear heart, I too remember mine from the perspective of a child: I was small and they were giants bending down to whisk me up into the sky and swing me round and round and round while I laughed like a jester and then they would put me down and I would be so dizzy!”
“Me too,” Mouse smiled wistfully. “So what happened next? Did the Order and those constables catch you?”
“Shh!” Nightshade commanded, putting a finger to Mouse’s lips. “I’m far-speaking! Ah, Ivy has just met our two stone ghosts and ah hah! Amos has declared his love for Fria.” Another broad smile graced her perfect features. “Praise the Triple Goddess! Cupid’s arrows still fly true in this ruined world of ours.”
“Pfft!” Mouse huffed. “You would have to be as dull as ditch water not to see them blush whenever they’re close to each other. What does she see in a lizard like him? All he used to think about was his scar and killing Tally-men. He was so cruel to her and Surl when we lived in that shop in Crawcester.”
“Surl sees past his scar and forgives him for how he behaved – this is the Light-Father’s magic at work, Mouse. This Harold Porter is truly a most remarkable man.”
“Please tell me the rest of your story,” Mouse begged. “You can’t end it with you trapped in the house!”
“Well, as I said, my parents had always expected the worst and so they were well prepared that day…”
“Kendra! You have to let go of the wall and drop down into the lane. I can hear them knocking at the front door!”
“I can’t, Bordan! It’s too far down. I’ll break my ankle!” she whimpered, clinging desperately to the capstones.
Bordan silently cursed his decision to brick up the lane access door some months ago after some youths had crept into their garden to throw bricks through Ellete’s bedroom window. He climbed up onto the garden water-butt and straddled the eight-foot high stone wall then he firmly prised her fingers free and lowered her gently down, wrenching his back in the process. It was a mere three feet below her flailing heels but to his terrified and disoriented wife, it was an abyss.
The two suitcases were perched on wooden crates next to the water butt so he grabbed them and dropped them down to his wife almost knocking her to the tarmac. He jumped down off the water butt to sweep Ellete up in one strong arm and, hissing with pain from his protesting back muscles, he scrambled back up the wall and passed her down into Kendra’s waiting embrace.
Ellete’s eyes were saucer-wide with fear but she uttered nothing more than a muffled ‘eek!’ into her mother’s bosom.
Bordan rolled over the capstones on his stomach and dropped down into the lane, jarring his back again. “Ach! Listen!” he hissed through clenched teeth. “They’re smashing through the barricade. We have got to get to my car in Silversmith Road. Down this side alley, quickly now, before they send men round to cut us off. The Fates favour us today: they expected us to wait in the house like lambs for the slaughter!”
He grabbed the suitcases and with Kendra carrying Ellete, they emerged from the gloom of the side-alley, which was cluttered and overgrown, into the bright sunlight of Silversmith Street. Bordan allowed himself a split-second of self-congratulation for always parking his car here and walking around to their front door: it was ten minutes every day that was now very well spent indeed.
The street itself was empty of folk as most of its inhabitants were at work or in school and only the traditional gargoyles and carvings that ornamented the houses frowned down upon them. Kendra put Ellete into the back seat and strapped her in as Bordan loaded the suitcases into the trunk. She was about to climb into the passenger seat when she stopped to gaze around her beloved neighbourhood, burning it into her memory.
“Hark at the birds singing,” she said, fighting back tears. “Everything is so peaceful here but now I’ll never see my friends again. Oh, Bordan, what are we going to do?”
“What we’ve always planned to do,” he said a little sharply. “We’re going to survive and protect our daughter. Now, for the love of all the holy saints, get into the car!”
“Patience,” she retorted angrily. “Do not play the déofolscín with me, husband! We’ve lost everything.”
“But not our lives, Kendra,” he said, strapping himself in. “Where beats a human heart, there beat the wings of hope.”
“Quoting song lyrics doesn’t help,” she snapped, slamming the car door. “We can’t go to our families as we’ll put them in danger from the Order and the police. You know what the Government really thinks about the craft!”
“History shames them and stays their hand these days,” Bordan grunted sarcastically as he gunned the engine into life. “They tolerate the Wiccans even though the Order whispers acid into the ears of politicians who know full well that burning women alive at the stake is no longer acceptable in our ‘enlightened’ age.” He turned his head to look at Ellete who was whimpering at the sharp edges to their voices. “I’m sorry if this is frightening you, Ellete, but we are going on an adventure.”
“But you keep shouting at each other!” she grizzled.
“I know we are, Ellete, but we’re scared too. If we weren’t a little bit scared then it wouldn’t be an adventure now would it? Listen, I have something for you I bought yesterday. It’s in that bag next to you. You can open it while I drive the car.”
As the car pulled away from the kerb, Ellete pulled out a stuffed toy. “It’s a Honey Bear!” she squeaked happily, squeezing it. “Thanks, Da! I love Honey Bears!”
“Well, you wanted one last Christmas but I couldn’t find one in the shops. You‘ll need something like him to cuddle as we have a long trip ahead of us.” He turned to Kendra, who was cradling her face in her hands and weeping silently from shock and fear, and placed a hand on her shoulder: “Look, you have to find the strength to endure for Ellete’s sake. We have no choice: we cannot give her to the Wiccans and magically return to our jobs and our friends as if nothing had happened.”
“I’ll miss Brigstowe,” she said miserably. “All our family and friends live here. Our parents and grandparents lived here. Where can we go? The police or the Order or the Architects will find us: they’re powerful and their eyes and ears are everywhere.”
A faint smile touched Bordan’s lips. “Oh, you wound me so, dear heart. I work for the Government, remember? I know exactly how the police and the intelligence services operate and what legal constraints are placed upon the Order.”
“What do you mean?” Kendra asked suspiciously.
“Well, for one: do you think the registration plates on this car match my real name and address?”
“How can it be otherwise? It’s the law!”
“No, it’s registered to a fictional teacher in Brigstowe. Stephen Henwin forged the registration documents for me.”
Kendra exhaled noisily. “And no doubt your artist friend, Dunstan, has painted us new identity papers? What about our social registration and tax documentation?”
“Check the glove compartment.”
Kendra did so and found two sets of papers plus a false birth certificate for Ellete. Her jaw dropped. “Blessed Mary, I never suspected you were this prepared!” she gasped. “You could’ve picked a better name for me than Cassandra Geowine!”
“We even have our own bank account but there is only enough in there for two months at best and yes, I didn’t transfer any money from our account; I set it up with cash. They’ve only begun to computerise the bank systems so it’ll be hard to trace us.”
“You told me you were demoted last year!” she said angrily. “So that’s where all the money has been going while we were going short! You could’ve told me.”
“I wanted to, Kendra, believe me, but I couldn’t risk you letting it slip to your friends over coffees and card games,” he sighed resignedly. “I hope you can forgive me.” He glanced over his shoulder at Ellete who was playing contentedly with her Honey Bear. “We’ll have to dye her hair but I don’t know what we can do about her eyes and that snow white skin of hers.”
“Dark glasses,” Kendra suggested. “And make up. She has only six years but she’s so clever that I’m sure she’ll be fine. We can say her eyes were injured by an accident or an illness and that she cannot bear bright lights. We must be careful: superstitions and rumours about albinos are rife in the villages.”
He nodded. “I know but the make-up should work. Ah, look, we’re in the countryside already. I feel much better putting the city behind us,” he smiled with relief. He checked the rear mirror again but the road behind them was eerily empty of traffic.
“Will we take one of the Arthburg ferries?”
He sucked at tooth, deep in thought. “No,” he said eventually. “The police and the Order watch all the estuary ports and the coast police there are extremely vigilant – even those papers will not fool them for long. We’ll take the road to Caerhold then get onto the Bede Road, swing north through Rackgate, head west through Beorminghas and on to Crawcester. They’ll not expect us to hide in plain sight in one of the Middle Cities.”
“It’s a pity we can’t hide in Anseld or Edelinggeg or even in Fellholm. They’re so isolated we’d be safe there.”
“When our money runs out, we can’t eat dirt no matter how safe we are.” Bordan said patiently. “Besides, strange and desperate folk dwell on those islands and who knows what they would do to Ellete. My colleagues reckon that centuries of in-breeding have left them eternally wary of ‘in-comers’ and ‘mainlanders’ as they call us. We might try Epstall or some of the other quieter coastal villages if Crawcester doesn’t work out.”
“Da, you and Ma need to be careful,” Ellete said suddenly, her eyes closed. “Something bad is waiting for us. I can feel it.”
“Kack!” Bordan exclaimed. “A road block: police and a half-track from the Order. They’re stopping everybody.”
“The Order?” Kendra exclaimed in horror. “Surely, they can’t have had the time to organise roadblocks to stop us?”
“Impossible but I’ve never heard of the Order and police forces collaborating like this before.” He pulled the car in behind a line of thirty or so vehicles and stopped, his knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. “We still have time, Kendra. Pile her hair up under a hat and put on that make-up. Don’t hesitate, just do it! Ellete?” he said over his shoulder. “Ma is going to give you a tan and we’re going to pretend that you’re a little girl called Freda Geowine. Ma will be Cassandra Geowine and I’ll be Geoffrey Geowine. Do you understand? It’s important.”
“Yes, Da,” Ellete nodded excitedly. “We’re going to be like actors in a play?”
“Clever girl, that’s right,” Kendra approved, climbing into the back seat. She quickly stuffed the little girl’s snow-white hair under a bobble-hat and applied hints of make-up to bring a touch of colour to her cheeks. “Now, when the police talk to us, pretend to be asleep. Do not open your eyes or they will see your red irises. Keep them shut whatever happens. Promise?”
“Yes, Ma,” she smiled and immediately pretended to be asleep even to the point of faking a little snoring.
“She’s adorable!” Bordan laughed despite the seriousness of their situation. He re-started the engine and rolled the car forward twenty yards. “There are dozens of police checking drivers so the line is moving quickly. Get ready: here they come.”
A black-uniformed officer approached the car as Kendra quickly hid her make-up bag. “Papers, please,” he said curtly, holding out a large gloved hand.
Bordan complied and as the bored officer checked the forged documents he tried to strike up a conversation: “It’s too warm to be out in this sun, officer. Are you looking for terrorists?”
“As you’ll no doubt have heard from the newscasts, sir,” the officer replied patiently. “There have been six unsolved robberies and murders in Arthburg and one in Milverburg. Some of the murders were gruesome to say the least; pretty ritualistic in fact so we think a Heofland gang is responsible.”
“I’m sorry to hear this,” Bordan said, perplexed. “Why would the Order be interested in a few cut-throats from Heofland?”
The officer relaxed and handed the papers back. “Heofland is a dangerous place and God alone knows what goes on in those Black Valleys so the Brothers claim they have an urgent need to study their genes for mutations and resistance to diseases.”
“I see,” Bordan said, trying to calm his jangled nerves. “We’re going to Beorminghas to see family and friends so I hope you catch them. Do you know if that city is free of these villains?”
“Only the local scoundrels and the Aldermen to worry about there, sir,” the officer smiled. “Worry not for we in the Southern Cities Police Force will catch these brigands before the day is out. This Father from the Order wishes to speak with you,” he shrugged. “As you know, the Government has granted them medical priority over all things genetic in Britannia.”
He paused to look into the back seat and grinned approvingly. “At least your little one is a blessing: nothing worse than a whining brat on a long car journey!”
He went back towards the cordon but a Father, dressed in the shortened field robes and grey hooded scapular of the Order, strode forward with clipboard in hand and stopped him. After a brief conversation, the Father came up to the car and bent down to gaze past Bordan at the sleeping Ellete. “What a pretty child,” he murmured with evident disinterest. “I’m sorry to burden you and your loved ones, Mister Geowine, but we are surveying the current racial and medical characteristics of the Southern Cities. I wonder if I could take some family details of you and your wife.”
“Certainly, Father,” Bordan said, gazing up into the impassive face of the cleric and noting the mirthless eyes, thin lips, the long, sharp nose and receding hairline. “My family is grateful for the medical services the Order bestows upon us and we are only to glad to repay that blessing but you have me at a disadvantage: do you have a name, Father?”
The Father stroked his short black goatee beard and peered over his prince-nez glasses into Bordan’s eyes for several eternity-stretching seconds. “Please forgive my lack of manners, Mister Geowine,” he said formally with a brief bow. “You may call me Schimrian, Father Schimrian, and may it please you to know that I am forever at your service.”
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