Chapter 11: Pillar to Post
Chapter 11 from the City of Gargoyles – Sequel to the Light-Father. Ellete’s parents flee the Order in Brigstowe only to meet a police cordon where ill omens await them.
Chapter 11: Pillar To Post
Nightshade fell silent as a great swathe of hailstones clattered upon the stonework. 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 deep and natural empathy that Nightshade smiled.
“Bordan and Kendra sound like wonderful parents,” she sighed. “I cannot recall my parents’ faces as I had so few years but I remember being loved. I still remember the sun in our garden, music and a tent full of roast chicken and cake…”
Nightshade embraced her, set her mouse-ears straight and placed a hand upon her face. “Dear heart, I also remember them from the perspective of a child: I was so 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’d put me down and I’d be all dizzy.”
“Me too,” Mouse sighed. “So what happened next? Did the Order and those constables catch you?”
“Shh!” Nightshade commanded, putting a finger to Mouse’s lips. “Let me listen. Ah, Ivy has just met our two little whisperers and Amos has declared his love for Fria.” Another rare smile graced her perfect features. “Well, Gaia be praised: Cupid’s arrows still fly true in this ruined world of ours.”
“Pfft!” Mouse huffed. “You’d 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.”
“She’s finally seen past his scar and forgiven him for how he was – this is the Light-Father’s magic at work, Mouse. This Harold Porter is a remarkable man.”
“Please tell me your story,” Mouse begged. “You can’t just end it with you all trapped in the house!”
“Well, as I said, my parents had always expected the worst and so they were well prepared for that day…”
“Kendra! You must 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 an ankle!” she whimpered as she trembled, clinging to the stonework.
Bordan cursed silently about his decision to brick up the garden door leading into the lane some months ago after youths had crept into their garden to throw bricks through the windows one night. He climbed up onto the water-butt then, straddling the ten-foot high stone wall, 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 floor. 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 ‘eep!’ 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 now. 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: whoever is in charge must have believed that we’d simply wait in the house to be taken.”
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 to their font door: it was ten minutes every day that was now 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.
“Listen to the birds singing,” she sighed. “Everything is so peaceful only I will never see my friends again. Oh, Bordan, what are we going to do now?”
“What we’ve always planned to do,” he said a little sharply. “We are going to survive and protect our daughter. Now, for the love of all the holy saints, get into the accursed car!”
“Patience,” she retorted angrily. “You don’t need to 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 cannot go to our families as we will put them all in danger from the Order and from the police. You know what the Government really thinks about the craft.”
“Yet history shames them and stays their hand,” 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 such an enlightened Britannia.” He turned his head to look at Ellete who was whimpering at the sharp edges to their voices. “I am sorry if this is frightening you, Ellete, but we are going on an adventure.”
“But you’re shouting at each other!” she whimpered.
“I know, dear heart, but we’re frightened too. If we weren’t afraid 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. Why don’t you 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 could not 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. “Look, you must find the strength to endure for Ellete’s sake. We have no choice: we cannot give her to the Wiccans and somehow return to our jobs and our friends as if nothing had happened.”
“I will 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 for they are all very powerful.”
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 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 name and address?”
“How can it be otherwise? It’s the law!”
“No, it’s registered to a fictional teacher in Brigstowe. It’s easy enough to do when you work in the records offices! Stephen Henwin forged the registration 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 and a birth certificate for Ellete. Her jaw dropped. “Blessed Mary, I didn’t know you were this prepared!” she gasped. “You could have 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 did not transfer any money – I set it up with cash. They have only begun to computerise bank systems in Britannia so they will never 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 have told me.”
“I wanted to, Kendra, but I couldn’t risk you letting it slip to your friends over coffee and cards. But,” he sighed. “I really wish it were otherwise.” He glanced over his shoulder at Ellete who was playing happily with her Honey Bear. “We will 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 decided. “And make up. She has only four years but she is so clever so I’m sure she’ll be fine. We can say her eyes were injured and that she cannot bear bright lights. We must be careful: Brigstowe was bad enough but superstitions about albinos are still strong in the villages and hamlets.”
He nodded. “I know but the make-up should work. Ah, look, we are in the countryside already. I feel better putting the city behind us and I may not even miss my job,” he smiled.
“So will we take one of the Arthburg ferries?”
He pursed his lips then shook his head: “No, the police and the Order watch the ports and the coast police there are extremely vigilant – even these papers won’t fool them for long. We will take the road to Caerhold then the Bede Road, swing north up to Rackgate and head west through Beorminghas to Crawcester. They won’t expect us to hide in one of the Middle Cities.”
“It’s a pity we can’t hide in Anseld or Edelinggeg or even Fellholm. For all their desolation, we would be safe there.”
“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 if they found her out. 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 coming. I can feel it.”
“Kack!” Bordan exclaimed. “A road block! Police and a half-track from the Order. They’re stopping everybody.”
“The Order? Do you think they’re looking for us?”
“No but I don’t know why the Order is with them; I’ve never heard of this happening before.” He pulled the car in behind a line of thirty or so vehicles and stopped, his knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. “We have time, Kendra. Quickly, 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. “Mummy is going to give you a tan and we are going to pretend that you’re a little girl called Freda Geowine. Mummy will be Cassandra Geowine and I will be Geoffrey Geowine. Do you understand? It’s important.”
“Yes, Da,” Ellete nodded excitedly. “Like in a movie?
“Clever girl,” 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 adding a little snoring.
“Isn’t she something?” 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 and rapped on Bordan’s window as Kendra hid her make-up bag, “Papers, please,” he said curtly, holding out a large hand.
Bordan complied and as the officer checked the forged documents he tried to strike up a conversation: “It’s too warm a day to be out in the sun, officer. Are you looking for terrorists?”
“As you will have heard from the newscasts, sir,” the officer replied patiently. “There have been six murders in Arthburg and one in Milverburg. We think that a Heofland gang is operating in the area which is why the priests are here.”
“I’m sorry,” Bordan said, perplexed. “Why would the Order be interested in a few cut-throats from Heofland?”
The officer relaxed and handed the papers back. “Genetic contamination or so they claim. Heofland is a dangerous place and God alone knows what goes on in those Black Valleys. These gangs are desperate so be on your guard, sir.”
“I see,” Bordan said, barely able to contain his relief. “We are going to Beorminghas to see family and friends so I hope you catch them. Is that city free of these villains?”
“Only the local scoundrels to worry about there, sir,” the officer smiled. “Don’t you worry, sir, we in the Southern Cities Police Force are closing in on them so it will be safe for your return journey. This Father from the Order will wish to speak with you,” he shrugged. “As you know, they have 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 drive!”
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 and stopped him. After a brief conversation with the officer, he came up to the car and bent down to gaze past Bordan at the sleeping Ellete. “What a pretty child,” he murmured approvingly. “I am sorry to burden you, Mr Geowine, but we are surveying the racial and medical characteristics of the Southern Cities. As we may now find some rare Cymrig brigands to study, I am afraid we have taken full advantage of this police cordon to carry out our important work.”
“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 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-stretched seconds. “Please forgive my lack of manners, Mr Geowine,” he said finally with a brief bow. “You may call me Schimrian, Father Schimrian, and may it please you to know that I am ever at your service.”