Chapter 19: Journey’s End

Chapter 19 of the City of Gargoyles: Book 2 of the Light-Father Trilogy


Chapter 19: Journey’s End
 

    “Lovely,” Ellete beamed, pushing away her ice cream bowl. She then burped as loudly as she could: “Urp! Better out than in!”

    “Ellete, how…” Bordan began then winced: “Gods! I swear your damned elbows are made of steel, Ken… Cassandra,” he grumbled, rubbing at another bruise. “Freda Geowine, we raised you better than this. Where are your table manners?”

     Ellete was about to reply but she shivered violently and wrapped her arms about herself. “Brrr. I feel cold,” she whimpered.

     Kendra checked the other diners and apart from the odd sidelong glance they were ignoring their albino daughter though the waiters and waitresses were still staring at her. She smiled: she could almost hug that obnoxious brat, Cedric, for his antics earlier. “You just froze your head eating that ice cream so quickly.”

    “No, Ma, it’s something I can’t explain. We need to go,” Ellete insisted. “Something’s not right. See? They keep talking about us at the counter and the manager’s there too.”

     Bordan took another bite out of his sandwich and relished another mouthful of coffee before turning to look: “Hmph, whoever thought Asphalt Sovereign coffee could be this good? I think they’re just curious about having a beautiful albino in here. Don’t worry: we’ll be safe enough for now.”

    “I don’t know, Geoffrey,” Kendra smiled, pretending not to look herself. “Two men in suits just arrived. They’ve gone over to talk to the manager and now they’re pointing directly at us. This is more than just Rackgate bumpkins warding off the evil eye. One of them is using one of those mobile phone units.”

     Bordan finished his coffee in a single gulp and hastily wrapped up their remaining sandwiches in serviettes. “Mobiles are used exclusively by the military and the secret services under the Ruhr-Köln Anti-Terrorism Agreement,” he said nervously. “Why are they here? Surely, they can’t be interested in Ellete?”

    “Her craft,” Kendra suggested, keeping her voice down. “The Defence Minister admitted last week that he’d asked Wiccans to work in his clandestine defence units so it’s only natural to assume the secret services would be interested in girls like Ellete.”

    “You might be right. I heard the Mothers turned him down so he plans to legally force them to co-operate but I can’t see his Bill getting through Parliament…”

     “Please, Da, we need to go!” Ellete said urgently. “There’s a voice in my head telling me to tell you there are Order half-tracks coming and a rotor-craft as well.”  

    “What? A Wiccan’s in your head?” Bordan demanded. “Kendra, we have to assume it’s true so put these in your bag – we might not get a chance to eat later! Come on, let’s go!” 

     Kendra stuffed the wrapped sandwiches into her bag and placed the lid on her coffee cup. She bundled up Ellete’s top, hat and glasses then they walked quickly to the main exit but, as they’d feared, the two men had beaten them to the punch and awaited them in the lobby. They made it plain that they were armed.

      The larger of the two showed them his identification badge: “I am Agent Alfreyus of His Britannic Majesty’s secret services and this is Agent Jonarsson,” he said politely. “We were contacted by the Brigstowe police and alerted to the Order’s interest in your daughter: she is striking isn’t she? The manager contacted our Rackgate office as young girls of her… complexion are extremely rare. We also know one of the staff contacted a Father in the Order in Stepperton so they’re on their way here.”

     “We guessed as much,” Bordan scowled. “You have to let us go. We can’t let them take her: she’ll be nothing but an experiment for the rest of her life if they don’t kill her first.” 

     “True, the Order and their Exodus contractors do have certain medical liberties in Britannia, Bordan… yes, Bordan, we do know your names: we’re not stupid, you know. We also have leverage over many people working in Government offices including those like your Mister Henwin, whom we reeled in years ago for his somewhat third-rate forgeries.”

     Bordan’s heart sank: “Ah, so he gave you our registration plate details some time ago?”

     “Indeed, sir,” Jonarsson grinned. “We appreciate it’s not much of a choice but we’d like to train your daughter and employ the two of you. The Wiccans and the Order are your only other options. Be mindful that police officers tend to sympathise with the Order because of the free medical services they provide.”

    “So you’re not going to arrest us?” Kendra prompted anxiously. “Do you mean we’re free to go?”

     Alfreyus rocked his hand from side to side with a pained expression on his face: “Mmm, not exactly: we have considerable discretion in this regard under various Security Acts. We, like you, are apprehensive of the Order and their influence in the world. Rumours of child abductions and experiments are making our masters nervous as do the politicians linked to the Conclave of Architects which, in turn, controls the Upper House. The Wiccans have been warning Ministers for decades about some Armageddon they say the Order is secretly planning but, naturally, nobody in their right mind would ever trust a Wiccan.”

     “Politics,” Jonarsson sighed theatrically. “You see, sir, certain scientists in Exodus have also taken to warning the Cabinet about the Order’s long-term ambitions concerning genetic manipulation and breeding programs so,” he added, indicating Ellete: “We’ve been instructed to investigate both the Order and the Mothers. We believe that your daughter is a craft-wielder as she’s albino and you’ve been keeping her from school…”

    “And your somewhat indiscrete enquiries about the craft were reported to us and the police,” Alfreyus added. “If you come with us you will both be well paid, live in comfortable Government accommodation and you’ll be able to keep in close day-to-day contact with Ellete as she trains with us. What say you?”

     “Well I say…. hello, gentlemen!”

     “I’m sorry, madam, this is Government business: it does not concern you,” Alfreyus said firmly, turning to regard the woman who was smiling up at him. She was dressed in a floral summer frock and her red lipstick was striking against her pale skin and long black, braided hair. “Please go on through to the cafeteria, madam; we’re just leaving. Please have a good day.” 

     “Is it a good day? It’s certainly rather warm and sunny,” she beamed as Kendra and Bordan stared at her. She placed her hand on Ellete’s cheek whose eyes were as wide as saucers: “Ah, Gaia bless you, little Daughter: you recognize me, don’t you? Poor thing: you have such a hard journey ahead of you.”

    “I’m sorry, madam,” Alfreyus huffed, displaying his badge officiously. “But I must insist that you go back inside the building or we’ll have you arrested: this is none of your business.”

    “Oh, but it is my business,” she said, her voice taking on a keen edge. She turned to Bordan: “This is the part where you run!”

     Alfreyus tried to speak but he clutched at his throat. “Seems the cat has got your tongue, young man,” she smiled and turned to Jonarsson who gasped and hastily dropped his firearm as if it was biting his hand. “I can only hold them for a little while, Bordan,” the woman said over her shoulder. “Now go – and don’t go into any more highway stations. Hurry: the Brothers are almost here and I can’t deal with all of them at once!”      

      Bordan fought down his shock and amazement and turned to lead Kendra and Ellete through the main doors and out into the sun-baked car park. The two agents staggered after them but then abruptly sat down on the tarmac with their backs against the wall of the building, their eyes unfocussed and their mouths slack. The woman gave them a wave as they pulled onto the highway.

      Ellete was excited as she clutched her Honey Bear. “That was a Wiccan!” she crowed. “She was using magic!”

      Kendra sighed with relief as they sped away. “That’s the only explanation, Bordan. Those men were like marionettes. How can anyone control another person’s body like that?”

    “Magic, magic, magic,” Ellete burbled happily.

    “She had to be a Wiccan,” Bordan frowned, his knuckles whitening as he grasped the steering wheel. “I don’t know what to make of it.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    “And what did she mean when she said that to Ellete?” Kendra fretted as she turned to look at her daughter who was hugging her stuffed toy with a contented smile on her face. “I’m so worried for her, dear heart: are we on this hard journey she spoke of now or is there a worse fate awaiting her?”

     Two black Order half-tracks roared by on the other side of the road their lights ablaze and sirens howling. Bordan glanced over his shoulder to see Ellete hiding in the foot-well. “I honestly don’t know, Kendra, I honestly don’t know. We’re low on fuel but we should be able to make it to a garage I know in Stepperton and there’s a small back road near it that heads north towards Apulder. We can bypass Beorminghas completely and we could cut west to Accyngate and drop south into Crawcester if we need to.”

    “What’s the point? We’re fugitives with forged, useless identity papers,” Kendra sighed, leaning her head against the window in despair: “We’re completely on our own!”

     “You have me and Honey Bear!” Ellete chirped.

    “That we do, Ellete,” Bordan said with forced cheerfulness. “With you and Honey Bear we have nothing to worry about!”

    An hour later, after refuelling at a sleepy backwater garage, they were on the narrow country road north of Stepperton heading for the ancient market town of Apulder set deep in the rural areas away from the sprawling Middle Cities. Bordan pulled into a lay-by near the hamlet of Bexley and killed the engine. “I need to take a break,” he explained so they climbed over a style into a meadow that sloped away from them and sat down on a blanket to finish their sandwiches. They enjoyed the view as Kendra shared the last of her cold coffee with Bordan and Ellete made daisy-chains by an ancient   stone monument called a cruagrac set in the meadow to their south and covered with weathered Celtic carvings.

    The sun was beating down and it felt as though they were a million miles from Brigstowe and all their troubles. The silence was near perfect as birds sang, bees buzzed about them and a breeze lifted dandelion seeds high into the air. Bordan laid down on the blanket with his hands behind his head to stare up the complex wisps of cirrus. “I wish we could stay here forever,” he sighed but his bliss was short-lived as they could hear a vehicle approaching rapidly from the south.

    “I don’t believe it!” Kendra wailed. “Can’t we have just a moment’s peace to ourselves?”

   “Curse me for being an idiot,” Bordan growled, gathering up the blanket. “Kack, they’re stopping! Quickly, we’ll hide behind the hedge up there in case it’s Alfreyus or the police.”

    “Ellete doesn’t seem worried,” Kendra pointed out. “Maybe they’re just tourists stopping to see the monument.”

    “With our luck, I doubt it. Ellete! Come here now!”

    Ellete shook her head. “A voice is telling me to stay here and hide behind this rock thing. I’ll be safe here.”

   “Oh, God’s the Wiccan’s in her head again!” Kendra moaned.

    Bordan peered through the hedge to see three armed police officers inspecting the car. “Keep calm and follow my lead: they’ll be looking for an albino child not a couple of locals.”

   An officer climbed the style and spotted them straight away. “Is this your car, sir?” he demanded, removing the strap on his holster. “Only there’s a call out on the registration plates.”     

    Bordan threw his hands up. “No, officer, we’re from Mancetta the next village over. It’s my day off and we’re walking the field paths to Ansley. We’re planning an anniversary meal in the tavern at the crossroads: the Fox and Hares.”

    The officer relaxed and smiled. “I see. Did you see anyone leave this vehicle? Was there anyone on the path? We’re looking for a couple with a small child who’s an albino.”

    “An albino?” Bordan asked. “By the Bones of Saint Lucius, that’s a rare thing to be looking for! We haven’t seen anyone and certainly not an albino!”

    “Why are you carrying a blanket?” a second officer asked.

 Kendra looked coy: “Um, it’s our anniversary and we… um, you understand… out here in the fields… we…”

    The officer reddened and the other laughed at him and nudged him in the ribs. “That’s very, um, romantic. Just keep an eye out for the fugitives. They’ve abandoned their car but they can’t have gotten far and they may be dangerous.”

    “Worse than Cymrig brigands,” the other officer added.

    “They’ll be making for the railway station in Mancetta,” the third officer suggested. “They know their vehicle registration has been identified. I’ll guard the car while you two head on down the road.” He turned to Bordan. “I suggest you don’t keep your wife waiting for that anniversary meal, sir. I’m married and the last time I forgot an anniversary, she didn’t speak to me for three weeks. Mind you, the first two weeks was a blessing,” he laughed. “Sorry, madam, just my little jest! Well, off you go and enjoy your meal. Blessings be upon your anniversary.”

    Bordan bowed and took Kendra’s hand and they headed south, along the hedge with his heart hammering in his chest. Kendra was squeezing his hand painfully tight as they walked slowly and calmly away from the officers one of whom was sat on the style and watching them. She was shaking and fighting down great choking sobs of fear and loss. In a few short hours it had come to this: they had nothing left but a handful of banknotes and the clothes they were wearing whilst walking in a meadow in warm sunshine beneath an impossibly blue sky.

    They passed the monument and she risked looking back at Ellete who was sitting cross-legged out of sight of the officers with a little crown of daisies on her head and clutching her Honey Bear with a strange smile upon her face. Behind her it looked as though the circle of prostrate Celtic figures carved upon the stone were all worshipping her as a goddess adding to the surreal quality of their situation. Then a shot rang out and she thought her heart would stop such was the fright she felt. She sagged to her knees and Bordan had to roughly haul her to her feet to face the three officers who were striding towards them with their firearms drawn.

    “Wise decision,” the first officer said as they raised their hands.

     “You must think we Middle Cities officers are country yokels,” the second officer snarled. “Your descriptions just came through. Get down on the ground the pair of you. We need to do a body search for weapons and any drugs you might have.”

    The third officer threw Bordan to the ground roughly and as the other two pointed their weapons at Kendra, he pulled Bordan’s arms behind his back and handcuffed him. Kendra stepped forward to assist her husband but she was backhanded across the face by the second officer and knocked to the ground where she suffered the same indignity with blood trickling from a split lip.

    The second officer knelt down, grabbed a handful of hair and yanked Bordan’s head back. “Gods above, you bastard, you two were laughing at us back at the style, weren’t you? It’s lucky the secret services want you in one piece or we’d be beating the life out of you right now. Now, where have you hidden your little freak of a daughter? Where is she?”

    “B-by the stone, officer, but please don’t hurt her: she’s only a child and an innocent in all this.”

   “Ah, there she is,” the second officer smiled and stood up. “No wonder we couldn’t see you: all white against a white stone in the sunlight. Gods save us, look at those devil-eyes of hers.”

    “Quite the freak,” the third officer laughed. “Well, little demon-brat? Shall we give you to the secret services or to the Order? Better not: their surgeons would probably put you in a jar!”  

    Bordan and Kendra despaired but they then frowned in puzzlement as Ellete’s smile did not waver an inch as she stared at the three officers two of whom were aiming their weapons at her. She held out her right hand with her palm facing them and tilted her head to the left a little. “Fire,” she said.

    Instinctively, Kendra and Bordan averted their faces and a split-second later they felt an intense pulse of heat. There were no sounds but birdsong, the breeze amongst the nearby trees, distant police sirens and a rotor-craft circling far to the south.

    “What in the name of all that is sacred just happened?” Bordan gasped, rolling onto his side. Ellete was still seated by the stone as she grinned and gave him a little wave. A fine ash was drifting down around them or floating away on the gentle breeze and there was a stench of scorched human flesh and cloth. He saw three red glowing pools of metal nearby and knew that these were once the firearms of the three officers. “What did you do, Ellete?”

    Ellete shrugged and said nothing but hugged her Honey Bear tightly. She leant against the stone with her eyes closed and then slumped sideways to the ground completely unconscious. “Ellete!” Kendra cried out hysterically. “Ellete! Dear heart? Are you alright? Speak to me! Can you hear me? Ellete!”

    As they lay there helpless, the horror of what had just happened began to dawn upon them. Kendra licked her torn lip and spat out some blood. “She killed them, Bordan!” she shrieked. “She turned them into a cloud of ash in an instant! Oh, my God,” she moaned. “Oh, my God, save my little girl! This can’t be happening! Oh, my God, spare my little girl! God, she can’t be a Wiccan!”

    “Unh!” Bordan grunted as he struggled up into a sitting position to stare at Ellete. “She looks as though she’s sleeping it off,” he said with some relief. “But there’s no doubt about her power. Her element must be fire and it called to her.” He hung his head and wept bitterly: “Oh, Ellete, what in God’s name are we going to do? How can we save you now?”

    From the corner of his eye he could see a figure climbing the style on the other side of the meadow and coming up the slope towards them. As she approached, he recognised the woman from the Rackgate cafeteria: “Hera?” he exclaimed in disbelief.

    “Hello, Geoffrey or should I say Bordan?” she smiled. “We’re parked on the other side of the woods over there on the Bethlehem Road. Stay where you are. I’ll get the handcuff keys from the police car. I know where to look: she told me.”

    Within a minute, Hera was back to unlock the handcuffs and give Kendra a handkerchief to mop the blood from her lips and chin. “I don’t understand?” Kendra said groggily, holding her head as the blow had been quite heavy. “Why are you here? I thought you were all heading to the Tamemere amusement parks. Bordan? Can you check Ellete? See if she’s alright.”

    “Oh, she’s just exhausted, the poor thing,” Hera said, her face grim: “You see, we owe the Mothers a favour. I lied earlier: we do have a daughter whom they took from our hands as her craft manifested. We were stopped at the fuel pumps at Rackgate when one of the Mothers approached us and told us to come here. She was wearing this pretty summer dress and she had long black hair all tied in braids. Did you meet her?” 

    Bordan had picked up Ellete and sat down next to Kendra to cradle her sleeping body in his arms. “Yes, we did. Ellete seems fine but she’s sleeping deeply. Is this what happened to your daughter when her powers went out of control?”

    Hera sat down next to them. “I’m sorry about all the mud on me,” she apologised. “I’m not really dressed for walking across the fields like this but we haven’t got long to wait. Yes, it happened to her and the Mothers told us that her element, water, had called to her because the next thing we knew water exploded into the house from under the ground and all the water mains in our parish in Accyngate burst. Her power was incredible and we couldn’t handle it just as you can’t handle Ellete’s craft now.”

    “You must have known she was marked?” Bordan asked.

    “Oh, we’d seen it and prayed and prayed we were mistaken. After she’d been taken from us, the Order made our lives a misery with their enquiries and always taking blood samples. They play the angel in the hospitals but there’s something not right in the way they treat people: they think they’re so superior to us.”

    “So did you see her again?” Kendra demanded, stroking Ellete’s silky white hair as she snored gently. 

    “Bless her, she looks so peaceful,” Hera sighed. “Yes we saw her a few times after they renamed her Clover but she was so distant. It was as if she barely remembered us at all. Poor Aaron and the older boys were heartbroken and Cedric’s behaviour became difficult but he can be an angel and a very good actor.”

    “What do you mean by actor?” Bordan exclaimed. “He was a little monster in that cafeteria!”

    “I must confess that his tripping the waiter up was no accident,” Hera admitted guiltily. “The Mother wanted to see if Ellete’s craft was starting to manifest before she took action. Once she saw those cups hovering in the air above the table, she knew your daughter was about to be called by her element but certain events had to play out according to her visions.”

    “What do you mean? Play out?” Kendra demanded angrily.

   “The Mother who stopped us is a seer,” Hera explained, gazing at the carvings in the nearby monument. “You had to be in a field away from a town or a village and you had to see her power unleashed. She knew these three officers were destined to die today but if Ellete had awoken in an urban environment, she would have killed dozens if not hundreds of people!”

    She looked candidly at them as another vehicle pulled into the lay-by and a door slammed. “You know this is where you part with your daughter, don’t you?” she said sadly. “You two will come with us and we’ll take you to Accyngate. Aaron is well-connected and we can hide you there. Take what you need from your car but you’ll have to leave it here. What happened here will become a mystery in the sensationalist press. The Mother told us that the exposure will make the police and secret services leave you alone and all sorts of conspiracy theories will circulate so that even the Order and Exodus will stop searching for you.”

   Bordan cried openly so that tears fell upon Ellete’s face making her stir a little. “Please! We can’t give our little girl up and never see her again.” He turned as a woman stood next to him. “You!” he said angrily, looking up at her. “You planned this!”

     Gone was the floral dress and smile and their place was a grim middle-aged woman in the traditional costume of the Wiccans based on the mockery of the traditional garb of the misogynistic Conclave of Architects. She held a black staff with a silver swan as its ornament and the wings outstretched so that the design resembled an Egyptian ankh. “I am Mother Moss,” she said. “I have come to take Ellete and keep her safe. You can try and stop me taking her but I advise you not to. You have seen her full power and you know in your hearts that great tragedy will befall others should your love for her outweigh your wisdom.”

    Kendra’s shoulders slumped and she too wept. “Is this her hard journey then?” she said as Ellete stirred and raised a hand to touch her mother’s cheek. “We have to let her go?”

    “She will do great things with her powers in the darkness I foresee where the heavens tremble and Gaia falls. Fear not: you both will flourish and bear two more wonderful daughters and be with them at the End of All Things. Go with Hera and her family: let them shelter you and give you a new home.”

    She handed Hera her staff and bent down to lift Ellete effortlessly from Bordan’s unresisting arms. “Follow me, Hera: you can get their belongings from the car for them. I think they need a moment to themselves.”

    As the women walked towards the style, Bordan and Kendra saw Ellete wave at them then she rested her head upon the Mother’s shoulder and closed her eyes. Bordan crawled across to Kendra to hold her in his arms and together they grieved for their daughter and howled wordlessly at the injustice of the universe.

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(c) 2019 Paul D E Mitchell  PRS and other copyrights protected. 

Reproduction and retransmission strictly forbidden without written consent. 

 

© mitch 2019
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