Chapter 17 here … Chapter 19 here
A young man checked his shock of fairish red hair in the mirror and as his eyes stared back at him, he wondered about himself.
He’d entered upon his public life not long ago, with pronouncements on the growing crisis in the middle-east and what he’d had to say, in one so young, appeared to make eminent sense.
He was also coming to terms with the paparazzi but enough was enough for one day and so here he was, missing his younger brother and pondering how to put in the evening. There were the girls, of course, but they merely passed the time. He had no great regard for girls as a species and the girl whom the nation thought his true love had been married in a mega-spectacle, the world was eating out of their hands, she loved hi to bits but still he was troubled.
He’d seen and read it all – all the commentaries, all the speculation, even the scurrilous articles about his hybrid antecedents; even his grandparents had got in on the act, tracing his lineage back to an ancient tribe. He looked more closely at the eyes in the mirror.
No, there was nothing untoward there – just another young man making his way in the world, working in the Air Force, mixing, clubbing, partying, the usual sort of thing - well, less of the latter more recently. The unpleasant world scene was hardly his concern, was it? And yet he’d put a simple plan to them today; they could take it or leave it.
His driver turned the Bentley into the grounds of Glastonbury.
Emma, Sophie and Hugh were called to Har Megiddon.
As if they were taxis, three sedans pulled up at the lower end of their road and the six bearers simply waited. Emma and Sophie, along with a bag of paraphernalia, entered the first sedan, the Shayk entered the second and Hugh the last.
Then came the winding, long passage down the hill, coming out onto a small yet broad ridge, where was waiting a metallic-burnt-gold, airconditioned Volvo S80. Hugh was directed to the front; Mowafak Tarif and the females went to the rear.
The car made its way onto the main route heading for the Via Maris and they were able to observe the Esdraelon Valley in greater detail, Mount Carmel behind them, Megiddo over by the horizon, Mount Tabor – they were impressed by the fertility of the valley – the endless cropped land, the low lying settlements here and there around the edge, the lake just north of Megiddo, the slight haziness of the atmosphere, partially obscuring Mount Tabor.
Hugh felt they were highly exposed here – exposed to the sea on their left behind them, exposed to anything and anyone sweeping down this broad, flat plain from the Yezrael Valley proper, further on, and equally exposed to the elements above.
Emma suddenly came out with a comment he might have made. ‘I can’t see, Shaykh Tarif, how they’re going to get 200 million into this valley, large though it is.’
The Shaykh barely moved a muscle in his face before replying. ‘Mme Jensen de la Mere, there is some question over that figure.’
‘Is the figure hugely exaggerated?’
‘The story has put an extra zero or two on the end, most people believe.’
‘But you believe otherwise?’
‘How many people do you think there are in China and India, Madame?’
‘So, it’s true after all.’
‘Time will tell.’
Hugh, who’d been listening to this exchange, looked out of his darkened window at the valley whooshing by and wondered about it all. Some birds, disturbed by the approaching vehicle, fluttered and squawked into the air, then airily landed again once the vehicle had passed.
Eventually they arrived at the same gate Hugh had entered the last time and they swiftly made their way inside, down the same passageway with the red earthen walls, along the wooden walkway, to the same ante-room and to the same interminable waiting.
The Oracle of Megiddon, as Hugh had taken to thinking of her, in lieu of her real name which he had no intention of asking, appeared after about twenty minutes, clad in robes of burnt sienna. With all seated, and after the five minutes of protocol greetings, she began, in the characteristic fashion she'd taken on at the end of their last encounter, answering a question before it had been asked.
‘Missiles are today being launched from the Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank. The conflagration will begin. You were to be arrested on a pretext and taken for questioning. We cannot allow their particular form of questioning as you are destined for other things.’
‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.’
‘As you say, Albus.’
Emma caught her breath and began to see the lie of the land. ‘Sam, Janine and Miri?’
‘Also safe under this hill. They followed on thirty minutes after you, but separately. They’ll go on a little journey tomorrow, sightseeing only.’
‘Any idea –’ began Hugh but he was cut short.
‘Yes, of course. It will be a cataclysm but not the final one. From this will come peace overtures by one who will step in and offer to stop this ‘warring madness’, to bring all parties to the table. He will be equally acceptable to both Muslims and Jews at first, but not to the Christians, with their apocalyptic vision; their marginalized numbers though will count for little and the Papacy will be silent again, as well as the Patriarchs.’
‘So the Da Vinci code was right,’ stated Emma.
‘Belus, look at the author’s name. Those who can see, may see,’ answered the Oracle. The woman paused, took in the company and especially the little child in Sophie’s womb and in Emma’s. ‘There lies the world,’ she nodded.
Hugh asked, ‘Why will the Muslims break with this person?’
The Oracle smiled again. ‘You asked the correct question and perhaps the answer has also suggested itself to you.’
‘Something in scripture does not ring true.’
She inclined her head and then announced, ‘You will both be attended to and will lack for nothing. Later you will rejoin your companions.’
With that she rose, the customary farewells were completed and she swept out of the ante-room. Some obviously service-level girls now came, directed them to their quarters and brought linen.
The quarters were sumptuous by their standards and by those of their Druze hosts and yet they were also functional. All that rich colouring, woven rugs and awnings and yet all there really was, in the cavernous space, was a double four-poster bed, four cushioned stools and a dresser. Around a rock, at the far end, was the washing tub and shelf.
‘What’s the Christian view of these times?’ asked Sophie.
‘It’s a bit complicated. The theory goes that as we approach the true end times, not the ones falsely believed to be so along the way, we’ll know it because of certain things happening. Firstly, there’ll be a ‘falling away’. This refers to lawlessness, children turning on parents, debauchery, all that sort of thing.
I think this starts the Tribulation, which lasts seven years but no one knows if that's seven man years or what. It gets worse and worse as it goes on. Halfway through that, the antichrist enters the newly built Temple in Jerusalem, which suggests to me that the Muslims have been defeated. Up till now, he has posed as the friend of Israel but once inside the inner sanctum of the Temple, he now desecrates it in something called ‘the desolation of abomination’.
No one really knows what it’s about and some think it might already have happened in 70 AD or perhaps when Caligula desecrated the Temple. People who believe that are called preterists.
After the antichrist does this and declares himself, the real tribulation occurs - murder, torture, rape, pillage, with all good people wiped off the face of the earth, dying in horrible ways - that sort of thing.’
‘Thanks, Hugh,’ put in Emma.
‘Somewhere along the line, the Messiah appears and saves the believers.’
Rockets continued to rain down on selected Israeli cities, which meant that they failed to rain down on the Plain of Megiddo, apart from the stray missile which had embedded itself in the side of the mound and taken out a sizeable chunk of archaeological history.
Shaykh Tarif appeared, mid morning, as if from nowhere and asked Hugh to accompany him. Emma and Sophie nodded and off the two men went back along the walkway, back through the gate and into the Hyundai waiting below.
They didn’t go far, pulling up at a roped off area and, at the appearance of the Shaykh, a way was cleared and they both found themselves in a sort of rickety wooden lift contraption which was then pulled up the face of the rock, up to the indentation left by the missile.
They stepped out gingerly and made their way along the rubbly surface, Hugh admiring the goat like agility of the old man, fearing each step of his own would be his last.
They saw the remains of the shell which the harder surrounding rock had contained and shrapnel had fallen to the ledge. Tarif immediately pointed out to Hugh one particular piece sticking out from a fissure in the rock.
It had writing on it and Hugh looked at it closely. ‘That’s not possible,’ he breathed, examining it even more closely. ‘I see.’
The Shayk directed him to another piece, which only confirmed the first.
Hugh shook his head. ‘I’d always suspected it was so – they had to get their expertise from somewhere but to see it with my own eyes is still a shock, I can tell you.’
‘Since when did you suspect?’
‘Since Beslan. It was too slick an operation altogether. It makes the whole business absolutely pointless, doesn’t it? It’s organized. The agenda unfolds and sooner or later – they come for us.’
The old man did not demur but indicated for Hugh to follow him back down. Once again in the anteroom, the Oracle came through and joined them. ‘Well, Albus?’
‘No real surprise. Sickening to have one’s manic ravings confirmed though.’
‘Yes he will,’ she answered the next question and he wasn’t at all sure whether to ask it now or whether that, also, was pointless.
‘The accident to the prince, he’ll die – how?’
‘Train,’ and to the next question, ‘at the May Day festivities.’
‘What’s the point?’ he answered her own question to him as to whether he’d go there to witness the recovery in the hospital. ‘But the moment we step foot in the country, they’ll take us. We’re on the most wanted list.’
‘No, no one will lay a hand on you. You’ll have diplomatic documentation. They have a time and a place to take you, I intimated as much.’
To his next pre-asked question, she replied, ‘The eyes, the mannerisms. Don’t concentrate on the physical features. By the time the message has been delivered, it will be too late for them.’
Emma and Sophie were having a problem following this. ‘Sophie Magdalena?’ he asked the woman. ‘And if she – she’ll be safe? Good.’
It had been like a telepathic telephone conversation; the Oracle had cranked up the process and almost burnt him out. ‘Oh, one last –’
But the audience had concluded.
Hugh translated back in their room.
‘Emma, you and I are going on a plane journey to Britain. Sophie will stay here. Over there, we’ll meet up with a lady who will take us to a hospital where ordinary people, not doctors, will be trying to bring a VIP back to life. Whether he actually died or not is a moot point, apparently. There’ll be some skulduggery in all this and our job is to confront the one who comes alive. Clear?’
Sophie asked, ‘How come you were able to communicate with the Oracle, Hugh and we couldn’t? Even Belus should have been able to.’
He stopped and thought. ‘I just could.’
‘Do you think there’s anything in this supernatural stuff that’s starting to go on? I know they all believed in it in Germany.’
‘How can I know? I do know that this place here, this region, seems to be at a crossroads. It’s obviously a strategic crossroads militarily and as a trade crossover but it also seems to have something mystical about it, don’t you think? It seems to be very, very important to some mighty powerful people and somehow, we find ourselves here too.
Where Emma and I come in or why you’re called Magdalena and what significance you have will become clear, no doubt. I get the feeling, Sophie, that everyone has a different version of the same story – the three monotheistic religions have their own interpretations and the enemy only clouds the issue for his own purposes. It’s very ancient and we seem to be in the middle of somebody else’s war.’
The Northern European sky was misty in the morning, while it drizzled intermittently throughout the day. It had still not properly thawed but the signs of spring were in the air.
The young man with the golden hair was uneasy. He’d been having dreams of his departed grandmother; he hadn’t been sleeping well.
All he’d ever wanted was a normal life and yet he was aware that there was a manifest destiny awaiting him. Things were altering with him. He’d lost his temper the other day with his brother and yet he’d always been known for his calmness in a crisis.
It was almost as if the protective veil of family and friends was being inexorably drawn back and he was being forced to confront a dark and gloomy world alone.
He saw people groaning in that world, sweating, labouring, smoke belching from chimney stacks, machines incessantly producing, producing. It was a world without joy and yet he inhabited a crystal palace, high on a mountain, through which he could see it all.
But now a trickle of blood had appeared on that crystal wall and it was spreading.
He desperately wanted to confide in someone but there was no one – he’d driven them all away. Well, not literally but in his own mind he had. The routine of public engagements was now oppressive – a hospital here, a new community centre there. He was expected to be the life of the party with his easy smile and kind gesture but it was all too much. All too much.
Perhaps he needed a break.
Maybe take her with him and hole out somewhere in the Swiss Alps for some time. Sanity would slowly return.
He realized he couldn’t do that just yet. He was meant to visit Scotland and consecrate something or other at Rosslyn, then fly to Paris and celebrate Noel at Notre Dame. But straight after that, immediately after that, he was taking some leave and spending the New Year at Dominic’s, on Pilatus.
He already felt better. A little. Well actually, no he didn’t.
From his panelled window, he now saw the street lights come on down below and as the night fell, he drew the drapes and went to fix himself a drink. His aide came through and handed him the evening list – just one visitor and a surprising one at that. No matter, he’d hear out what the other had to say.
The priest was shown through to the drawing room and asked to wait. So many mirrors in this room, the man mused; so much finery, the old masters on the walls, the gilt edged frames, the Persian rug, the painted friezes above. He sat down gingerly on the rickety chair and then his host came through, pausing first to observe him, then approaching with extended hand.
‘Monsignor Fiore,’ was the greeting.
‘Your Excellency,’ was the reply but the priest had obviously not brushed up on his protocol. No matter.
‘And what brings a Cardinal of the Catholic Church to my door at this hour?’
‘The Holy Father is, as you’d no doubt be aware, in failing health. He has been so for some months.’ To the inclined head he continued, ‘We feel it can only be a matter of time.’
‘His Excellency’ was obviously waiting for the Cardinal to come to the point, which he now did. ‘There are those who would wish to hasten the process within the Vatican and the question is why. We know who. We’re all aware of that. But the question is why now?
I had a visit from a teenage girl, called Marian, who claimed to have had visions. Very disturbing visions. Most of these visions concerned the demise of the Holy Father but one concerned a certain person in the holy land, in Jerusalem. Another vision concerned a disaster in Britain which is yet to occur. This and the one concerning the Holy Father’s bed chamber are the two which greatly disturb the child.’
‘Do you think, Monsignor, that you might come to the point.’
‘You are scheduled to travel to Britain for the May Day festivities, am I correct?’
‘The winter service at Rosslyn and then on to Notre Dame – yes.’
‘Why ever not?’ the other laughed out loud.
‘You might go there as one person but come back as another.’
‘You’ll have to do better than that, Monsignor.’
‘Look at the names on this petition, Your Excellency. Are they familiar to you?’
‘You’ve done a lot of work before visiting me this evening.’
‘There’s a lot at stake.’
‘But why are they so concerned about a simple scheduled visit to Scotland? I’m travelling virtually every week somewhere or other and no one has been in the least concerned up till now.’
‘You must have felt certain things happening within yourself, Your Excellency in the last few months.’
‘How would you know about that?’
‘Tell me it’s not so.’ The younger man was silent. ‘Good, that shows you are still yourself at this point. Don’t go. It’s not necessary. One of the other members of the family can go in your place. Plead illness. Go for a rest to a spa or anywhere which takes your fancy. Don’t go to Britain and don’t inaugurate the new Intercity 135. We urgently entreat you, for your sake and for the sake of the world.’
The young man shuffled uneasily. ‘Isn’t that way over the top?’
‘Isn’t that too over-dramatic?’
‘No.’ Well at least this priest was direct. ‘No, it is a certainty that disaster will follow you. And after you, comes the Holy Father. Don’t go. Or postpone it to the New Year. Anything.’
‘You’ve come a long way to tell me that, Monsignor.’
‘From the ends of the earth is not far enough in this matter.’
‘All right, Father. I promise I’ll pay it some heed but I can’t give you a categorical promise I won’t go. You see – I’m expected.’
‘Yes, you’re very much expected. That’s what has to be prevented.’
‘Fine, Father. Leave it with me. Thank you so much for coming this evening and alerting me to this.’
He rose and the audience was at an end. After the Cardinal had departed, he glanced down at the list of names and rang for his aide. ‘Check out every one of these names and find out all you can about them. I’m going to need that information before long.’
Emma was reflecting. ‘Now it’s my turn to bring up a topic out of context. I’ve been thinking about this whole thing we’re up against. What do you think of this Jesus Bloodline?’
‘The Da Vinci business? In 2002 I compiled an eighty page document on it.’
‘Did any one read it?’
‘What did you conclude?’
‘I think there might be something in it. They were certainly close, the two of them.’
‘I have a soft spot for Magdalena.’
‘You’re talking about the Biblical one, I presume, not our Sophie?’
‘Both. I can see what He saw in her.’
‘I don’t think the appearance of the Dan Brown story was an accident. I think it was preparing the path. It was the way to prepare the world for the next step. Maybe the author himself was not aware of this. Clearly a Merovingian descendant is going to step up and claim his birthright, all the way back to Judah. Only he doesn’t come from Judah. He comes from Dan.’
‘And who is he going to be?’
‘We won’t know until just before it happens. Even he doesn’t have any idea at the beginning. That much is written. This business now is connected with it.’
‘And what exactly can we do?’
‘The very question I put to the Oracle of Delphi.’
‘And she said?’
‘She said, ‘What could David do?’’
There was silence, she collected her thoughts and then asked, ‘Hugh, what’s going on? Evil bankers and corrupt businessmen I can handle – we dealt with those in Paris. Philippe turned out to be working for them.
Then we got onto Albus and Belus, Opinicus and all that - I've told you about all those. Very colourful and handy to make you mine with,’ he glanced at her for that, ‘but something out of folklore. Then it went all sour and a government sent a series of planes to bomb our island out of existence, this woman here says we’re some long lost tribe returning and whatever the truth is, all this now seems to be real.
He came at it obliquely. ‘You know of Jehanne la Pucelle, of course.’
‘Why did they burn her?’
‘Because she was a threat to England, she was the rediscovered French nationalism.’
‘Yes but what was the official reason given?’
‘She’d blasphemed by saying she’d had those visions. She was a witch, according to them.’
‘She died for that and historians have been trying to explain away those visions and the way her predictions came true – and all the wise men give any explanation except one.’
‘That she did actually have those visions.’
‘And that what she said was fundamentally correct.’
‘Which could never have been admitted.’
‘Like a certain person’s healing of the sick 1400 years earlier, Emma.’
‘So what are you saying, in the end?’
‘We have a role and I think it is given us by what you might call the good side. I think we have little choice but to do it. The alternative is not pleasant.’
Suddenly changing tack, she said, 'Go to Sophie tonight.'
He barely moved a muscle and she continued. 'You showed you meant what you said. I can cope with it tonight because I don't have to hear it. She is going to be alone for some time without us and she carries your child. Go to her tonight. I'll never bring this up against you - ever. Go now, while I can still take it. Don't kiss me, don't touch me. Go.'
'This is not the time to say that. You two can decide what you do or don't do but you need to talk privately about your child and about the two of you. I need it to happen tonight and so does she.'
He gazed at her evenly, got up, she looked at the wall and he went through to Sophie who said not a word, questioned nothing but came into his arms.
The two gangers knew what they had to do.
It could never be put down to them – it was always going to be that 245 kph was far too fast for the track at that bend, the restraining bolts on that piece of track had corroded and the trumpeted new Intercity 135, carrying its European royalty on its maiden journey, would separate, miraculously saving the three rear carriages, which would grind to a halt two hundred yards or so up the track.
The engine and front two carriages would by then have also miraculously recovered and regained the rails, to eventually come to a halt some distance on from the rear carriages.
A lucky escape for all bar one passenger, who would have been flung from the front carriage.
This was what the smallish, well dressed man with the RP accent had told them in the shadow of the chapel. He’d explained it all three times and they’d understood it thoroughly.
Except there was something they hadn’t liked about that little man.
April 30th, 2012
The sky was fairly clear, as three helicopters landed on grassy terraces in Scotland, one hundred and forty miles from each other.
The first had no sooner landed than a greeting party had bent down and approached, one opened the door and the golden haired man stepped out, bent down himself and they all made for the stately castle entrance in the distance across the lawn. The cupola, the turrets on the towers, the ivy, all made the residence an inviting place to stay.
The second landed on the terrace of the white-walled hotel, the Carstairs Arms; Hugh and Emma alighted, with two others and made their way inside. Some minutes later, all details having been taken care of, the aides departed.
The third landed on Gretna Green and Hugh had not been told about this particular personage. He need not have worried though – the woman was simply there to ensure the job was done, nothing more, nothing less. All three sides now embarked on their respective agendas.
The only one who might have raised certain objections, had he known, was the golden haired man.
On the morning of the 1st, they went down to breakfast, took a tray and grabbed muesli, fruit compote, milk, coffee, eggs, tomatoes and toast and took them to his table, the view through the window quite picturesque.
The only other guest was a woman who seemed continental to Hugh and she also appeared to be alone. Hugh nodded to her, she nodded in return, then smiled. She now came across to their table.
‘Michael Archer,’ Hugh introduced himself. ‘and this is Gabriella. How do you do?’
The woman was amused, ‘Fine names. What if I told you my name was also Gabriella – Gabriella White?’
‘Then I’d say that one of us has a sense of humour.’
‘Let those be our names for now.’
‘Will you prevent us?’
‘On the contrary. But first, you are to tell each other the truth. You have not yet completed that.'
Gabriella finished her coffee, paid and departed.
'When do we have to leave, Bebe?'
'There's a private clinic fifty miles north of Edinburgh, where our shift as hospital orderlies will begin at 16:00, in the Coburg Wing. Our train is the 13:15 from Carstairs Junction. That gives us three hours and no one will throw us out of this cafe in that time, as long as we keep buying coffee.'
'I don't want any more.'
'Then I'll buy for myself.'
'Get me one too please, Hugh.'
Sam, Miri and Janine were up early for their journey.
They were to drive across the plain with Samih and wife Farida to Mt. Tabor where there was a man who wanted things delivered to the Shaykh. It was thought they might enjoy the trip as there was nothing really for them cooped up under the hill.
They were collected at the hill at 09:45, the light green Toyota contending with buses and tourists.
The house was in a cluster on the hill and now they had a view of the valley from the other side. Janine felt it looked much the same really.
A new type of rocket, the Chorni Voron, screamed over the hill and embedded itself in the valley, exploding but apparently not damaging anyone.
About 15:20, it was time to depart and the slow wind down the hillside began, through clusters of houses which could not really be collectively termed villages, over some rough dirt patches which would be hell in wet weather and thus down towards the valley.
The driver of a tourist bus behind them was aggressively honking his horn and gesticulating; they suddenly realized he was having problems with his brakes. Samih knew the next layby was not for another quarter of a kilometre and the man was now almost upon them.
The bus clipped the rear bumper of the Toyota, which span onto some loose gravel and the momentum took them over the edge; they rolled three times and hit a tree seventy metres down the hill, in the middle of the passenger side.
'You first, Hugh.'
'She jogged my memory, at least in certain details. I remember things now, how they happened and I think that was what I was meant to tell you. I think you have things to tell me.'
'Who was she - that woman, I mean?'
'I think you know that.'
'She's not ... of the enemy ... of the Seven?'
'The opposite, I believe. If she is what I think she is, then I have no choice to obey and tell you what I can remember. Julia.'
'Yes. We were in a house, you, Sophie and me. Someone had to go north to meet her after the betrayal of Doug and ... er ...'
'Frank, yes. For a start, her story was thin - how she'd got up there, how Frank and Doug had both come to grief - and she was too keen to jump to the next step. You knew when I went north that I suspected her and that the odds were I'd do a thorough search of her. My guilt is that I was well aware of it and took the job on. I still think it had to be me but my motivation I'm now confessing to you.
'If it had been Janine, say, I'd have done it discreetly - let her quickly show me and look away, make it all as modest as possible. The truth is that though I'd half hoped for the situation to arise, when it did, I was surprised how willing she was. Maybe that was her age, maybe what we found out later. She took everything off, lifted one leg up on a chair and really pulled herself open, not closing up for maybe twenty seconds. That was the bit that convinced me she was guilty.
It also had an effect on the libido and she was well aware of that - that was going to be her weapon.'
'You're so easy,' she sighed.
'Opened vaginas do affect a man when the woman is young and alluring. I think the sight of our members have an effect on you.' She smiled. 'The first night was in the back of a lorry, it was cold and wet, I was fairly modest but my bare chest was against hers, for warmth and also ... well ... I'd also massaged her feet.
Second night was in the kiosk - we broke in and there was a divan. We held each other and I spoke Russian to her. That was also significant. The more she gave herself away, the more I began to fall for her. It's crazy.'
'No, it's not. I can see the whole scene. Go on.'
On the last day, we were resting in a field early morning, when she climbed onto me and a farmer came along and we had to move on. On the pathway, I took her in my arms and kissed her. I had a feeling that part of her really was falling. That night, we were in a shed with hay and farm equipment and we made a bed, she was all over me and I was all over her. I didn’t make love to her, didn’t actually do that thing – but it was pretty intimate, all the same. Next morning, I was horrified at what I had done -'
'Yes. This woman Gabriella now made me remember what really happened. I don’t know how the memory came back but it did.
I now told myself to keep a clear head. She didn't like that but getting to the helicopter was the main priority. I remember seeing her get on, I remember reaching for the sides of the door ... that's it.'
'That explains her attitude, why you were shot and why she acted as she did on the island. All right, Bebe, I've told you about Rory and James Peters. Long before though, I went to a hotel room in England with this Chris Jones – you know of him now from Sophie and I was surprised you didn’t radar in on that when she said it – it was part of the job in Britain, to get information from him but also because ... I wanted. When I saw how he was using me, I kicked him between the legs and ran. All of that is true. The story was that I didn't do anything with him when he groped me, I think you call it. I did though. I lied. I also drove that from my mind, believed later it had never happened but this woman now reminded me. I'm so very sorry. I did have him but he became aggressive, like Michel but not Michel, without the finesse. I suppressed this because I couldn’t face myself with you.'
'I did go inside Julia.'
She was stony-faced, drained. ‘I see. It does explain it better. I’m ... disappointed. All right, that cost you. Rory went inside me but it was painful.’
There was utter silence. Neither could look at the other. He broke the silence. 'It’s better in the end to know. Why do people do these things to each other?'
'They don't think they're doing it to anyone at the time. They just don't think. Away from their partner, with someone else attractive there, they forget. They forget the important things like promises - promises don't mean all that much at that time, they think they can get away with it, they think it will never affect anything. And their own partner has all these faults which the stranger never does. And the stranger brings a game, which includes flattery and lies and we're foolish enough to believe it because it sounds beautiful.'
'I'm getting another feeling about all this. If this woman appears now to jog our memories again, then if you believe in fate or karma or a force out there, it seems to me she is hurrying us up, getting us to clear the air and the reason seems to be that we have a job to do as a pair. Seems to me big events are coming up and we're in the middle of them.'
'Not sure I like that.'
'Don't think we have any choice.'
‘Hold me if you feel you can.’
The evening of May 1st, 2012
The two gangers finished the line repair work just north of the A68 junction; they sauntered back to their hut and tucked into their ploughman’s lunches.
The young man and other distinguished guests now flew to Carstairs for the largely ceremonial final leg to Edinburgh and were now warmly greeted by new GNER chief Raymond Green; they moved into the first carriage behind the engine.
The new ATP controlled system put the train in motion and soon it had reached the early cruise speed of 180 kph. Then, as pre-dinner cocktails were served in the well-lit carriage, the speed gradually built up to the famed 240 kph, still an hour and fifty minutes short of Edinburgh Waverley.
Dinner completed by 20:45, as per schedule, the young man was invited to observe the train’s automated line corrective system in the driver’s cabin and was led through the connecting gangway joining the two monocoque structures.
Suddenly, amid the cacophony, the front carriage leapt fifty centimetres into the air, the variable traction technology hauled the remainder over the broken piece of rail which ‘read’ the abnormal surface and retracted the wheels at the critical moment, the carriages automatically divided and the rear of the train managed to find its own way to come to rest, the driver switched to manual and brought the front carriages to rest two hundred metres further on and all was back to normal.
It was a resounding recovery, except for one detail. The prince had disappeared.
Within fifteen minutes, the carriages had been surrounded by security, the local police keeping early bystanders back behind the hastily strung out ribbon barriers but all attention was directed two hundred and fifty metres back along the track.
The lifeless body of the prince was loaded into a helicopter as swiftly as possible then, in the helicopter, the paramedics determined that life had ceased at the point of impact – 21:03, May1st, 2012.
Now it all happened lightning fast.
The prince was spirited away to a private clinic where his parents were already waiting, along with certain personages who were clearly neither medical staff nor family, and yet carried themselves upright, in great seriousness, even within the operating theatre.
Two men of maybe sixty five to seventy years of age and a woman of indeterminate age attended on the prince; Emma and Hugh, along with two others in light green uniforms, face masks and gloves, ran here and there as general dogsbodies.
Three attending surgeons were ordered from the theatre and only the august personages were left in attendance. Now they surrounded the trolley, which meant Emma could not get a good view but it appeared as if the taller and elder of the two men had leaned across the naked torso and reached for the prince’s chest.
The doctors were now admitted, stunned to find the prince breathing.
They immediately called for cardiac equipment but the woman rested a hand on the surgeon’s forearm; the surgeon gave the order to desist, something was injected and now the orderlies were called again.
Emma and two others came running to the theatre.
The prince was wide awake, staring at the ceiling of the operating theatre and appearing none the worse for wear. He was spoken to by the elder man for some considerable time and then the three old people did something surprising.
They went down on one knee in front of him, before taking their leave.
That brought to an end the proximity of Emma to the action; she soon slipped away with Hugh, went to a field and they clung to each other for about five and a half hours, before the morning sun pierced their eyes.
The second part of the drama, the critical part, was about to begin. Hugh and Emma had been scheduled to come on duty at 08:00, Gabriella met them and the three brought in a change of bed linen. Hugh placed a chair under the door handle, advanced on the prince and laid a hand on his forehead; Emma advanced and laid a hand on his chest.
The young man did not react in any negative way but followed the whole thing with watchful eyes and a sardonic grin; he turned to Gabriella and addressed her. ‘What do you want of me?’
‘You know. To return whence you came.’
Suddenly, Hugh could feel his tongue receding all the way back down his throat, choking him. Emma went into convulsions and grabbed her stomach. Gabriella, unaffected, uttered a few words; Hugh and Emma collapsed on the floor.
‘So,’ came the prince’s voice, the cold voice of reason and persuasion, ‘What did you possibly hope to achieve?’
‘We’ve already achieved it,’ answered Gabriella.
The briefest look of alarm crossed his face. He looked at her, an immense wave of force was directed at her face but it seemed to wash over her like the contours in a wind tunnel until it ceased.
He watched with fear as all three departed the room, walking briskly along corridors, taking the lift down and stepping out onto the front lawn. They bent over and ran for the helicopter.
The helicopter rose, the tail swung round and they were soon over the row of trees and heading for their collection point. At precisely that moment, the machine was held back from any forward motion and slowly they began to be forced down to the trees, then whatever had done that ceased and they flew on.
The prince laughed to himself.
Emma and Hugh now took sustenance from a military ration pack, offering to share it with Gabriella, but she said she’d ‘had sustenance’. They removed the orderlies' uniforms and looked at one another.
‘Do you think it will stop him?’ Hugh asked her.
‘No, of course not.’
‘Then what was the purpose of us being there?’
‘To distract him long enough for me to do my part.’
‘He knows you are Albus and Belus but he also knows that Albus and Belus are a myth of his father’s making.’
‘You mean the prince consort?’
‘No, I don’t mean him.’
‘Why were we released?’ asked Emma. ‘Is he going to crash our helicopter in the ocean?’
‘No, he’s demonstrating his disdain by ignoring us. That was a little demonstration now, that's all.’
‘Where is home for you?’ Hugh asked her.
‘Europe is my theatre. The holy land is yours. But I shall come with you both for some time now.’
‘What’s your real name? asked Emma.
‘I see,’ murmured Hugh.
She now went up to the front of the plane and Emma asked, ‘Who is Gabriella anyway?’
‘Did you see when that force was flowing over her? She never flinched.’
'What did she do to him?’
‘I have absolutely no clue. Maybe passed a message on to him from her Boss.’
‘How did people like him get to be in charge of things anyway?’
‘You want a short, glib answer or a real answer?’
Chapter 17 here … Chapter 19 here