11. The case of the laughing corpse

Autumn is upon us. I like the rain and the wind – it vastly improves on the smell of the city. We are moving. Since Niall has moved out of his flat, Mackenzie has been on a lookout for at place to stay that was not right next to her mother. Vincent and I have been moving around a bit, since we can no longer stay at the old compromised headquarters. Mackenzie found the perfect place: the old formerly haunted B&B. The landlady is looking to sell, and because of its history, it is cheap. Four floors and a basement. Three rooms to every floor. So there is room for the whole gang, and rooms to spare that we can rent out. Mackenzie is working on how it can all be done: Will she buy and we pay rent to her? Will the Society buy and we will pay rent to them? Will we all pitch in as best we can, and own it together? I don’t know yet, but the landlady has let us move in, and we will figure out the details later.

The city is bustling with the news of the return of The Endeavor, the queen’s ship that has recently returned from the far east, carrying all sorts of exotic plants. There will be balls and events, and later they will be displayed to the public in the Royal Botanical Garden. I wonder if they only brought plants or if they also brought home some interesting rocks.

We’ve met Alejandros. He seems very nice. A bit jitterish. He is always moving about, drumming on every surface, humming tunes. He dresses just like I imagine Lanters to dress: a colorful mess of clothes that looks partly atlanthean (where his people is originally from) partly something else, with lots of pockets and bling. He is very musical and supposedly plays several different kinds of instruments.

We are moving in. Cassie is sent off to Götaland by Mrs M for some unknown reason. Vincent offered to accompany her to the station, while the rest of us moves our stuff into the house. Vincent and I don’t have much, but the others have furniture and books and stuff. Henry and Mackenzie are trying to get a couch up the stairs, while Max tries to fix the plumbing. Alejandros and I start moving the boxes from the cart into the house. One of the boxes shifts and threatens to come tumbling down. I try to stabilize them. Alejandros grabs hold of me and drags me away, before they all come tumbling down. I hope there wasn’t anything breakable in them… Just then Max cries for help to turn off the water, and I hear the couch that Henry and Mackenzie was handling, tumble down a couple of stairs. Vincent returns just then, and helps us set things straight. We carry the last boxes inside, and flounders on whatever surface we can sit on.

Vincent tells us of a rumour he heard on his way back from the train station: A laughing corpse have been found in a boarding house by the docks. The police is baffled. We discuss whether it is a case for us or not. Is there anything funny going on, or is it just a common murder – in which case we should leave it to the mundane police. If the corpse is in fact laughing it certainly sounds suspicious! Vincent doesn’t know, so I go catch myself a dockboy, and he has a little bit of information: The corpse isn’t really laughing, since that would have caused a bit more of an uproar, just sporting a rather uncharacteristic (for a corpse) grin. The police has decided that the murdered man is probably a victim of the ongoing war between the gangs on the dock: the eirn freighters and the danthivian coachmen. They have closed the case as gang related, and have delivered the corpse to the undertaker. Apart from the corpse having a great big smile on his face, nothing peculiar seem to surround the case. But frankly we are bored with moving boxes, so we can at least go and check it out.

Fortunately the body have been delivered to my favorite undertaker – the one on the docks. Mr Mordecai has a lovely collection of rocks collected from the pockets of those ending up in the river – whether by their own intend or by some evildoer’s. He is always most willing to let the public in to look at interesting corpses for a small fee. Even though we get there a little late, he kindly lets us in. There have been many to view the corpse already. Mr Mordecai’s show room is dark and gloomy as is proper. And the corpse is in deed odd looking. He is really smiling. Grinning from ear to ear in fact. But that is not the only odd thing about him: his body looks a bit strange; his arms are too long and his legs too short, which gives him a strange unfinished look. His hands are callused. He is tanned dark, like someone who has spend much time out of doors. He is dressed in sailors’ clothes with a SW stiched into the collar.  He has bruises on his neck – probably from being strangled. He has no defensive wounds. I lean over him, to see if I can sense any magic. And there it is: a slightly tingling sensation around his lips. Definately magic! I tell the others. This is certainly a case for us.

Alejandros grabs the corpses hands and try to see if its’ hands fit around its’ throat. Bit of an odd thing to do in my opinion. But the marks around the corps’ throat are from large hands, and the corpse has rather small hands. Then Alejandros suggests that we ask the corpse itself what happened. We all fall silent and stare at him. “No” Mackenzie says with conviction “We do not use necromancy. Out of the question!”. I am completely speechless: did he really suggest we should use necromancy?! The evilest and most unnatural of magic? I am appalled. Necromancy is against the order of nature, against the will of the gods. Once you have passed into Tartaros, you belong to the gods, and mere mortals should not meddle with that. It is a different thing altogether to communicate with ghosts; they are spirits who either linger without having been to Tartaros yet or they have been called out of Tartaros by evil magic. We do not want to mess with that! I shudder.

Mr Mordecai gives us the address, where the corpse was found: Old Fisher’s street 7B. It is a rather nice boarding house for sailors. The landlady is hesitant, but lets us in after we pay her. She says that she is paid up front by her lodgers, as sailors tends to spend all their money before they take off again. We are shown in to room 12, where the corpse was found. His name was Samuel Watts. He had just come in on the Endearvor and he was fairly well off, after that long journey. He paid up front without haggling the price, and didn’t leave his room as most sailors do, neither did he have visitors. We search the room. The body was found on the bed. The sheet is still stained by blotches of sweat, urine and feces. It smells rather badly. We search his sea-chest, but find nothing of interest. No money either, and we speculate whether they were stolen. The landlady finally admits that she had taken them to cover the expences of cleaning the room and to ease the stress of dealing with all the fuss with the police and everything. We find his book of employ, and it states that he had served on The Endeavor that past 1½ year, as he had said to the landlady. He had apparently just made himself a cup of tea, when he died: there is a kettle and a cup, and some leftover tea in the cup. But no can or bag of actual tealeaves. The landlady says she didn’t supply him with any, so he must have brought some himself. But it is missing now. Strange. Alejandros picks up the cup and dips his finger in the tea to taste it. He puts his finger in his mouth, smacks his lips once or twice. Then a big wide smile spreads on his face and he drops to the floor unconscious, knocking his head against the bed in the fall. We try to wake him, but to no avail. I smell the teacup, and there it is again: a slight sense of magic! The tea must be poisoned. It made Samuel Watts fall asleep, and then he was strangled! And his killer took the tea with him, when he left. We hurry off with Alejandros to find him a doctor. We bring him to the hospital, where doctors and nurses fusses over him. We wait. I fall asleep with my head on Vincent’s shoulder.

4½ hours later Alejandros wakes up. He tells us of weird dreams, and complains of a headache. The hospital has not supplied him with any pain medicin, since he can’t pay. Mackenzie organizes some medicine to ease his pain. As he seems ok, now he is awake, we continue with our investigation. We go to where The Endeavor is anchored up. The whole place is restricted area with redcoats on guard. The dockworkers are still unloading all the exotic plants under the supervision of a bunch of botanists. Apparently we can’t just enter the area without a very good excuse. Max thinks he can get in posing as a mechanic sendt to the ship by chief botanist Sir John Banks, so he goes to find the botanists to see if he can get anything out of them. Henry joins him posing as his assistant. Vincent, Mackenzie, Alejandros and I try to find the sailors from The Endeavor.

The sailors are not hard to find: The nearest alehouse with good quality liquor and friendly girls are full of them. We ask around to see it anyone knows Samuel Watts. John Taylor is pointed out to us as Samuels bunkmate. I assume they must be lovers if they shared a bunk, but there is no love lost between John Taylor and the victim. John Taylor looks how Adonis would look if he walked among us: Tall, wavy hair and a ruggedly handsome appearance. He also had very large hands. It is obvious that a lot of the girls like him. He tells us that Samuel Watts kept to himself, and that he frankly was not very popular. John Taylor can name no one that Samuel had any sort of relationship with. Not on the ship, and not while in the colonies, where they spend months and months digging up plants that the botanists wanted to bring home. John Taylor knows nothing about any tea, and suggests that we look up the captain of The Endeavor, Captain Frederick Hopkins, who might know more. Alejandros starts singing a song about sailors and their big hands, and soon everyone is singing along. Me included. The refrain is catchy and the wordings easy. I must say that Alejandros is a very good musician! Talented and with quite a pleasant voice.

We eat lunch at an oyster booth, while we wait for Henry and Max. They return with pretty much the same information as us: nobody knows anything, but the captain might. Also there is apparently a homecoming celebration being held along with a scientific symposium, where both the captain and the chief botanist will be present. It may be the easiest way to get close to them. Max will attempt to get invitations from his military connections for himself, Henry (who will pose as his assistant) and me (who will pose as his companion). Mackenzie will try to get hold of a press card and will pose as a journalist, Vincent will repeat his waitor ruse and Alejandros will go as a musician. He says he knows how to play boring music, so he can fit in.

The military says that Max can get tickets if he designs some weapon or other for the army. The deal with the army is to present drawings at the symposium and demonstrate a working prototype next week. We suggest that the prototype need not actually work, but Max is a bit of a perfectionist. He wants to present something that might actually work, so while the rest of us try to find clothes suitable for a ball, he works hard on his invention. For the next couple of days we do not se much of him.

Friday – the day before the symposium – Mackenzie stresses over helping all of us getting dressed. Without Cassie she is actually the only one who knows the slightest bit about fashion. We are in the living room, where Henry fusses over his bowtie, and Mackenzie tries desperately to get a numerous number of bows on my dress to sit just right. Alejandros enters and is in an uproar about his clothes. He seems hysterical and starts yelling at Mackenzie. I can see her jaw clench and I can almost physically sense her anger. Henry tears off the bowtie and throws it on the floor in frustration, and Alejandros’ voice reaches a crecendo. Even Vincent is scowling, when he enters the room. Something is very wrong! I back away a bit, and suddenly find myself halfway into the outer wall. Then Mackenzie marches up to Alejandros and hits him right in his face. She then marches out the door and slams it so hard that the glass shatters. A sense of magic rushes over me, and pieces of the puzzle falls into place. The others’ reactions are just like when we had the Apple of Strife. The annoyance and frustrations and the anger. Mackenzie would not hit anyone for just being annoying if not under the influence of the Apple. Vincent tries to help Alejandros stop the flow of blood. Alejandros is still in an uproar. “Is she always like that?” he cries “Why did she hit me? Who does that?”. Henry and Vincent and I exchange glances. It is clear that we are thinking the same. “She doesn’t usually hit people, no, but when the Apple of Strife is at work, she would” I say. Alejandros stare at me “The Apple of Strife?! THE Apple of Strife?! Is that the sort of thing you deal with here?!” I shrug ” Well, yes”. “And zombie fish” Vincent says. “And keys to the gates of Tartaros and the like” Henry offers. Alejandros opens and closes his mouth a few times. He didn’t know? I was sure Mrs M would have filled him in on the nature of our assignments. Vincent looks at me “We better find Mackenzie in a hurry”. I nod and we run off. We follow the trail of knocked over trashcans and spooked horses, and find her in the park, where she is standing, panting. We tell her about our theory about the Apple. Her eyes widen. “But how can the Apple affect us? It should be sealed up in the warehouse” she says. Vincent puts his hand out “You still have the key? I think we should go check if it is still safe!”. “Max has the key” Mackenzie says “He needed something. For his weapon”. A silence as solid as rock falls between us, and we take off as one back to the house.

Meanwhile Alejandros have kept Max company in his workshop in the cellar. We grab Henry from the parlour and join them there. We explain our theory about the Apple, but Max says that the Apple is perfectly safe, and that he saw no evidence of a break in, when he was in the warehouse. But Vincent borrows the key to go check, just to make sure. We wait in silence. Alejandros glares at Mackenzie, and when she sees this, she says “Oh! I am so sorry I hit you! I didn’t mean to, I swear. I react really badly to the Apple.” Alejandros sniffs and touches his bruised nose. “I will forget the little pasquinade I thought up, then…” he says “I guess I got a bit caught up as well…”. “Are you alright?” she asks. He touches his nose again, as well as the old bump from earlier. “It does hurt a bit” he says. “Well, I can remedy that” Mackenzie says, and gives him a small vial of morphine to relieve his pain. He smiles and nods in thanks. The moods lighten a little, but the effect of the Apple still feels present. I can still sense its’ magic at work, even if it is more subdued than earlier. Vincent comes storming in. “It is gone! The Apple is gone from the warehouse!” He turns to Max “Are you sure you didn’t see it?”. “I didn’t” Max says, and I sense the lie like ooze leaking from him. “You lie” I say “Max, what do you know about the Apple?”. He squirms and looks away. “Max?” Vincent says urgently. “I needed the weapon to work” Max says quietly, his voice heavy with guilt “I couldn’t show up next week without something that impressed them. The Apple was a great powersource…” We all start yelling at Max! Me the most I am afraid! The stupidity! The arrogance of thinking the Apple could in any way be controlled! How could he?! He knows how dangerous it is. It is Titan magic for gods’ sake! Max tries to defend himself to begin with, but then just lets our anger rush over him. Finally Henry says “And how did you intend to curb the magic? How did you attempt to control it?”. Max almost whimpers “I didn’t think of it. I’m a mechanic, not a wizard”. Max deflates, and curls up around himself. Great big sobs shakes his body. For a while all we can hear are the sobs and garbled attempts to say sorry, so sorry! It makes me feel sorry for him. He got caught up in his own ambition to built something amazing, and forgot what awful consequences that might have. Weapons are terrible, but weapons powered by the Apple of Strife. It does not bear thinking about! Vincent sits down next to him, and tries to console him. Now I feel a little bad for yelling so much at him. But it did serve its’ purpose: I don’t think Max will ever use Titan magic in his inventions again!

While Mackenzie helps Max change his weapon design to not contain titan magic, Henry, Vincent and I bring the Apple back to the warehouse. I wish it would just get completely lost! It doesn’t affect me like it affects the others, and I’m glad, but I hate what it does to them! The uncontrollable anger, violence, revenge, frustrations – it’s impossible to battle. I dread to think what Lady Sibyl might do with it, if she knew where it was!

It’s Saturday afternoon, and it is time for the symposium and whatsit.  I hang on to Max’s arm, and Henry walks beside us down a wide gravel lane towards the big greenhouse in the Botanical Garden. Great, bit flowerpots with strange looking plants and flowers line the path. I feel completely out of my league here, and desperately hope that no one will address me. Henry whispers to me that I should just look bored, like most of the other people here. Ok then. I yawn widely, but Henry looks like that that was not what he meant. We enter the greenhouse and looks around for the captain and the chief botanist. We have been told that the chief botanist suffers from gout, so he will likely be in a wheelchair. I spot him talking to a young lady about a big plant next to them. She looks very interested.

William Ostenwald, the assistant of the chief botanist gives the first speech which is mostly an introduction of his master; the man in the wheelchair, Sir John Banks, wheels forward to speak about the voyage and the plants, but not until he profusely thanks the young lady, whom I now see is the queen, for her patronage! Goodness! The queen is present! Oh, please, Artemis, let us not fuck this mission up in the queen’s presense! I try to move into the background, when I suddenly become aware of a trace of magic. I try to locate it. The queen is surrounded by a certain amount of magical wards, but that is not the source of the magic I feel. This is different. This is divine magic. I move about to feel if I can get closer to it. It comes from the direction of the captain, Frederick Hopkins, but then he moves, and it is not him, but the big plant behind him, that Sir John Banks recently talked about to the queen! I siddle up to it, and try to place myself between the plant of divine power and the rest of the party. I desperately look around for my friends. They are scattered all over the place, doing whatever they must do to fit in. What am I to do?

Gods! Sir John Banks talks and talks! I finally catch Vincent’s eyes and motions him over. Then Cassie arrives! She is still in her travelling clothes. I wonder what brought her back. She and Henry joins me as well. I very discreetly whisper to them, that the plant is magical. Cassie closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and goes deadly pale, and sinks to her knees. I grab her hand and sink down next to her. “You are right”, she says “It is very magical!”. Then Mackenzie comes over and forcefully drags us all away from the plant. From a safe distance she points back to the plant: a flower has suddenly bloomed right behind where we were. It was barely a bud before. That plant is seriously strange! And possibly dangerous too! We begin whispering about what to do, but people start glaring at us, so we find a discreet place in the back. The others have noticed that the plant grows really fast. MacKenzie and Max return to the plant to snip off the flower. We are afraid it will spread its’ pollen everywhere, and we don’t know yet whether it is dangerous or not. I try to back away a bit, but back right into a table with a great big cake on it. I can feel the frosting melt down the back of my dress. I am not only to know all the rules at a party, but I am pretty sure having a big cake down your back is a bit of a social blunder. Sir John Banks finally finishes his speech and Cassie claps her hands vigorously to distract attention from Max and Mackenzie’s gardening. I decide we must warn Sir Banks immidiately. He cannot be aware how dangerous the plant might be – for all we know it might be that very plant that poisened Samuel Watts. I take a quick decision and go to confront Sir Banks. I warn him of the plant, and how it may already partly be the cause of someone’s death. I can’t really tell him it’s magical, since people often don’t that sort of think well. He brushes me off and calls it all nonsense. When I insist he snaps his fingers, and a couple of guards drag me away. I call out my warnings, but Sir Banks ignores me. What a disaster! He has not idea what he is dealing with. I try to persuade the guards to let me go, but they are taciturn and unresponsive. They put me in a small annex to the green house, and I wait a while in solitude. Then I can see a cab arrive with an all too familiar logo on the side, and two doctors exit the cab and comes towards my greenhouse cell. A shudder ripples through my body and a cold fear stuns me for a second. There is no way I am letting them take me! I back into the back of the room, and escape through some windows locating a bit up the wall. I run all I can towards the exit of the grounds into the street beyond. Beyond the Botanical Garden I stop. I cannot abandon my friends, so I really must return somehow. I go halfway around the wall that surrounds the garden, but every entrance is guarded, and they won’t let me in without an invitation. Finally I find a quiet street along the wall, and ever so discreetly work my way through the wall. I am getting so much better at this, and no one sees me do it.

I sneak in the back into the greenhouse. None of the guards see me. I stay out of sight in general, but find the others fast. They fill me in on what they have discovered, while I was away: Sir John Banks is a conservative, and there are a lot of conversatives present today – political allies, maybe? Captain Hopkins was rather dismissive. All they got out of him was that Watts at best was a mediocre sailor, and that he (Hopkins) knows nothing of interest. Or he is a very good liar. Ostenwald is from Danthivia and is originally a biologist, not a botanist. Rumor has it that he and Sir Banks are somewhat at odds. He was easily worked on by Mackenzie, and he very willingly told her many things – most importantly that Sir Banks had asked that seeds from the magical plant (the word ‘magical’ was not used) was brought home to him. The plant we see in the green house has grown from a seed to this size since they arrived back in Bretonia four days ago! You can practically watch it grow! The magical plant is a sort of breadfruit, which is what the expedition was all about.

We decide that we have to talk more with Sir Banks. Can he know how dangerous the plant is? Obviously I don’t join them. I don’t fancy being picked up by doctors twice in one day, so I just slither over to the plant and attempt to keep people away from it. It actually does grow right before my eyes. It’s uncanny! It even sprouts more flower buds that slowly unfold. I try if I can get a sense of it, but it doesn’t feel evil as such. Just highly magical. When I reach out to it, it seems to grow even faster, so I quickly hold back. From across the room I see Mackenzie approach Sir Banks. He is seated in his wheelchair by the buffet. He looks old and worn, but quite lively and practically lights up at the sight of Mackenzie. He very willingly talk about the plant (I am told later): it probably has medicinal properties. Rumors from the island it comes from (Ozeheide or something) says that tea brewed from the flowers can soothe qualms of the soul. He expects to revolutionize the medical scene with it. When asked whether he thinks the plant is magical in any way, Banks denies the possibility, but Henry later says, that that was a lie. Mackenzie tries to match Sir Banks drink for drink, but his lordship can certainly hold his liquor, and she gets drunk. He does too, but not quite as much.

Meanwhile Ostenwald is giving HM the queen and her ladies in waiting a tour of the new plants. They approach the plant I guard, and I try to block the way. Ostenwald gets quite angry with me. I try to explain that the plant causes a terrible rash, or causes hayfever, or just, you know, shouldn’t be approached. Just before Ostenwald causes a scene, Max comes over and tells Ostenwald with a discreet voice that it seems Sir Banks has had enough to drink, and probably should be stopped before HE causes a scene. Ostenwald apologizes profusely to HM the queen and hastens over to deal with the situation. There is an awkward moment where the queen and her ladies look at me and the plant I am trying to hide behind me (difficult with a plant now about 3 meters tall). I smile friendlylike and they smile back and start talking amongst themselves. Soon enough they move on to other plants. Both the queen and her first lady in waiting, the danthivian lady, smiles at me, and I am very heartened by it. The others saw right through me, and certainly did not dain to acknowledge my presence.

Then the time comes for the weapons specialists to present their newest inventions, and Max must present his (not Apple-less) invention – just the drawings, fortunatly. Sir Banks and the rest of the dignitaries are kept busy by this, and Vincent, who looks unusually pale, and Cassie goes off to look at Sir Banks’ office. After the weapons demonstration, which many discuss as ‘dull’ as nothing blew up this year, the symposion is at an end. I attempt to stay behind to keep a watch on the plant, but the guards insist I leave, and I end up getting escorted out, for the second time that day. This time without the doctors fortunately. Back home Cassie tells us that they found nothing of interest i Sir Banks’ office. Vincent goes to bed early with a headache.

The next morning Vincent still have a headache, and doesn’t look much better. We discuss our discoveries from yesterday, and Mackenzie tells me that HM the queen and the danthivian lady in waiting are lovers. But it is a secret. I wonder how it is a secret, when people like Mackenzie – and now me – knows, but apparently it is. An ordinary person could marry a person of the same gender, but a queen must beget heirs, and as I understand it, two women can’t get heirs on their own. A bit of a pickle, that.

Henry theorizes that the tea can send the soul on journeys. The way Alejandros described his experience with the tea, it sounds plausible. Henry suggests that we try it out. I think it sounds interesting, though we must of course be very careful about it. Cassie puts down her foot and says that we under no circumstances should do such a thing; we have no idea how dangerous it is! We discuss the case at length. I think we should take another look at John Taylor, Samuel Watts’ bunkmate. He is the only one we’ve come across with such big hands as was needed to strangle Watts. He doesn’t seem to have a motive of his own, but he might have been hired by someone else. Like someone in a wheelchair, perhaps? So we decide to go and pay him another visit. Max suddenly remembers that he still have the cut off flower from yesterday and pulls it out of his pocket. It smells like a dead plant, but Cassie takes a deep breath and declares it smells lovely. It doesn’t really.

Vincent stays at home, when we go back to the alehouse, where we first found John Taylor. His headache is very bad. Cassie offers to stay behind and nurse him, but ends up coming with us. It turns out that John Taylor is lodging in the alehouse, in room 12. We go up and knock on the door, but no one answers. Mackenzie puts a shoulder to the door and opens it. He isn’t there. We find no tea, but we find an eloquent suicidenote, written with flourishing letters. He admits to the murder of Watts and feels so awful about it, that there is nothing else to do but go kill himself. He did NOT strike me, or any of us, as a person who would commit suicide. And he did not seem the least bit distressed about Watts’ death last time we saw him. We find his service book, to compare his handwriting to his note, but he has allways signed with and X, and made no notes of his own. But if he can’t even write, who wrote the letter? And where is he now?

When we return to the house, we find Vincent drunk. I worry about him. Drunk from morning? That’s no good! He says Kaku wants too much of him, in a slurred drunken way. The headache started yesterday after I escaped the doctors: Kaku ordered him to do something that he refused, and promptly the headache appeared. Today Kaku told him to get drunk, so he did. A sick feeling fills me: Kaku is a worse companion than the demon was. The demon was bad, but Vincent could control it (most of the time), but Kaku? How does one oppose a god? I think Vincent made a bad deal in the caves in Götaland! We try to sober him up, so he can take a look at the handwriting on the suicidenote. He looked through all those papers of Sir Banks’ yesterday. But Vincent don’t recognize the handwriting. It is not Banks’. Henry looks through Taylor’s service book again, and finds a match: Captan Hopkins’! We discuss what his motives may be, and I suggest that there is only one way to find out: follow Hopkins and find out what he is up to. I volunteer to stake out his house.

I wait for hours. I wait and wait and absolutely nothing happens! I see light in several windows, but nobody comes near the windows and I see no movement. I finally decide to go ask the servants whether their master is home or no. I go to the kitchen entrance and knock. A jolly and friendly looking middleaged woman open the door. “Yes?” she asks. I ask if her master by any chance is home? Not that I need to talk to him just yet, but is he? Home? She smiles and says that her husband is in deed home – she introduces herself as Sarah Hopkins – but is not to be disturbed. I do not wish to disturb him. I then ask her whether he has any debts? Something that would make him do something really stupid? She frowns and gives me a funny look. “No” she says, but hesitates a little. She is not lying, but maybe she doesn’t know. “How about tea?” I ask “Did he bring any tea with him back from the journey”. Mrs Hopkins says no, and looks uncomfortable. I recognize the look: it is one I have seen many times, when polite people really wants me to leave, so I thank her and leave. I find the others just around the corner, where we agreed to meet. I tell them, what I’ve learned, when we hear a thrilling scream. Mrs Hopkins has run into the street and scream again. We run to her, and she passes out, practically in our arms. We carry her in, and find her husband in his study. Dead. The air has a strange cloying smell. Too sweet. A thin trail of smoke still rises from a pipe on the floor next to the captain. I reach for the pipe to put it out, but things go dark. No, not dark: green. I am in a jungle. Behind me is a beach of white sand and I hear the sound of waves. The air is warm and pleasant. A beautiful woman with long black hair leads me further into the jungle. She smiles back at me, and I follow her willingly. We stop in front of a lake in the jungle. A sacret lake – I can feel it. The woman dives into the lake and disappears. I stand at the shore and can smell something sweet and pleasant. Behind me is a plant like the one that grows so fast. A flower opens as I watch.

Black again. I find myself on the floor, the carpet prickels my face. I try to get up, shake my head, but I feel funny. Mackenzie stands by the windows, which she has thrown wide open so cold autumn air floods in. The pipesmoke and sweet smell dissapates. Max and Henry are getting up as well; they must have fainted too. “We have to say it was a gas leak or something” Mackenzie says and I feel that she is absolutely right. “It was a gas leak…” I say. She gives me a hand “Come on, get up” she says, and again that feeling: I want to do exactly what she says. That is strange. I tell her. Mackenzie looks at me funnily. “That’s why they all want it” I say “To manipulate people!”. Mackenzie looks like she doesn’t believe me. “You mean, if I say ‘jump’, you’ll jump?” I immidiately feel compelled to jump, so I do. Mackenzie grabs my arm with wide eyes “Oh, no! I’m so sorry! Please stop jumping!” I stop jumping. Max and Henry looks a bit dazed too. “In fact: don’t do anything!” Mackenzie says desperately “Don’t think anything!”. Max and Henry and I stand completely still. I don’t want to do anything, and any thought just oozes out of my mind. I can see the desperation in Mackenzies eyes and hear her say “Oh, I am sorry, I am so sorry!”. Cassie comes in after having taken care of the dazed Mrs Hopkins. She looks around at us, and I hear Mackenzie explain while she wrings her hands. Cassie comes to me, and I see a mischivious glint in her eyes, when she whispers to me ‘Jump!’, and I jump. Cassie laughs. She laughs! The betrayal is like a bucket of cold ice thrown in my face. I feel used and humiliated. “Ok, you can stop now” Cassie says and tries to hug me. I pull away. I can’t… I just can’t. Cassie looks confused, and reach out again, but I put up a hand. “Don’t” I say, my voice hoarse and low. “I’m sorry, Grace” she says, but it’s not good enough. She should know better. She knows what I went through at the asylum and at home. She knows how many orders I have been forced to obey against my will. How humiliated I have been. I would never have expected Cassie to take advantage of me like this.

Slowly Max and Henry and I regain control of our own will. We have all realized how dangerous the plant is now, and how it might be used. We must act, and we must act fast. We decide that Vincent and Mackenzie should go to the plant with lots of plantpoison and destroy the plant. before it can do more harm. Cassie and Max will seek out Ostenwald. Cassie first suggests that she and I did that, but I won’t go with her. Instead I go with Henry to see Sir Banks.

Sir Banks greet us friendlylike, and listens to us. He waves off our claim that the plant is highly dangerous. He talks about it very excitedly: how extraordianily the plant grows, even if it hasn’t produced seeds yet. We stop his praising speech and tell him that we have found Captain Hopkins dead after having smoked leaves from the plant. Sir Banks blanches visibly, and looks around him almost in terror. “I must send a telegram” he says hoarsely. “It is urgent!” As he is in a wheelchair, we are his only chance of getting anywhere. Henry and I manage to get him into the street, and start pushing him as fast as we can. Meanwhile he tells us that he only knew how the tea had a suggestive effect on people who drank it. It was necessary to save Bretonia, he claims. At the telegraphoffice there is a telegram for Sir Bansk saying that the tea has been delivered to the target. Sir Banks can hardly breathe, when he tells us who the target is: Her Majesty the queen! We are off to the palace in a great big hurry! But at the palace we are told that the queen has just left for her country residence, so off we are again to HM’s private railroad, taking a shortcut through the Botanical Gardens.

By coincidence we run into the others there: Vincent and Mackenzie exits the greenhouse with wild eyes. “It’s 7 meters tall!” Mackenzie cries “We don’t have enough poison to destroy it!” Just then Cassie and Max comes around the corner with Ostenwald. He does not look well, and Cassie drags him along. “It’s all political” Cassie says angrily “They would use it to gain power over someone”. “We know” Henry says “The queen!”. Cassie glares at Sir Banks. “We just wanted the queen to marry, to have children, as is proper. As long as she dotes on her lady in waiting that will not happen! Bretonia needs and heir!” He closes his eyes and shakes his head “But we cannot risk the queen’s life. That we would never do!”. He stares at the green house “We must destroy the plant” he says, and orders Ostenwald to fetch an axe. Mackenzie says no! She is afraid that the plant would get angry. If it had godly magic in it, it could bring about a disaster! “At least we must close the windows in the green house to prevent the pollen from spreading into the city” he says determined. With great difficulty he rises from his wheelchair “It is only fair that I should do it” he says “I am at fault. No one should risk anything, but me”. I can almost see the former great man in him – the one who travelled the world and gathered plants and adventures for 50 years. Ostenwald grabs his arm and help him along. All their animosity is gone. They are two men determined to finish what they have started, before disaster strike. “Go save Her Majesty” he says to us over his should as he enters the green house. And off we are.

Vincent leads the way. Not to any of the gates as they are too far out of our way, but to the fence. To the wrought iron fence… Vincent climbs over it with ease, Mackenzie right on his tails. I cannot touch the fence without extreme pain, so I hesitate. Mackenzie sees my plight and shoves her gloves at me “Here! Use these”. I put them on, and climb over. Vincent gives me a hand at the top. Cassie has some problems getting over, but finally she succeeds as well. For once I did not have the urge to help her, and that feeling scares me. Maybe I need her to not feel good about herself for a little while. But no time for such musings: we must hurry!

But it it hard to hurry, when there is a marketplace all abustling right on the other side of the fence. It is a breadfruit market – apparently every chef, cook and baker has been invited to present exciting new dishes with breadfruit, so here are booths with fried breadfruit, boiled breadfruit, baked breadfruit, breadfruit cake, breadfruit-on-a-stick, breadfruit mousse, breadfruit icecream on a stick and dipped in chocolate. The last thing is shoved at me, while I run past, and it isn’t halfbad, actually. Beyond the market a street preacher is condemning this new abominable food that has come to corrupt us. A whole bunch of oystersellers and the like from the docks have gathered around him and seem very agitated. It is no easy thing to elbow through them. I try to tell them that the breadfruit tastes quite good actually, but that does not appease them one bit.

Finally through them we run down an alley and exit into one of the big boulevard. Here it ought to be easy to move fast, but no: there is an Aphroditefestival going on. Lots of naked and halfnaked people inciting us to dance with them and join in the frivolities. Mackenzie and I both unbuttons our dresses to fit in, but our bossoms must be unimpressive, because it does not get any easier getting through the crowd. Finally we succeed and find ourselves in another crowd: the one on the royal platform. Apparently a lot of people have gathered to wave to the queen as she leaves the city. We finally get through the crowds, just to find that the train has started moving!

Mackenzie, Cassie, Max and I manage to get on board, before it picks up speed, and Mackenzie pulls the emergency stop immidiately. The train stops violently and through the doors I can see the tea trolley rolling down the aisles and fall over. There is tea everywhere! We try to enter the carriage, but a guard stand in the way and will not let us in! Mackenzie jumps him and Cassie and I manage to push in. First Her Majesty will not believe us. Cassie tries her best to convince her, but we all know how unreliable Cassie is, and I don’t blame the queen for disbelieving anything she says. I can see the tealeaves on the floor and the boiled water soaking to them, and that tantalizing smell fills the cabin. I throw myself on top of it, to stop the odours spreading into the carriage. Oh, such a wonderful smell! My hands get wet with the tea, and I put them to my face and inhales deeply. “Grace!” I hear Vincent’s voice and he is right in front of me. He looks at me sternly “Grace! Don’t smell the tea! Don’t taste it!”. The vapours seem gone. I can no longer smell the tea and I feel no inclination to taste it. I hear Henry’s stern and persuasive voice behind me. He explains calmly and in detail to the queen, what the tea might do. And this time she listens. The spilled tea is cleaned up. The crate of tea in the bagagewaggon is removed and destroyed. And we get so be the unsung heroes that saved Her Majesty from harm.

The day after we read in the paper that the entire green house had burnt to the ground. Sir Banks took no chances! He and Ostenwald risked their lives to destroy the ominous plant, and I consider them redeemed.

Speaking of redemntion: Cassie pulls me aside early the next morning. We are the only two up. I walk into the breakfastroom to find her there alone, and I almost back out again, but she stops me. “Grace…? I really need to talk with you! I am so sorry you are angry with me. Please talk to me!” She comes to and I can see she wants to hug me, but doesn’t. In stead she puts a hand on my shoulder. She looks so sorry and sad. I look down and feel great big tears well up in my eyes. “You laughed at me, Cassie” I say. My voice is thick “You made fun of me and you laughed”. My entire body shakes with grief. “Oh Grace!” she says “I am so sorry. I did not think of it like that. I was only kidding. I was like I just HAD to see with my own eyes if it was true. I did not consider how it would feel for you! I am so so so sorry! I was just having fun, but I understand now that it wasn’t fun for you. I am sorry, Grace, please forgive me!” She steps from one foot to another and finally attempts to hug me. Very carefully, not like her usual Cassie-hugs at all “I would never want to hurt you. I do so wish I could change what I did”. I let her pull me into her embrace. I still weep in great heaves. “It wasn’t fun at all. It was like being back at the asylum, and I had to jump to avoid the hose. It was like all the times they made me do things I didn’t want to do. I… I trusted you…” “Oh no, Grace! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Her body is shaking with crying too, now. “I can’t stand having made you feel that way! You have no idea how sorry I am. I hadn’t thought at all that it would make you feel like that. I just thought it was fun, but I didn’t think at all. Oh, I can’t blame you, if you will never trust me again  If I had only considered how it would make you feel, I had never done it! I am sorry, Grace. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you? I promise that I will never ever hurt you again. Never!” I hiccup. “If only you promise never to do it again. I love you, and that’s why it made me so sad. I can’t stand not trusting you, and I really want to trust you again. And I am sorry that you are sorry, but I am also glad that you are sorry, right?” “I know!” Cassie says “I am so glad that I know that you know how sorry I am! I promise I will never do something like that again, and that I will think before acting on such an impulse again. I love you too!”. And we hug for a long time and weep and hug some more. I am so happy!

I feel my dress getting wet through at the shoulder and I break away a bit “How about we get ourselves some tea? Good old fashioned Earl Grey. I don’t think I’ll ever drink anything exotic ever again after the Banks thing”. Cassie hugs me one more time, and we go and make tea and finde some biscuits and some scones and retreat to Cassies room. We curl up on her bed with our tea and she says “You know, there was something else that I really want to talk to you about. But it has to be a secret! You cannot tell a single soul!” I feel so happy that we are confidentes again and I nod. She goes on “I have to get it right in my head first, and you can help me with that”. I nod encouragingly “Anything I can do to help. Is it a secret from Vincent too?” She nod “Yes, so far it is. I don’t want to worry anyone needlessly. You see, Lady Sibyl contacted me a while ago. She’s been looking for me, as you know, and well, now she did. I was at this party, and suddenly! *poof*” Cassie makes a gesture with her hands like she was doing a magic trick “There she was! I was very surprised, but she wasn’t threatening at all. In short, she just wanted to talk with me, and she said that things wasn’t so black and white as the Society paints it. She hoped I would give her the benefit of the doubt. She said, she knew about my powers, and that she could help me control them. And she promised to answer all my questions. The price is that I have to go on holiday with her over the winter”. Cassie gets up and start pacing back and forth “Well, I KNOW, it is Sibyl and that I can’t trust her, but it made me think. The Society was deadwrong about you. They were ready to execute you. What if they are wrong about her as well? And even if they AREN’T wrong, it might not be so bad to go with her and hopefully learn something about her plans, about how she works, who she sees. We are always a step behind. So I am considering going with her. What do you think? Is it crazy to go?” I ponder this “I don’t think it is crazy. But wildly dangerous! But as you say, we might learn a lot about her. I wish I could go with you, but I don’t think she’d let me. I could follow you? Sneakylike?” Cassie shakes her head “I don’t think that would work. It’s about trust. And breaking her trust is not a very good beginning. If she wanted to harm me, she’s had amble oportunity. So I don’t think I’ll be in any danger. And I really want to know what she knows!” I nod. I get her point. “Well, I’m glad you told me. Then we can come save you, if you don’t come back”. Cassie is all smiles now “She said she’d answer all my questions. And I have so many questions, Grace!” I know she does “I’ll send you postcards, so you know all is well. Maybe we should agree on some kind of code?” I get excited “Yes, codes! If you mention Vincent in your card, then all is well, and if you mention Niall, then I’ll know you are in trouble, and we’ll come save you!” Cassie nod as excited as me “Good idea! Oh, Grace! To get answers to ALL my questions!” I sigh “I can’t blame you. If someone offered to tell me all about nymphs I wouldn’t hesitate a moment either. I don’t know a thing about my own kind!” I think “Maybe she does? Could you ask her? If she knows anything about nymphs?” Cassie grabs my hands “I most certainly can! We should write down all our questions!” She looks around her room “Paper! I haven’t any paper”. I jump out of the bed “I’m sure Henry does!” I open the door and yell into the house “HENRY! DO YOU HAVE HAVE ANY PAPER?!” I wink at Cassie “We won’t tell him what it is for”. Cassie giggles. A grumpy Henry in his morningcoat glares at me from his door a floor down “What?” But he finds paper for us, and Cassie and I sit down to write down everything we want to know about things. Later I wake Henry again for more paper.

Offentliggjort af Den tatoverede børnebibliotekar

Bibliofil rollespiller, Æventyrer, lystløgner, mor og zeppelinerstyrmand. Jeg har knytnæverne resolut plantet i siden og med en kappe, der blafrer i vinden

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