The catastrophe of the e.., p.11
The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.11LR Manley
“Just do as I ask. It will be fine, trust me.”
Jared raised the glass and, while trying to still his shaking hand, he ever-so-gently tilted the small bottle and saw the liquid moved to the lip. Madame Veer sat perfectly still, her eyes closed and Jared watched the liquid form in the small neck of the glass before a drop fell from the tip. He was just about to pull his hand back when the drip detached and landed on Madame Veer’s forehead, missing the cut. He opened his mouth to apologise when the liquid moved to the wound of its own accord and expanded briefly to fill the cut on her scalp. With no sound at all the cut sealed and closed, the only sign of injury being the blood on her head. Then that contracted in on itself and disappeared too.
She opened her eyes and smiled. “Thank you Jared, very well done. You have a steady hand.”
“We can’t stay here now it’s too dangerous.” Madame Veer said, glancing around the hallway. There was no sign of the recent disturbance and intrusion, the orphanage was peaceful again, the moonlight casting deep, velvet shadows on the floors and ancient walls. Bue shuffled nervously, his crossbow slung and the quarrel back in its quiver. Jared was still astounded by what he’d seen and realised this world had more surprises than he could ever have dreamed of.
Leppard was checking the corridors adjacent to the one they were on. He came back and nodded. “I agree. We need to leave, but it has to be all of us.”
Madame Veer tied her long silver hair back with a ribbon from her breast pocket and stood tall. She was an imposing figure even in her night gown. “I can take three with me via Shimmer. The rest will have to walk with you.”
“We’ve got Shimmer HERE?” Makeo said looking flabbergasted. “How come we didn’t know?”
“Because you weren’t meant to know young man,” Veer replied icily.
Leppard spoke to Bue. “Get the three smallest boys and bring them here, tell them to bring clothes, shoes and no more. Tell the others to wait for us in the dorm.”
“Where are we going?” Bue asked looking confused.
Leppard was about to tell him to do as he’d asked but thought better of it. “With Madame Veer to the Cherubs. It’s the safest place we can think of.”
Bue thought about this for a moment then tapped Jared on the arm. “Come on fella,” he said grinning and led the way.
Leppard turned to Madame Veer. “Why the walk?” he enquired curiously. “Why don’t we all just go with you?”
“The Shimmer won’t work with more than four, won’t work without me and once I’m gone; can’t be used until I come back and reset it. If everyone could use it this world would be in chaos.”
“Why not take Jared with you?” Leppard asked, looking confused.
“The smallest boys are too young to walk and the Shimmer’s signal may be picked up if Jared uses it.”
Leppard smiled brightly. “Fair enough, I could use the exercise anyway.”
“You need to take the woodland trails and DON’T use magic unless you have no choice. You will leave a trace that whoever is trying to find that boy will be able to use to track you. You should make it in just over a day.”
Bue and Jared returned with Challandra. They had the frightened small child who was clutching Challandra’s hand tightly and staring with scared eyes at Madame Veer and the others. The other two children were about seven or eight years old and seemed less upset by the night’s events but still uneasy. Madame Veer smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry children, it will be ok. We are going to visit our friends in Cherub mansion. You remember that Mr Cherubsayl came here before as our guest?”
The three children nodded silently.
“Well he’s going to look after us now for a little bit. You three are very lucky as you are going to use the Shimmer with me to get there.”
One of the boys brightened at this and looked up at Leppard then at Madame Veer. “Cor!” he exclaimed. “Does it hurt when you do that?”
Madame Veer smiled. “No Mispyn, it’s just like closing your eyes and opening them again.”
“Oh, brilliant. I’ve never seen one of these before!”
The boys had small leather bags with them with green straps and they were clutching them tightly. Jared glanced at the smallest boy. The child still looked bewildered and was clearly scared out of his wits. Jared caught his eye and winked at him. After a moment’s pause the boy started to cry and put his arms round Challandra’s waist. She said gently, “it’s ok Getruhl” and Jared blushed, grateful no one had seen his unsuccessful attempts at being reassuring.
“Wait here for a few minutes while I get changed,” Madame Veer said and moved to a red doorway opposite her office.
Jared looked at Bue. “One day?”
“Yep,” Bue replied grinning wildly. “Should be fun with a capital F.”
After a few minutes Madame Veer returned. Her hair was tied back in the usual tight bun. She was wearing a black, formal tunic and black trousers with shiny, polished black boots, the type a woman would wear to ride a horse. “Elegant but also very scary”, Jared thought. Over her shoulder was a larger version of the bags the children had.
“Once we’re gone go to the kitchen, grab what food you can for yourselves. Don’t be greedy but then don’t take too little and make sure you have enough water.” Madame Veer said to Challandra.
She turned to the small children. “Ok then boys, come with me,” and moved off to a large blue door near the cloakroom they were standing next to and took a key from her pocket. The wood squeaked in protest and removing the lit torch from the wall, she went in. The air was musty and the room smelled like it hadn’t been used in ages. “Once we go, lock this door and put the key in my office,” she instructed Leppard.
Mispyn ran forward as the door swung open and barely paused to brush the cobwebs from his face and shoulders that had grown across the door frame, before hopping about excitedly.
“This is brilliant, never thought I’d see one.”
Jared looked on puzzled. This wasn’t a platform like he’d expected with devices to move them individually with some kind of magical control panel. It was just a large, shallow indentation in the floor that was grey and unassuming, like the rest of the room. There were a couple of old, unlit lanterns on the walls and a window, high up on the back wall behind the dish in the floor. The moonlight shone through the grimy glass, casting spattered shadows around the room where the dust span and turned lazily in the air.
Jared looked around and wondered why this room, so boring and basic would have to be permanently locked up and kept secret.
Mispyn was hopping up and down and excitedly shouting, “oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” running around and through the centre of the recessed platform.
Madame Veer took another crystal from her pocket and turned to a small bracket in the wall. It was purple, elegantly engraved and carefully she placed the jewel in a square slot then stood back. After a few seconds the jewel glowed brightly.
Getruhl was staring wide eyed and while appearing less frightened than before was holding tightly to Challandra’s hand as they entered the room. Mispyn was still jumping about, his shaggy black hair tumbling over his face.
Getruhl didn’t want to leave Challandra and clung on tightly to her hand, crying.
Challandra crouched down in front of him and spoke quietly, “There’s nothing to be afraid of Getruhl. I promise you I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”
Madame Veer looked on saying nothing, clearly realising that being strict would not work now.
The boy wailed and tried to hug Challandra but she gently held his arms.
“No Getruhl. I promise you I’ll be there as soon as I can. Please go with Madame now. It’s for the best.”
She walked with him to the centre of the room. The child still had a tight grip on her hand and wouldn’t let go, his face full of pleading. Challandra squatt
The boy sniffed loudly and tried to smile as Challandra reached up and clasped the chain behind his neck and smiling, tucked the stone under his green shirt and kissed his cheek gently. “I’ll be there for you soon, now please. You need to go.”
She pulled her hand free and Getruhl stood next to Mispyn. The other two were still jumping up and down with excitement, their ankle length boots clipping on the dusty, hard floor. Getruhl tried to smile and grasped the chain in his fingers for reassurance as he gazed forlornly at Challandra.
She stepped clear and Madame Veer addressed them all. “Now remember. No magic unless absolutely necessary and keep to the woodland trail, not the open roads. Leave as soon as we’re gone and lock up. The doorkeeper will be able to tell everyone what happened here.”
She grasped the hands of the boys nearest to her. One looked over at Bue. “Beat you to it,” he smirked, but not unpleasantly. Getruhl held the other hand of the boy nearest to him.
Bue grinned back and saluted the boy theatrically. “See you soon Jerean. Take care of Getruhl and Mispyn.”
Madame Veer closed her eyes and the effect that Jared had seen in the council chamber began again. Large ripples coming in from the corners of the room and converging into the centre. The purple light behind them glowed brighter and brighter until it was too much to look at without hurting your eyes. Jared glanced away and the ripples converged on the group, who started to fade. As the ripples came in on one another in the centre, the group became transparent. Then as the waves completely folded in they spread out rapidly then disappeared. The purple light glowed even brighter for a second and finally dimmed. It turned a cold grey and the room was lit only by the moonlight coming through the windows.
There was a silence and then Leppard turned to them. “Right, you lot. To the kitchens. We need to get food and then we’re off at first light.”
The dorm room was buzzing with excitement as they came back. The remaining boys had no idea what was going on and they bombarded Leppard, Bue and Challandra with questions as they returned to collect them.
“Settle down,” Leppard barked as he tried to make himself heard over the ruckus. Eventually the chatter subsided and Leppard cleared his throat.
“Right. We need to leave here. Some bad people came tonight as you are aware but were not successful in their attempt to take young master Jared away with them.”
Another excited buzz and Leppard waited until it died away, then continued. “Madame Veer has gone ahead to the Cherubs with the others via Shimmer. We will be walking.”
There was a groan from one or two of the boys as this information was taken in. They realised they’d missed using or even seeing the Shimmer working, something only a few of them had ever witnessed.
“However it’s nice weather and you could all do with some exercise” he said smiling.
The boys smiled back. They trusted Leppard despite his gruff demeanour and they all liked him.
“You are to all take this with the most exceptional seriousness” he said sternly, his facial expression changing to one of complete sincerity. “You are under my protection and I will not see any of you come to harm. Anyone acting the fool will be punished severely both at the time and when we get back here. Is that clear?”
They all nodded.
“Now, go with master Bue to the practice hall and collect your bows, quarrels and packs. Don’t dawdle and when you have them, meet back in the kitchen. You are to take your day clothes, your walking boots and a large pack, nothing more. Now get to it.”
Bue led them out the doors, his bow reloaded and held ready for anybody that might spring unwisely from a dark corner.
Leppard turned to Challandra. “Is a day a realistic estimate?”
“Yes, we can maybe make it in less. We have to press on though. They might come back.”
“I know” Leppard replied seeing her discomfort and shifting his bow to the other hand he patted her shoulder reassuringly. “We’ll be okay. I’m just glad she took little Getruhl and the other two. That boy is scared of his own shadow.”
Challandra glared at him and snapped. “He’s frightened out of his wits and he’s only 5! How did you cope when you were that age?”
Leppard started slightly at her anger and his face creased in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I like the boy too…it’s just…”
Challandra relaxed slightly and blushed. In a quiet voice she said, “I’m sorry. This is too much to take in. I feel guilty about those men. They’re dead because of me.”
Leppard patted her arm again. “Don’t be. They would have hurt anyone they came across. They were brutal men. They would not have shown mercy, to anybody.”
Challandra moved towards the door. Turning she looked at Jared. “Come on, we need to get the food sorted.”
In the canteen there had been a frantic rush as the boys tried to make for the sweet cupboard until Challandra had screeched at them to get out and wait in the dining area. She sorted the food into bundles and gave each bundle a leg or two of roasted meat, some ham and hard boiled eggs plus a generous portion of green vegetables. Also three or four of Penny’s cakes that the boys loved. She wrapped each pile of food up in waxed paper and tied it up in a leather sack with string.
“Penny's gonna kill you Miss when she sees you’ve robbed her prize puddin’s” Stone said cheerily.
“Just take your things and go fill your drinking flask,” Challandra said firmly and the boy smirked at her and then walked over to the huge clay water pot at the side of the room.
Leppard and Bue returned from securing all the doors and Leppard coughed for attention.
“Do you all have your bows and quarrels?” he shouted.
The boys took a final cursory glance and nodded in unison.
“Right we leave now. We are not going out the front door and we will be absolutely silent. Anyone talking gets my boot up their backside. Clear?”
The boys stood up and Leppard led them out the room and down the corridor. Bue grabbed Jared’s arm and passed him his bow. “Here, you forgot this.”
“Thanks” Jared said, slinging the bow and trying to buckle the quiver belt while walking. “You ok?”
“Lovin’ it” Bue replied cheerfully, his smile threatening to split his face open.
As the sun prickled the sky the group left the building. Making their way out into the early morning rays of light. The woods at the back of the orphanage were thick and seeing the broken path through the pink and orange light was not easy. Jared was tired and while no longer hungry he wondered if he’d ever get to sleep normally again.
Bue was as chirpy as ever. Nothing ever seemed to upset him or tire him out and he took the rear position behind the group, checking every few seconds around him. His bow held across his chest ready for anyone that might try to stop them. Challandra was in the middle with the main group of boys and she smiled to try and keep their spirits up as they moved silently through the trees. The chirping of birds and the sound of their footprints in the grass was the only thing disturbing the stillness. The trees were tall and their leaves were starting to show the blotches of autumn as they died to make way for winter. The view was beautiful through the long trunks and the path up ahead was overgrown and wound its way around and through the foliage, sometimes disappearing from view completely.
Leppard was at the front and he scanned the area quickly and carefully as they moved on. His senses were honed t
After half an hour of walking Jared dropped back to Bue and whispered. “What are we going to? What’s the Cherubs?”
Bue finished his current scan of the surrounding area and looked at him. “It’s a family, a rich one. They live in a big house in the woods. Them and Madame Veer have been friends for ages. They’ll protect us from whoever is coming after us.”
It was still light when Leppard called time to rest for the night. Most of the boys were tired and becoming irritable and they gratefully fell on their packs in the long grass to the side of the track.
Leppard set out finding a clear space to make a fire and sent two of the boys off to gather wood. Challandra entertained the others with a few stories and kept the younger boys’ spirits up.
Bue was keen to go hunting and Leppard said that provided he could catch something not more than half a mile from the camp then fine. Bue had grinned and promised him a brace of rabbits and three or four birds for the pot when he got back.
He’d taken Jared along and they made their way through the trees, the knee high grass brushing aside as they pushed on. Jared had never been hunting before and he was curious to know the methods. The bright light of day through the trees that they had had since early morning was now making way for a deepening shade of grey. The shadows becoming longer. The noise and chatter of the forest animals was subdued as if they too were turning in for the day. Jared was worried that they would get lost as it got dark but Bue assured him he was an experienced hunter. From all the times he’d been out with his father and lately with Leppard and the other boys. He walked confidently through the forest, his bow held ready for anything.
Jared was about to ask him a question when Bue turned and held his finger to his lips, then pointed further ahead. Jared saw nothing but then after a pause his eyes adjusted and he could see a grey rabbit ahead, nibbling on a leaf of some plant, held between its paws. Bue motioned for Jared to drop down and they squatted, staring ahead. Bue silently raised his bow and steadying his aim he took a deep breath and triggered it. The quarrel shot free from the weapon with a twang and the bolt hit the rabbit with a thud.
The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen by LR Manley / Fantasy have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes