Saturday, 5 January 2013

A True Love's Lament (Part XII)

Dear anyone,

Never forget to ensure one's staff thinks of one fondly.

To think, at long last, it has come to this: beginning what may be my last message to anyone in this world with the most cliche of bromides. Familiarity does not invalidate wisdom, of course - though oddly it seems frequently to inure us to it - and in my particular situation it seems particularly relevant.  It also allows me at least a little time to avoid coming to what is a painful and horrifying point.

So, yes, always keep the help sweet, if possible.  Otherwise you may find sputum in your gin and tonic, find your carriage regularly delayed for odd and unconvincing reasons, or find yourself unable to persuade them to smuggle a pencil and paper into the underground cell you've been pushed into by insane bird-worshipping cultists.  The last might seem a rather unlikely scenario, but given my current straits I believe I can be forgiven for having little desire to argue over the odds.

Thanks to the kindly assistance of the boy who brings me the closest analogue to meals in this setting (the dirt on the floor coming a close second), I can at least record the events of what might be my final hours in God's Creation.  The Conclave of Thoth has gathered, and I have been presented.

It did not go well.

My morning began with a perfunctory wash in lukewarm water, held in a bird-shaped bowl alongside a single peacock feather, which drifted listlessly across the surface until I summoned up the courage to cast it aside.  My body as clean as my captors and the light from my single small window shaft would allow, I was then pressed into wearing the same outlandish garb as had been worn by yesterday's eleven lady visitors, save each item was black rather than many-coloured, and the beak upon the small face mask had been sawed clean off.  Thus clothed, I was led by silent servants through tunnels I must have traversed just yesterday - I remember nothing of how I came here, I must have been drugged - until we came to a door carved from oak, each panel a wood relief of bird flocking or eagles hunting down rabbits.  It took a moment before I realised the door itself was in the shape of a huge bird, some bloodthirsty shrike viewed end on as it hunched over its kill.

Whatever else was true, it was clear those who had kidnapped me did not lack for dedication to their beliefs.

One of those guiding me stepped to the door and knocked upon it, a single short rap with the knuckles.  Moments later, in response to no summons or command I could detect, he pushed upon the wood, and the door opened, pale blue light spilling from it like lazy water.  Without so much as a word, the man indicated I should enter, and I strode forwards through the frame, determined to meet my fate with all the considerable dignity I possess.

Inside, I found myself at the centre of a circular cave.  The tunnel I had travelled down to arrive here stretched out behind me, a long half-cylinder of grey rock that betrayed no hint of its hollowness.  The blue light that had crept through the threshold now surrounded me, emanating so far as I could tell from the rock itself. Above and around me, carved into the hemispheric rock face that formed the cave wall, stood eleven figures, each one wearing feathered robes so resplendent as to make yesterday's visitors seem drab almost to the point of invisibility, and bearing headdresses wrought into the shapes of ibis heads, leaving only their stern mouths visible, twitching in the blue glow.

"We are the Lords of Thoth!" they intoned together.  Eleven lords for eleven ladies; the implication was hardly complex.  I opened my mouth to speak, but was immediately silenced by those above me. "We await the arrival of the Adjudicator", they informed me tonelessly.

"And now he is here," came a reply from the cave wall directly behind me.

It might at first seem logical to assume that a voice left to echo loudly through an open space would be easier to identify. After all, one has more opportunities to recognise the speaker from each line.  In actual fact, though, the echoes sit atop and blur one another, swirling into one another, making it hard to pick out what one is listening for.

And so it took me a few moments to recognise my father's voice.

It had been his plan all along.  The Young Ornithologist subscription each Christmas for my brother and I, in the hopes we would follow in his footsteps.  The introduction to the perilous dunderhead in the wake of my brother's utter incompetence, which ruled him out entirely as cult material.  All ruined by my refusal to accept the traditional gifts of induction, and by both rejecting my former fiance and making entirely too much noise whilst I was doing it.  In the blue chamber beneath the earth my father argued that had I but known, I would never have caused such problems.  For my part, I am sure I would merely have caused damage with more precision, and with an eye to surviving counter-attack.

But it does no good to think of what might have been.  If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, presumably to the nearest knacker's yard to exchange their mounts for gin money.  With the police sniffing the perilous dunderhead's trail (and if there could be any silver lining to this cloud of reeking insanity, it's that his intemperance seems to have enraged the "lords of Thoth" just as much as my indiscreet displeasure has), I could not be allowed to remain where I was. Total indoctrination was quickly rejected; no woman can join the cult without their husband going first. Apparently even a man prepared to hide in catacombs wearing a moth-eaten bird's head will only remove themselves so far from society's mores.  Letting me go was seemingly even more unacceptable.

Which is why they sentenced me to death.

At midnight tonight, cultists will hold me down, cut open my cranium, and pull out my grey matter.  Apparently, it will then be fed to a large variety of birds, though I confess I paid little attention to the specifics of their plan past a certain obvious point.  Something about my essence living on in the children of the Gods, which gave my father rather more comfort than it did me.

Naturally, I am delighted father can find such spiritual satisfaction in the murder of his daughter.  I would hate to think he would send her to her death with a heavy heart.  I realise that I will be dead either way, but the small things become oddly important once the major decisions have been set in stone.  There is still some hope; perhaps not every policeman in the county is in the pockets of the bird-worshippers, and they may still pick up the trail.  Perhaps my flirtations with my inconstant gaoler will allow me to escape alongside or after my letter.

Perhaps, perhaps.  For one more day, it is still Christmas, after all.  A time for miracles.

Somewhere in the distance, through the small shaft above me spilling out what little daylight remains, I can hear the scratchy clucking of a partridge, and I wonder what it is it wants.


Alice Stoneleigh.

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