Chapter Twelve: Of photographs and chronicles
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
It was late the next morning. Geoff felt he ought to have a sleep-deprivation headache as he knocked on Calpurnia’s door. When she opened it, he immediately plastered on a smile and asked, “Got your computer up?”
“All ready to go. You’re not going to do anything fancy, I hope. It’s an older machine.” Calpurnia was tempted to add that it burned peat for fuel, but then remembered that Geoff was Scottish, and worried he might resent the joke.
Dropping his voice to a whisper, Geoff asked, “And how is Marcus?”
Calpurnia matched his voice. “He’s cooperating.” She paused and then added, “Just what did you do to get him so mad at you?”
Geoff shrugged his shoulders and lied. “Must be something political. He was up at the Scots Council meeting last night before he came here.” And he stepped past Calpurnia into the kitchen. Seeing everyone gathered around the kitchen table with the laptop there, Geoff pulled a thumb drive out of his pocket. “Success!” he exclaimed, “Thanks to Jackie’s pictures, we have some intelligence on the wyrms.” He passed the drive to Calpurnia, who was now just pulling up beside him. “Madame Kingsley, if you will do the honors?”
Calpurnia took the drive and stepped forward to sit down at the computer, meanwhile giving Marcus a glance, as if to say, “Behave!” Her laptop was set up to display pictures on a thumb drive as a slide show, so all she had to do was to plug the drive into the laptop’s USB port and wait the better part of a minute for a picture to appear on the screen.
“Ta da!” Geoff exclaimed as the first picture appeared on the screen. “Jackie made history: only the second picture of a wyrm ever taken, and the first with two wyrms.”
Jacintha went from elation to confusion as Geoff spoke. She asked, “Second picture?”
Geoff nodded. “Exactly. Next picture, Calpurnia.”
An extremely dismal black-and-white picture of what could have been a wyrm in the water or a warped broomstick in a dark closet appeared on the screen. “That,” Geoff explained, “was taken of the Danish-Scottish wyrm in 1924.”
After studying it, Jacintha was satisfied that it was in no way as good as her picture. Still, she had to ask, “How come I’ve never seen or even heard about this?”
“Suppressed by the British Government under the Official Secrets Act. And the photographer died in 1940 during the Blitz,” replied Geoff. “But that’s not the interesting part. Cal, next picture.”
Two side-by-side frames came up. Geoff explained, “One of my Scottish colleagues is a whiz at image analysis. She used every enhancement technique she could think of to compare Jackie’s pictures with the 1924 photo. And look what she found. The edge and spot patterns on the Danish-Scottish wyrm and one of the two Jackie shot last night are the same.”
Calpurnia drew the obvious conclusion. “Then one of the wyrms is our old Breydon wyrm, a male, and this other wyrm is a female wyrm from the Faroes. Tell me it’s not breeding season for these things.”
Marcus interjected. “No one knows what the breeding season is for wyrms, or if they can mate at any time as adults.” He stood up and scowled at Geoff. “This goes way beyond your assignment, MacAlpine, yours and Calpurnia’s. I’m going to officially ask the English Council to call in the Government.” Before anyone could object, Marcus strode out the door. They all heard the door slam behind him.
Jacintha was the first to react. “Well, that’s it, then.” She looked over to Geoff, who was pulling at his chin, and Calpurnia, who was frowning, and asked, “Isn’t it?”
Calpurnia began tentatively, “Unless they want to nuke Great Yarmouth, it would be pretty hard to hide . . .”
Geoff shook his head. “And nothing short of that might kill them.” He turned to Jacintha. “My apologies, Jackie. I doubted what you told me about not being able to hit the wyrms with the magic bullets.”
Jacintha couldn’t contain the surprise in her voice. “It wasn’t my aim?”
“No, it wasn’t. Supernatural creatures have supernatural protections. You could have shot at their heads all night and never hit them. Or so one of our archivists told me this morning when I called them up.”
“But I did hit them lower down.”
“Precisely. They’re less well protected there.” Geoff sat down in the chair Marcus had vacated. “But they can regenerate the lower body parts. To kill them, one has to destroy their heads. And that, short of a nuclear bomb, may not be possible without magic, a lot of it.”
Calpurnia couldn’t resist a smug smile. “And what if we don’t need to kill them? What if we can just send them back into hibernation?”
“Sure, if we could.” Geoff didn’t disguise the tiredness in his voice.
Jacintha reached across the table and gave Geoff a slap on the arm. “Never you mind him, Calpurnia,” she said, turning to the Englishwoman. “Tell us about it.”
Calpurnia’s smile broadened. “I went back to reread Thomas the Cuckold’s account.” Ignoring Geoff rolling his eyes, Calpurnia continued. “My daughter Sheba helped out by developing a concordance of several obscure terms. With those, I was better able to interpret just what Thomas was saying. Geoff,” and she turned to face him, “it’s the head that’s critical. What you’ve just told us confirms it. The ‘cloth’ that was used to put the wyrm back to sleep covered its head . . . specifically its eyes.”
Jacintha shivered, remembering what those eyes had done to her. Geoff was now interested, leaning forward, his hands clasped in front of his face as he carefully considered what Calpurnia said. To which he responded, “Go on.”
“I thought Thomas was saying a virgin had to dress it according to its own kind, covering its head. But that’s not what he was saying.” Calpurnia stood up and started pacing, gesturing and glancing at her two colleagues as she made her points. “First of all, it’s the creature’s eyes that have to be covered, not the whole head. Thomas is engaging in one of his frequent figures of speech. That’s what he does a lot of the time; he’s worse than an Icelandic skald that way.”
Geoff and Jacintha looked at each other, bemused by Calpurnia’s casual use of an obscure comparison.
Calpurnia went on. “It took me a bit of time to unscramble the rest. What he’s really saying is that one has to use a newly made fleece or fleeces sewn together, with the wool turned down to cover the wyrm’s eyes.” And then she concluded apologetically, “Though it may have to cover the creature’s whole head, or at least the ears and nose, too. I can’t be 100% sure whether Thomas is being figurative or literal in that stretch.” And with that she sat down and looked at her two teammates to see what they thought.
Jacintha quickly conveyed her support. “That’s great, Cal. At least that’s something we can actually get hold of, I imagine. What do you think, Geoff?”
Geoff had taken to staring at Calpurnia as he thought about what she had said. She found it unsettling, and was about to say something, when he threw back his head and laughed out loud. To Calpurnia’s consternation, every time he stopped laughing he saw her and started laughing again. Finally, emboldened by Jacintha’s behavior, she aimed a kick at his shin. “Want to tell us what the joke is, Geoff?”
Geoff was jolted by the kick, only to find himself laughing again when he saw Calpurnia looking angrily at him. But he held out his hand to indicate she didn’t need to kick him again. Finally, he stopped laughing. “Sorry about that, Cal. It’s just you may have just solved one of the mysteries about wyrms: why they live where they do. It may be the answer is . . . sheep!” And he broke out laughing one more time. Once he’d quieted down, he gave both women a smile. “That’s great, really, Cal. Between the three of us, I think we’ve made considerable progress. More progress than Marcus will make with the Government, I suspect.”
Jacintha was happy to hear Geoff speak so. And she liked the part she had played, so far. Still, she had to point out a problem. “I mean, this is great and all, that we know how to put the wyrms to sleep. But how do we get close enough to cover their heads with fleeces?”
Geoff was still laughing inside. “Get Marcus to do it.”
Calpurnia found herself not appreciating that joke, though she would own to no love lost between herself and her ex-husband. She sharply replied, “He’s not here.”
Geoff started to reply, checked himself, and then carefully chose his words. “Oh, he will be back. He won’t get any help, either from the English Council or from the Government.”
Calpurnia eyed him suspiciously. “Just what are you saying, Geoff?”
He decided it was not fair to leave his partners in suspense. “Remember I called up a Royal Magician?”
Calpurnia gasped. “And he’s going to appeal the matter to the Government?”
Geoff nodded. For Jacintha’s benefit, he said, “I would not want to be Marcus when Kate finds out about this. As far as she’s concerned, this is a matter between her and me, and Marcus is just making trouble.” To himself, he added, And I’m not sure it’s going to be wise to be me, either, because Kate will likely blame me, too.
Had Geoff known what Jacintha was thinking, he’d have been even more worried. Because Jacintha, unlike the other two, remembered that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were due to visit in two days. And I don’t think a Royal Magician will like having Will and Kate endangered by a wyrm, either, she thought to herself.
But really, what could a Royal Magician do? Turns out Katherine Swynford has her own ideas about how to handle things . . . and Marcus is about to find out exactly how they apply to him, in the next chapter!