Chapter Seventeen: One last try?
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
The first question Calpurnia asked Geoff when he entered her flat was, “Have you seen the morning papers?”
Geoff looked about. Jackie and Marcus were here, and to his surprise Ursula was, too. Cambions were not known for perseverance. He nodded wearily. Speaking up enough to be heard by all, he said, “The newspapers. The television. The news feeds on the web. ‘Loud explosions near Great Yarmouth, police investigating, Royal visit endangered.’ At least they’ve no idea what caused it, and haven’t gone poking around the old fort.”
Calpurnia squinted a bit at Geoff. “You’re sure about that?”
Geoff gave her a crooked smile. “Went out there myself, which is why I’m late. And,” turning to address Marcus, “Charlotte Wallace wants to know why you haven’t killed the wyrms yet in a fit of rage.”
“Nice to see my reputation hasn’t changed,” was Marcus’s laconic reply.
“Did you tell her the female is pregnant?” That was Ursula’s main concern.
Geoff turned to her. “Happens I did, which calmed her down, not that she needed much.” Turning back to Marcus, he added. “She said she’d been talking to the English Council.”
Marcus had been sitting at the kitchen table. Now he got up and started pacing, tossing a glance at whomever he was addressing. “And the Council’s been talking to me, Geoff, a lot of fool notions about trying to attack the things head-on. They even accused me of being too protective of Cal.”
Calpurnia’s left eyebrow went up so high in astonishment that she almost got a headache. “So what did you tell them?”
Marcus stopped pacing and gave her an evil grin. “I told them to call you and ask if I’d ever been guilty of that. And then I told them we have a plan that will solve everything, which she,” and he glared at Ursula, “refuses to carry out.”
Ursula, who was on the couch, just looked away, out the window. She wanted to tell Marcus that she would never punch a pregnant creature of any kind (well, not unless it wanted to be punched). And normally she would have. But her fear of what Katherine Swynford might do to her meant she didn’t dare refuse absolutely. Maybe she would have to.
Jacintha, sitting beside Ursula, felt sorry for her. So she spoke up. “I don’t think having Ursula physically attack the wyrms is a good idea, either. The first time, she caught one of them by surprise. This time she could end up like a plate of short ribs.” The others stared at her, so she added an explanation. “Barbeque, you know?” Which she would dearly love a plate of right now; she had decided that English cooking was as bad as commonly described.
Geoff wasn’t entirely sure about what had been discussed, but he wanted to end this unnecessary squabbling. “Ursula’s not going to have to hit anything, at least I hope not. One of my students came up with a plan, which we can put into effect tonight.”
Ursula spun around in her seat. “Kate and Willie will be here by then. They’re even supposed to be going on a boat cruise. I don’t know if it’s on the North Sea or Breydon Water, though.”
“Let’s hope it’s Breydon Water,” Geoff replied. And when everyone looked at him in surprise, he laughed. “The more people on the Water tonight, the better.”
Ursula was in her element. There was a party with plenty of men about. Admittedly, most were the boat’s crew, but that didn’t keep some of them from being handsome young lads. OK, so the pilot was an older guy, but Ursula didn’t mind toying with him. Particularly when it would prove useful for their wyrm-handling scheme.
Right at the moment, she was standing beside Kate (the Duchess of Cambridge, not the Royal Magician) looking over the railing, pointing out different places along the shore. Kate was just fascinated that Ursula had grown up around here and knew just about everything in sight.
“Yeah, it’s great to get back to the old home town,” Ursula remarked. “Growing up here, we used to do a lot of swimming. I’m even wearing my suit under this outfit.”
Kate turned and looked Ursula over. She was a bit envious, having given birth only two months before, and still felt she didn’t have her figure back yet. While Ursula never seemed to lose hers, no matter how much Kate saw her eat and drink. Must be all that dancing, Kate thought. Or all those guys. Just as long as she stays away from mine. Out loud, she asked, “You going to go swimming here?”
“Oh, yeah,” Ursula replied. “Don’t tell anyone, but I persuaded the pilot to take us up the way a bit to a favorite old swimming place of mine.” Which wouldn’t be possible if the tide wasn’t rising. “I might just shuck my clothes and jump in.”
Kate laughed and their talk drifted to other subjects. Ursula managed to keep up a running conversation while watching the sun, the tides, and the yacht’s course.
And then she figured she should give their plan a little trial run. A little push on her part, and Kate abruptly announced she had to go in to breastfeed her youngest child, and asked if Ursula wanted to join her. Ursula demurred, saying she wanted to see more of her old home grounds. Kate gave her a smile and headed for the cabin.
Ursula turned back to look out at the water, a secret smile on her face. She was a master of sexuality. And that just naturally included motherhood.
Geoff swore under his breath, at great length and with great inventiveness, at the outboard motor on their boat. Gwen waited until he was swearing in Scottish Gaelic before she intervened. “Here, Geoff, let me do it.” She shoved him aside, sat down, and inspected the controls.
Geoff was quite willing to be displaced. He had a long and unhappy relationship with motors and engines, whereas “June” (she still hadn’t revealed her real identity to him) hadn’t met a mechanical contrivance yet that she couldn’t fix with a screwdriver and some wire.
Not that she needed much this time. She flipped a switch, pulled the cord, and the engine started up easily. “The choke,” was all the explanation she offered. “Why don’t I steer?”
Now Geoff had no false pride about his mechanical abilities, but navigating required intelligence, and therefore he felt it rightly fell in his domain. “Do you know where you’re going?”
Without giving it a thought, Gwen replied, “Of course, I grew up around here.”
Simultaneously, both of them realized that they’d said too much. Geoff recovered a little faster and said, “Oh, must have been summer holidays?”
Gwen nodded, relieved not to have been caught out. She’d told Geoff she was from Manchester. “Good thing you were able to get a boat here at the castle marina.”
If you only knew, Geoff thought. He’d had to get Marcus to pull some strings, Marcus being the one with connections here, and that had meant telling Marcus just who would be in the boat with him. Which had resulted in Marcus making a number of calls that got them the boat, all the while describing how he had tortured and killed the last person who had offended him as much as Geoff had. “Just a matter of knowing who to ask, June,” was all he said on the subject. “And if you’re familiar with this area, I want you to set a course and speed to get us as close to the castle as possible just at sunset.”
Calpurnia was so happy to be able to tramp on her own two feet again. She was smiling, which is more than could be said for two of the other three members of her party.
Jacintha was weighed down with the box holding some of the fleeces, her camera slung over one shoulder, the magic assault rifle over the other, ammunition and lenses in cases strapped to her belt. She felt like a pack mule. No, pack mules usually had nice level paths. In contrast, they were going cross-country to avoid the crowds that had decided a Royal Visit was a good time to go picnicking. Which meant about every tenth step Jacintha was in danger of turning her ankle.
Marcus wasn’t smiling, either. Instead, he had that grim look on his face for those times when he had work to do, but could contemplate committing mayhem later. Geoffrey MacAlpine was at the top of the list he was constructing in his head. And that made his mood a bit sour, as he could not figure out how he would ever be able to harm MacAlpine without Guinevere finding out and hunting him down.
It had been agreed by all that Calpurnia’s foot had healed too recently for her to carry much additional weight, so Calpurnia had coaxed her daughter Bathsheba into service. Bathsheba was holding up one end of the kayak, Marcus the other. (Calpurnia had the paddles.)
Bathsheba was short compared to Marcus, so she was carrying less than half the weight of the kayak, and they both knew it. Normally, that would have put Bathsheba on Marcus’s list of people to harm, but he rated Calpurnia’s middle daughter as beneath his notice. Though that didn’t stop him from shooting her an annoyed glare whenever the difficulties of uneven ground threw yet more of the weight on him.
After one of these episodes, Marcus growled, “Can’t you even walk a straight line, Sheba?”
“Sorry,” Bathsehba replied. And then her dislike of Marcus led her into a bit of mischief. “Hey,” she said, “with me and Ursula here, all we need is Gwen, too.”
Marcus gritted his teeth. Maybe he should add Bathsheba to his enemies list.
It had been a fine day. The weather had been pleasantly warm (unless you were carrying a kayak), there had been a slight breeze, and the yacht with the Royal couple had toured Breydon Water, Willy and Kate coming out every so often to wave at the spectators. People had taken picnic lunches to relax by the Water and see all the boats cruise by.
A few clouds rose in the west as the sun began to set, producing a striking red sky. The yacht with the Royal couple was toward the western end of the Water, with many boats behind them, all the way to Great Yarmouth. Few eyes were turned further up the Water, where a motorboat was coming down from the marina, and a two-person kayak was being launched from the shore.
And there were fewer still that noticed the waters off the old fort became oddly disturbed as the sun set. Only seven sets of eyes, in fact: two in the motorboat, two in the kayak, three nearby onshore, and Ursula, still on the yacht, standing alone at the rail.
Ursula grinned. It was all coming together. Now all she had to do was concentrate. Feel out where the wyrms are. Feel them waking up. Yes, it was all going to work.
And then she almost jumped a foot as she heard her name being called. Turning around, she found herself facing Kate and Willy. Kate said to her, “We’re sitting down to some tea. Would you like to come in and join us?”
You are not supposed to be out here! Ursula tried to think furiously, and instead sounded like she had a screw loose. “Ah, um, hey, um, well, I, ah . . .”
“You looked like you’d seen something really interesting out there,” Willy interjected. He stepped forward to the rail. “Want to show us what is it?”
No, no, no, no! You’re not supposed to be out here. You’re not supposed to see this! To Ursula’s horror, she could see the turbulence in the water increase dramatically. The wyrms would be emerging any moment and she was not ready!
Panic! Ah, wait a moment . . . ready to do what? Ursula sounded too cheerful to be planning to punch out a pregnant wyrm. And the others . . . the fleeces are obvious, but what’s Gwen doing there? And who’s in the kayak? Lost? Confused? Well, you won’t be after the next chapter!