Epilogue: Two days later
Copyright © 2017 by Brian Bixby
Geoffrey MacAlpine, Professor of Anthropology and Magical Studies, was in a good mood as he walked down the streets of Great Yarmouth. He was going to be back in Edinburgh this evening, and Gwen would be there to greet him with kisses. He’d accomplished his mission and submitted his report, which had pleased Charlotte Wallace no end because it gave her leverage in dealing with the English and Danish magicians. The English were having to admit that a Scots magician helped them, while the Danes were admitting they owned some responsibility for the pregnant female wyrm that was returning to the Faroes. Even the problem of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seeing the wyrm had been dealt with, thanks to some help from Royal Magician Katherine de Roet. Although, Geoff reminded himself, that meant he owed Katherine another favor.
This last thought soured his mood. And this last errand he was on before he left Great Yarmouth was making him nervous. He came to the door he was looking for, and knocked on it.
The door opened, and the flat’s inhabitant, Bathsheba Kingsley, greeted him. “Professor MacAlpine, do come in. The tea should be ready in a trice.”
As he had made no appointment, not even called Bathsheba beforehand, Geoff asked, “Are you expecting company?”
“You,” was all Bathsheba replied as she closed the door behind Geoff and went to take the kettle off the burner. Standing in the entryway, Geoff saw there were biscuits on the kitchen table, laid out on two plates. He walked into the kitchen and sat down in one chair. Bathsheba came over with the kettle, poured the tea, put the kettle aside, and joined Geoff at the table.
The two of them sat there, sipping tea and eating biscuits for several minutes, each giving the other a careful look-over. Geoff was mostly puzzled. Bathsheba, knowing what he must be thinking, wore a small smile on her face.
Finally, Geoff broke the silence. “You have not a drop of magic in you, Bathsheba Kingsley, and yet you knew I was coming. That’s about as good as a confession in my eyes.”
Bathsheba calmly sipped her tea before asking, “What am I confessing to?”
Geoff wasn’t sure whether to admire or be frustrated by Bathsheba’s air of nonchalance. “In writing up my report to the Scots Council, I was left with a mystery. Your sister Gwen tracked down Marcus Satterthwaite while he was in Edinburgh. If she hadn’t done that, a lot of things that happened subsequently wouldn’t have, and we’d never have put together the plan that settled the wyrms. Yet how did Gwen know her father was in Edinburgh? I hadn’t told her, in fact I didn’t even know she was Marcus’s daughter at that time. And almost no one else knew Marcus was coming. So how did Gwen find out?” Geoff paused for dramatic effect. “You told her.”
Bathsheba gave Geoff what she thought of as her enigmatic smile. (In truth, she was much better at being an enigma than looking like one.) “How would I know?”
“Your mother Calpurnia and I talked several times. And I began noticing how your name kept coming up at critical points in this little adventure. Yesterday, I mentioned several of these odd coincidences to her. She told me that she’s noticed such things before, and whenever she brings it up to you, you just say it’s the structure of reality that makes it so. She doesn’t know what you actually mean by that, but she treats it as some sort of Zen thing.
“Me, I’m willing to treat it literally. And your having tea ready for me when I come here unannounced is proof if I ever saw it.”
Bathsheba waited a bit before quietly replying, “If that proves it to you, I need say nothing more.”
Geoff snorted at her reply. The two of them sat there for a bit, sipping tea and eating biscuits. Finally, Bathsheba reopened the conversation. “May I ask you a question?”
Geoff waved his hand as if it were a matter of no importance. “Go ahead.”
“Thank you. It took me a while to figure out that you must have been using magic to communicate with Ursula after she led the wyrm out to the sea, and you must have mentioned to her that you were soaking wet from your dip in the water.” Bathsheba looked at Geoff for confirmation.
Geoff decided to play the enigma himself and said nothing.
Undeterred, Bathsheba came to her real question. “The thing I can’t figure out is how you can look my sister Gwen in the face. You’re a magician. It should drive you crazy.”
Geoff allowed himself a smile. What Bathsheba just said confirmed his suspicion that Bathsheba’s ability, whatever it was and however it worked, did have some limitations. So he gave her a confident look and said, “You’ll kick yourself when you understand how simple it is. I’ve never seen your sister’s face.”
Bathsheba did not feel enlightened. “Wha . . .?”
“I have a spell that blinds me to every part of her face but her mouth when I look at her. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what her eye colour is. And speaking of Gwen, mind if I ask you a question?”
Bathsheba was feeling stupid, an unfamiliar feeling for her. “Ask away.”
“Should I tell Gwen I know who she is, or let her tell me?”
Bathsheba didn’t need even a moment to answer that one. “Let her do it. It would hurt her pride otherwise. And she’ll tell you tonight, anyhow.”
Geoff was willing to take Bathsheba’s word on that. Indeed, Geoff had no doubt Bathsheba had pulled together much more of this whole business than he would ever know. So he finished the last of his biscuits, drank his tea, and pushed back his chair before giving Bathsheba a long look. “I suppose that somehow I owe you, Bathsheba, for helping to bring us all together to deal with the wyrms. So, is there anything you want from me?”
Bathsheba had a reply ready, of course. “My mum’s happy with how things turned out, that’s my biggest reward. And seeing the wyrms up close was neat, too. But you want to do something for me? Give the American photographer back her pictures.”
Geoff reddened in embarrassment. As far as he was concerned, Jackie should have her pictures. She’d earned them. But . . . “I had to take them from her: the Official Secrets Act. We even enforced it on the Royal couple.”
Bathsheba leaned back in her chair, and her smile changed to a mischievous one. “Then invoke the secret annex to the 1707 Act of Union, the one that overrides the Official Secrets Act.”
“There’s no such . . .” And then Geoff paused and looked carefully at Bathsheba’s smile. He’d seen that smile on Gwen many a time, and knew what it meant. What Bathsheba was suggesting was that he concoct a flimsy excuse to muddy the issue and get the Scots Council to back him out of national pride. And he was pretty sure he could get Charlotte to back him, given her ties to the Scottish National Party. But that would only solve part of the problem. And so he said to Bathsheba, “Oh yes, the secret annex, I’d forgotten about that. You know, Bathsheba, the real issue is that we can’t have verifiable pictures of the wyrms floating about. But if the original identification information was removed from the pictures, they wouldn’t be a problem under the Official Secrets Act.”
Bathsheba quietly observed, “Gwen is a tech wizard. Ask her to do it. Shouldn’t take her more than a few hours to figure out how to strip identification info from a camera memory.”
Geoff shook his head in bemusement. Bathsheba really did have things worked out. “I suspect I’m technically committing treason, but I’ll do it and apologize to Jackie. I’ll even tell Jackie you deserve the credit.”
Bathsheba gave him an appreciate smile. “Best not. It would raise too many questions.”
Geoff could see her point. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“Very well, then. I’m off.” Geoff got up to go.
But just as he reached the door, Bathsheba called to him. “Professor MacAlpine.”
Geoff turned. “Eh? And I think we’re on a first name basis now. You can call me Geoff.”
“Very well. Geoff. You’ve done me a favour, let me do you a favour. What Katherine de Roet really wants is conversation. She’s lonely. She thinks she wants a lover, but what she really wants is someone to talk to unreservedly.”
Geoff stood there by the door and thought about it. It made sense. Tucked among the Royal Family, probably not on good speaking terms with the other Royal magicians, Kate could indeed be quite lonely. And if all she wanted, really, was talk and not sex, then that would keep her from disrupting Geoff’s relationship with Gwen.
That thought caused Geoff to shoot Bathsheba a sharp look. Just who was this favor really for, anyhow? Geoff . . . or Bathsheba’s sister Gwen? Geoff thought about asking that question of Bathsheba. And then he decided the answer didn’t really matter that much. He reflected that he’d come here, bored and unhappy with a job that required he work with an amateur. And now that he was ready to leave, he had to accept that the real professional in this whole affair hadn’t been him; it was actually the self-confident woman sitting down at the kitchen table in front of him. And he couldn’t help but notice that he had left the table just as the tea and biscuits had run out. It is the structure of reality, he thought to himself. It’s all the structure of reality, even the wyrms. And he laughed.