Chapter 26: The Divine works in mysterious ways
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
Hannah had been watching Lewis as he fell and then as he crawled out from under the table. At that point, it was as if she lost all interest in him. Instead, she turned and came to me. With a smile on her face, she said to me, “Come, sister. There is nothing to hold us here tonight.” She took my arm, and we started walking toward the back door to the hall. I was so surprised myself that I made no effort to resist. Hannah opened the door and we stepped outside. There were two members of the Watch at that door. They were both slumped to the ground, apparently unconscious.
The whole time, no one had made a move to stop us.
We had got perhaps forty paces beyond the hall when I got up the nerve to ask, “Where are we going, Hannah?”
She didn’t even look at me as she replied, “Where the Divine wants us to go.”
Fortunately, the Divine apparently wanted Hannah to go home. She steered us to the path through the woods that led to the North Village. We’d gotten along about a few minutes into the woods when I heard the sound of someone running up behind us. I halted, bringing Hannah to a stop, and turned to look. It was Alex Bancroft.
He was huffing and puffing as he caught up to us. “I’m glad I got here in time.”
“In time for what, Alex?” I asked.
At that very moment, Hannah let out a gasp, and fell at our feet.
Alex nodded to me. “That.”
We both bent down. Alex was closer to where her head fell, and took her pulse. “Is she OK?” I asked.
Alex nodded. “Just fainted from shock, as I expected she would. Can you find her house in North Village by yourself?”
“Yeah, I think so. You knew this was going to happen?”
Alex was picking Hannah up. Once he threw her over his shoulder and stood up, he gave me a tight grin. “Yes, I did. Skip the explanations for now. Go run ahead to her place and run a warm bath for her, and if you can heat up some tea, too, that would be great.”
Alex seemed to know what he was doing, so I did as he suggested, only losing my way once in North Village before I found her cottage. Fortunately, Hannah was not one of those rare few among the Children who had locks on their doors. I’d managed to get the bath filled and was just starting on the tea when Alex came in, Hannah still draped over his shoulder. He took her into the bathroom, put her on the floor, and began undressing her. I was surprised and was going to say something to him when he looked up at me and said, “This would go faster if you’d help me undress her so we can put her in the tub.”
OK, this wasn’t some kinky idea of Alex’s. I should have realized that. I pitched in, and together we quickly undressed her and got her in the tub. Alex was holding her up so her head didn’t slip underwater. He asked me, “Got the tea ready?”
I shook my head.
He frowned. “I know she keeps festival spirits around here. If you can find that faster, pour out some and bring it here. It will help her recover. She’s used to the stuff, she drinks it so often, otherwise I’d not use it.”
Recover from what, was my question. But I went back into the kitchen, quickly found a bottle of festival spirits, and poured her a serving about the same size as the one she gave me several days before. I brought that back into the bathroom. At a gesture from Alex, I put it to her lips and managed to pour a little into her mouth.
The effect was immediate. Her eyes flew open and she started coughing. And then she let out this loud wail and began to cry, tears streaming down her face. She was mumbling something, but all I could make out was, “I’m lost, I’m lost.” She curled forward in the tub, her face in her hands, bawling uncontrollably.
To my surprise and horror, Alex reached forward, grabbed her by the hair on the top of her head, and yanked it back hard, twisting it until she was facing him. Angrily, he said, “It’s only temporary, Hannah. It’ll come back. So stop acting like a two-year-old.”
Hannah had been as surprised as I was. She glared at Alex when he was speaking and then spat in his face.
Alex let go of her hair. Hannah didn’t take her eyes off of him as he reached into the bath and wet his hand before running it across his face, removing Hannah’s spittle. He looked back at Hannah again, and in a quieter voice said, “I stand corrected. You’re not acting like a two-year-old. You’re acting like a four-year-old. And you know what the punishment is when a child attacks an elder as you just did? It’s to be beaten with a switch until the child is marked for life.”
Hannah turned pale with fright. Alex paid this no regard. Instead, he took the glass of festival spirits from me, and held it in front of Hannah. Without raising his voice, he said, “Drink this. No arguments.”
Hannah took it from him, and downed it all at once. Then she handed the glass back to him. He handed the glass to me, and then, still without raising his voice, said to Hannah, “Emily is going to make some tea for you. Until it is ready, you will stay in this tub and keep warm. Once you’ve drunk your tea, you will come out to the living room and ask my forgiveness. Until then, I don’t want to hear you crying, period.” And then Alex got up and left the bathroom.
I went and made the tea, making some for myself as well. Hannah was still in the tub when I returned. She took and drank her tea without comment, got up, toweled herself dry, and went into her bedroom to put on a nightgown, bathrobe, and slippers. Because she was still a minor, even though she lived alone, there was a switch in her bedroom. She took it down from its bracket on the wall, gazed at it thoughtfully, and headed out to the living room. The whole time, she had said not a word.
Hannah marched up to where Alex was sitting in one of the rocking chairs, knelt down in front of him, handed him the switch, and bowed her head. In a tiny, childish voice she said, “I am ready to receive whatever punishment you decide I deserve for striking at you like a mutinous and disobedient child.”
Alex raised his eyebrows and shook his head. He leaned forward, lifting Hannah’s chin until the two of them were looking into each other’s face only inches apart. “Given what had happened to you, Hannah, I think you had a right to be a bit upset. I just didn’t want you to drive yourself into hysterics.” He shook his head again and smiled at her. “Yelling at you was probably not the best way to go about that, was it?” And then Alex handed her back the switch. “So let’s forget about it, shall we?”
She didn’t say a word, but stood up, walked over to one of the other rocking chairs, and sat down in it. After a few moments, she looked at Alex and asked, “Why has the Divine left me, Alex?”
Alex smiled and shrugged. “Because the Divine is being quite merciful to you, Hannah. What’s the last thing you remember before you woke up in the tub?”
Hannah thought for a bit. “I was eating dinner. I don’t remember finishing, though.”
Alex looked at me. “Any traces of her dinner still in the kitchen, Emily?”
I nodded. “Looks like she hadn’t quite finished it.”
Alex gave a chuckle. “Well, Hannah, that must have been when the Divine took you over. It wanted you, and it was merciful enough to suppress your consciousness completely, so you don’t remember a thing. Which is just as well, because if it hadn’t, you’d have been driven insane and would spend the rest of your life babbling unintelligibly about what it is like to perceive the Divine in its total glory.”
Hannah considered that a bit, and then asked, “How do you know this, Alex?”
“People think I’m the Prophesied One, Hannah. I couldn’t disappoint them altogether. So I’ve been reading up on the Children’s history. You’re not the first person this has happened to, though the last one was back in 1932. He wasn’t so lucky and remembered. They had to lock him up for the rest of his life.”
Hannah nodded to that. She seemed to be taking all this quite well now. “The Divine took me for a purpose. What did I do?”
Alex chuckled again. “Oh, not much: made yourself the most famous Instrument among the Children by ordering the High Council around, and striking down a council member who made the mistake of doubting your Divine authority. That’s all.” Alex proceeded to relate the events of the Council meeting.
Hannah listed to it all with her eyes wide, without asking a question. It was as if she were a child listening to a parent tell her a wonderful story. When he was finished, she asked, “And now what am I to do? People will expect me to manifest the Divine, but it has left me completely for the first time since I became an Instrument.”
Alex shook his head. “It’s only temporary, Hannah. You might get it back at any moment, and you’ll certainly get it back within a few days at most. As I said, I’ve read the records.”
At that point, we heard a knocking at the door. Alex looked over to me. I’d been sitting listening to all of this, trying to understand what was going on. Alex said to me, “You might see who that is, Emily. Unless it’s important, get rid of them.”
Nice of the Prophesied One to give me orders. But he did seem to know what he was doing, so I went and answered the door. Angus McPherson was there. He had shed the judicial robes, but was still wearing his chain of office. He saw me and looked relieved. “I’m glad I found you, Emily Fisher. The High Council has dismissed the charges against you.”
I dryly commented, “Must have been the convincing testimony.”
Angus chose to let that go by. “Is Hannah Wyatt in?”
“Yes. Alex Bancroft is with her.”
Angus looked almost happy at that. “Good. He would know what to do. It’s a good thing somebody did. I need to speak with them, Emily.”
I let him in. As I closed the door behind him, I noticed two men taking up positions on either side of the door. Looked like the Watch had acquired another new duty.
By the time I rejoined them, Alex was standing up, and Angus was addressing Hannah in his formal voice. “Hannah Priest Wyatt, the High Council of the Children of the New Revelation has accepted you as an Instrument, to convey to the Blessed such Truths as may be imparted from the Other World.”
Now this whole time, Hannah had been very passive, even childish, asking Alex questions as if she were his pupil. And she received Angus’s proclamation looking much the same. But it was if a change came over her almost immediately, as if she was resuming her full maturity. It had been a little girl sitting there. But it was a woman who stood up. And not the Hannah I had seen before, an adolescent just coming into womanhood. Hannah was acting sexy, seductive, self-assured. She walked over to Angus as if she wanted him, and she wanted him to know it and want her just as much. In a sultry voice, she breathed, “But do you believe I’m an Instrument of the Divine, Angus? I’ll never accept you if you don’t. You want to believe in me, Angus. . . . You will believe in me.” And with that, she reached up and pulled Angus’s head down and caught him in a passionate kiss.
Angus didn’t fight it. Far from it, he pulled her tightly to him, his hands traveling passionately down her body. Hannah responded by grinding hard against him as their kisses grew even more intense. I was shocked, myself. Angus had to be at least forty years older than Hannah.
Hannah pulled back her head from their kiss, and in that same seductive voice told Angus, “Worship me, Angus. Down on your knees and worship me.”
Angus was entirely under her spell. He let go of Hannah and dropped to his knees, and then threw his arms around her again, pressing his head against Hannah’s belly. He closed his eyes, and in a husky voice whispered, “I’m not worthy.”
Hannah caressed the hair on the top of his head. “You will be, Angus. You will be. Now what else has the Council decided?”
Angus replied, “They’ve assigned a guard to your home, to keep people out until they decide how best to use your talents. That is all.”
Hannah was still caressing him, running her hands over his face. Angus looked so blissfully happy. She said to him, “It is not for the Council to order my life. I am an Instrument of the Divine, and not subject to their orders. You will instruct the guards to take my orders, Angus. People will want to see me. They must not be disappointed.”
Angus nodded. “I will give the orders.”
Hannah stopped caressing him. “Very good. You are mine in all things, Angus. Go forth and protect my interests. You are dismissed for now.”
Angus opened his eyes, pulled away reluctantly from Hannah, and stood up. He’d had his orders, apparently, and was going to obey them. Without a word he turned and left.
Alex hadn’t stirred during the whole transaction between Angus and Hannah. But once the door closed behind Angus, Alex swiftly turned to Hannah and in a sharp voice said, “That wasn’t necessary.”
Hannah had dropped her sultry demeanor the instant Angus had left, but she still seemed more mature and self-possessed than she had been when I first met her. She frowned at Alex. “I disagree. And who are you to criticize me, Alex Bancroft?”
Alex shrugged his shoulders and gave Hannah a long, cold look before replying. “I came here to be helpful. Since my help is no longer valued, I’ll be going.” And with that he turned and walked out the door.
Hannah watched him go. She stared at the door after Alex left. It was as if she lost all her maturity and self-possession with his departure. Instead, she looked lost and bewildered. I think she’d forgotten I was even there until she turned and saw me. She lit up with a smile and took a few steps toward me. And whether out of surprise or worry about what she might do, I took a step back away from her. She saw, and came to a stop. In a plaintive voice, she said, “Tell me I’ve not lost you, Emily.”
I didn’t know quite what to say, and so I hesitated to say anything. Hannah noticed. She turned and went and sat down in the rocking chair she had occupied earlier. For a moment I could see there were tears on her face before she hid her head in her hands. Between them, she spoke in sorrowful tones. “I have gained and lost a sister in a matter of hours.”
“Hannah, I didn’t mean to reject you. You’re still my sister.” It was the only thing I could think to say.
Hannah looked up. Through the tears she smiled at me. “Then you are not afraid of me?”
I meant to say “yes” immediately, but somehow couldn’t. In my mind, it was still the Instrument of the Divine to whom I was speaking, or maybe the seductress I’d just seen, not the fourteen-year-old girl who was actually in front of me. I think I was really afraid of Hannah, to be truthful. As the seconds drew out, Hannah nodded. “You see, Emily, I’ve lost your affection. Go home, and let me think of how to regain it.”
I started to protest, but Hannah held a finger to her lips. I realized that to say anything more wouldn’t help matters. So I nodded to her and left.
End of chapter twenty-six