Chapter 27: The Prophesied One is upset
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
To my surprise, Alex Bancroft was waiting outside along with the two members of the Watch. He greeted me with a tired expression and announced he’d accompany me home so the Watch didn’t have to. He was in an atypically bad mood and didn’t say a word as we took the secret path to Milltown. It was now dusk, and I could barely make out the frown on Alex’s face as he walked along in silence.
I had questions. I always seemed to have questions for Alex. So as we emerged not far from the Burns Cottage, I tried to start a conversation. “Hannah seemed quite upset when you left, Alex.” He didn’t even bother to look at me, just grunted. So I tried again. “I feel kind of sorry for her. She thinks I’m scared of her, too, and said she’d gained and lost a sister in one evening.”
That brought Alex to a stop. He looked up at the sky, where the first few stars were visible. In a wistful voice, he said, “Your family thinks a lot about staying together, Emily. Maybe that will help keep Hannah grounded, too.” He looked away, and then turned to me. “Maybe now she’ll have the courage to help you out with her poor, demented mother.”
That stirred up my standing annoyance with him. “Do you know everything, Alex?” It wasn’t until just after I said it that it occurred to me he might have learned about my visit to the deserted village from Hilda Strong, though I wouldn’t have expected Hilda to tell anyone.
He shook his head, looking no happier. “Apparently not. I didn’t think Hannah would manifest the Divine so fully this soon. Something must have happened to her I didn’t expect or know about.”
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to one-up Alex. “Like maybe how she spent part of yesterday standing in the pentagram on Sacred Mountain?”
Alex grew thoughtful. “Yes, like that.” A smile began to play across his face. “In retrospect, it’s obvious. How did you find out about it? You never left Milltown yesterday.”
“My sister Stacia spoke to her there.”
Alex’s smile grew wider. “Well, well. Isn’t it fortunate that she and Sonia are waiting for us at your place? I need to have a talk with her.”
Alex was right, as usual. Sonia and Stacia were both sitting in my living room, Sonia sprawled on my couch, wheelchair off to the side, Stacia sitting next to her in a chair with her dreamy expression on.
I apologized to Sonia for running out on her, but she wouldn’t hear of it. As she put it, Hannah Wyatt had saved the day for us, and I owed her a claim on my time. Sonia had stayed on in the hall to serve my interests. She’d asked the High Council to put an end to my trial, and the Council had in fact dropped the charges and closed the case on a unanimous vote. And then they’d gone on to declare Hannah an Instrument, also unanimously. As Sonia tartly put it, they were afraid Hannah might come back for a repeat performance if they didn’t. The Watch had dispersed the crowd in the hall without any major incidents. Fear of Hannah was by no means confined to the High Council.
Alex chimed in at this point. “The High Council still must have thought that they could control Hannah just like any other Instrument, because Angus brought the Watch to Hannah’s cottage to keep people away from her. Hannah put a stop to that by making Angus her puppet.”
Sonia nodded to that, as if what had happened was obvious from what little Alex had said. Then she saw my questioning look, and explained. “Angus has a thing for young girls, the younger the better, who can act like authority figures and order him around. He’s been that way all his life. Unfortunately for him, there aren’t many such girls, and as he’s gotten older, fewer are interested in him. I know all the others, and it’s been a few years.” She paused in thought, then turned to Alex. “Having Hannah would be like hitting the jackpot for him. Fourteen, and you don’t get more authoritative than an Instrument of the Divine. Did she actually have to seduce him?”
Alex replied, “She didn’t take off her clothes, but I’d call what happened a seduction. Emily?”
I was still absorbing Sonia’s implied admission that Angus had been one of her lovers, presumably when she was very young. It threw a new light on their interaction at my trial. But I confirmed Alex’s view. “I felt like a voyeur.”
We were all silent for a bit, and then out of the blue Alex said, “Ms. Eustacia Fletcher.” First I knew of Stacia’s surname.
Stacia emerged out of her dreamy state. “Mr. Alexander W. Bancroft. You have a question?” I smiled to myself, wondering what Stacia would think if she saw Alex’s birth certificate with that “WHATEVER” middle name.
“What was Hannah Wyatt doing on Sacred Mountain yesterday?”
Stacia considered for a moment. “She was standing on Sacred Mountain in the center of the pentagram there, facing North Village. I asked her some questions on Emily’s behalf, which she answered willingly. I then asked her what she was doing there. She answered me by showing me how she was communing with the Divine by including me.”
Alex’s eyebrows had shot up. “I’m surprised you’re still rational, Stacia.”
Stacia replied, “I live in both this world and the Other World most of the time. So experiencing it is nothing new. Though being brought into communication with the Divine through Hannah was a novel experience.”
Sonia had leaned forward, clearly interested in Stacia’s account. “What was that like, Stacia, the voice of the Divine?”
“I have no idea,” Stacia replied looking directly at her sister. “I know it happened, but I can’t remember it. Yet I knew that I was to help Hannah and Hannah was to help Emily, because they were both doing the work of the Divine. That’s why I couldn’t help you at the trial. I had to stop the guards from preventing Hannah using the High Council’s entrance.”
“How did you do that?” Alex asked.
Stacia giggled, an odd sound coming from her. “I don’t know. They were there, and then something happened, I think it was something I did, and they were asleep. It was pretty neat.”
Alex shook his head. “I wish I’d known you before this, Stacia. It might have made things easier.”
Stacia smiled at him. “I wish we’d met before, too. You’ve always said you weren’t the Prophesied One, so I didn’t see the point. But Hannah says you’re also doing the work of the Divine, though she finds that very puzzling.”
Alex sat back, smiling. “She shouldn’t. There are examples in the New Revelation of the Divine using unbelievers to achieve its ends, not to forget the role of the wicked Balaam in the Old Testament. To quote the playwright Ben Jonson, ‘The children of perdition are oft times / Made instruments even of the greatest works.’”
Stacia’s remark got me thinking, and I decided to float an idea. “Selena Sawyer once told me Instruments of the Divine appear only at times of great peril. Maybe Hannah’s the Prophesied One.”
Alex was still smiling, but he shook his head. “A reasonable guess, Emily, but no, it’s not Hannah.”
“How do you know, Alex? I mean, it makes sense. You admit it yourself.” I was going to get a straight answer from him this time.
“Because Selena handed over the prophecy and its interpretation to me before she died,” Alex replied. He sat forward, gave me a searching look. “Hannah is definitely not the Prophesied One. You are.”
Alex was looking earnestly at me, Sonia’s mouth was gaping open, and Stacia was nodding her head, as if it all made sense. Me, I was with Sonia on this one. And I said so. “Lousy joke, Alex.”
“’Fraid not, Emily. Why do you think I worked so hard to get you back here? It wasn’t just because of Elsie.” Alex only smiled at the end.
“Uh, Alex,” Sonia interjected, “what prophecy are we talking about here? Because, you know, the rumor among True Believers is that Selena made it up.”
“And it’s not among the officially listed prophecies, I know, Sonia,” replied Alex, settling back in his chair. “That’s because it came from Lavinia Priest. I’ve told Emily a bit about Lavinia. You two know much about her?”
Sonia nodded. Stacia not only nodded, but said, “Seen her ghost up on Sacred Mountain several times.”
Sonia gave her sister a sharp stare, but forbore to comment. Alex was nonplussed for a moment, but gamely continued, “Eh, yes. Well, Lavinia left behind a manuscript. It’s partly a journal, partly a manifesto, and at the end of it is a prophecy. Lavinia prophesized that at some time years in the future, the Children would be riven by a crisis, and that only one person could save them. Given Lavinia’s dubious reputation, the Instrument who found her manuscript decided to keep it secret. It got passed down from Instrument to Instrument, until it came to Selena Sawyer.
“Selena’s Inspiration had been failing for years. She resented this, but even more she resented the practice of so many Instruments of doing nothing while waiting for their Inspiration to return. She wanted to serve the Children in some other way if she could not be a proper Instrument. One of the ways she tried to serve was by finding people who could become Instruments. She was hoping you would be one of them, Emily. That’s how I knew about your first visit to the top of Sacred Mountain.”
“Yeah, well I know how well that worked out.” I’d never managed to merge glumness and sarcasm before.
Alex gave me a small smile before going on. “Selena was horrified, because she had genuinely loved you, and because she held herself responsible for you becoming a foul creature, illogical notion though that was. So instead of having you formally condemned by the High Council, she managed to persuade them to quietly expel you and your parents, without fully explaining why. And that, she thought, was the end of you so far as the Children were concerned.
“Meanwhile, as one of her other tasks, she took on the interpretation of Lavinia’s prophecy. It was a riddling prophecy, complex and obscure. It took Selena years to solve it. In fact, she didn’t solve it until the last year of her life, when she knew she was dying.
“Imagine her horror when she determined that the crisis Lavinia had predicted was imminent, and that the only person who could save the Children was Emily Fisher, whom she had banished from the Children forever. With her health failing rapidly, she knew she had to do something to save the situation.
“Well, I came visiting, and Selena saw me. She decided to lie, to say I was the Prophesied One, in hopes that ambition for money and power would make me willing to take on the role. She didn’t know I had given up such ambitions years ago. So she was surprised when I turned down the position.
“Even more desperate, Selena decided to tell me the truth. And she made me promise to find a way to bring Emily Fisher back here to save the Children. I promised, and then she died. I didn’t actually plan on bringing you back, Emily. I just wanted to let Selena die at peace, she was so tortured by guilt over you. It wasn’t until I started poking around that I realized you were going to be needed here. Nash’s murder gave me the opportunity to pressure the High Council into summoning you.”
I did not want to be saddled with this. So I angrily said to Alex, “You brought me here to fulfill some old prophecy written down by a woman like Lavinia who you said was, and I quote, barking mad?”
Alex shook his head, pounded on the chair arm for emphasis. With bite in his words, he answered, “No. I do not believe in prophecies. And I did not drag you back here because of the prophecy. I arranged for you to return because you are in fact the person who will solve Stephen Nash’s murder.”
“That sounds like prophesying to me,” I almost shouted at him.
Alex tugged on his chin with a hand. His voice and expression both turned angry. “It isn’t. It’s just the truth. And you’d be a fool to rely on Hannah Wyatt for some sort of deus ex machina.” With that, he stood up and walked out. The outer door slammed behind him.
I was surprised, as much by Alex’s final comment, which made no sense to me, as by his abrupt departure. Sonia seemed to feel the same way. She commented, “Congratulations, Emily. I’ve never actually seen Alex Bancroft get angry before this, and I’ve tried a few times.” She looked over to Stacia, who was still staring at the front door. “Stacia?”
Stacia didn’t turn her head while replying in a distracted voice. “He wasn’t angry, Sonia. He was frustrated. Interesting, that.”
End of chapter twenty-seven