Chapter 39: The needs of others
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
Besides getting Tanya to go see Hannah, I went off to visit Sonia to find out what stories were circulating about what had happened last night. The first thing I learned is that Sonia didn’t know I’d been injured, either. She was appalled to see half my head covered in bandages, and tried to treat me like an invalid. Considering that she was still recovering from what the mob had done to her, it was funny in a dismal “misery loves company” kind of way.
Once we got settled down, Sonia related what she knew about the events in the deserted village. It pretty much matched the story Alex had concocted; no doubt he was doing his best to circulate it. The Children as a whole were reeling from shock. Bad enough that some True Believers had tried to frame the Prophesied One, meaning Alex. Worse yet was that an Instrument, an Instrument, had conspired to kill a member of the High Council. Not surprisingly, the High Council was in a closed emergency session tonight.
So far, I had been doing fine. And then Sonia began congratulating me on solving Stephen Nash’s murder. She had no idea how uncomfortable she was making me feel by praising me when my own role had been so minor.
She didn’t have any idea, but somehow Stacia did. Stacia had come in earlier and settled down in a corner of the room with a picture book, and never said a word. And then, just after Sonia dropped some more praise on my head, Stacia spoke up. In that same odd voice she’d used before, she said, “Why don’t you tell Sonia the truth, Emily Fisher?”
I turned to look at Stacia. As she had the previous time, she looked strange, as if she weren’t herself. She was staring right at me, unflinching. And her emotional make-up was strange, too. In my experience so far, I’d found that people usually had a mix of emotions, some stronger than others. Stacia just had one: a concern for me or about me, it was hard to tell which.
I’d been thinking about doing that myself, to tell the truth. Sonia and Stacia had been my supporters as well as my sisters. They deserved the truth. And so I said to Stacia, “Thank you, Stacia, I will do just that.”
Abruptly the strangeness about Stacia departed, she reverted back to being childlike, and buried her head in the picture book again. I gave Sonia an inquiring look, and she replied, “As I tried to tell you the other day, I think that’s some part of Emma, her mother Emma Fletcher in her. It’s the right tone of voice, at least.” She paused, looking perplexed, and then continued in a lower tone of voice. “Weird hearing it come from Stacia, especially after Emma being dead so many years. Do you have any idea what it means?”
I shook my head. I wasn’t sure how much Sonia understood about her sister’s odd nature, and didn’t want to get into it right now on top of everything else. Though I was reminded that I had promised to try to cure Stacia. After what I had just seen, I was even less sure what curing her would mean. Maybe she wanted to be this way, for all I knew.
But that was for another day. Right now, I had a different subject to address. “Sonia, you heard Stacia say I should tell you the truth? Well, the story you’ve heard about what happened last night is wrong.” And then I launched into the real story. Sonia was patient, and sat and listened for the most part, save when she interrupted to get some tea for all of us. I finished by explaining exactly how Alex had created the false story, and why I had let myself get talked into parroting it.
To my surprise, Sonia believed that Alex’s false version should stay the accepted story. And her main reason for doing so wasn’t what I might have thought, the spiritual fall-out of finding out one Instrument had actually killed a High Council member, not just conspired to do so. Instead, she was outraged to find out that Susan had abused Jezebel for years. In her mind, that absolved Jezebel of any guilt for her years of bad behavior, and Sonia was not going to see a child stuck with guilt for Susan’s evils. It struck me as odd that Sonia thought nothing of whipping Jezebel, but believed psychological abuse beyond the pale, until I finally realized what the differences were in Sonia’s eyes. Whipping as a punishment was justified and did not constrain Jezebel’s will, while Susan’s abuse had been unjustified and had stripped free will from Jezebel. I was no expert in the Children’s beliefs and practices, but I was learning.
I helped Sonia put Stacia to bed and then walked home, tired but feeling a bit better for having told Sonia the truth. Tanya was not yet back, even though it was late. I went up to bed, and fell asleep immediately.
I woke up late the next morning to find that Tanya was sitting in my bedroom again, reading and watching me. The moment I woke up, she went downstairs to fetch Regina, who came up to change my bandages. Regina was acting oddly, and clearly had mixed feelings about me for some reason. But she kept shushing me any time I tried to start a conversation while she was working on me. So the moment she finished, I asked her flat out what was bothering her.
She didn’t immediately answer. Instead she walked over to a window and looked out. Without turning around, she said, “I talked to Alex as you suggested, and he told me the truth. It doesn’t really change anything between us. I love him for who he is, not whatever spiritual gifts he has.”
And then she turned around and looked at me, frankly puzzled. “He tells me you’re the real Prophesied One.”
I nodded, carefully. “So they say.”
Regina hesitated for a bit, and then asked, “Now that Nash’s murder has been solved, will you be staying on as the Prophesied One?”
I hadn’t expected that question. “I don’t belong here, Regina.”
Regina looked even more uncertain about what she wanted to say. “As your nurse and as a friend, the only thing I have to say is give yourself time to recover. But as one of the Children, Emily, I’m asking you to reconsider.”
I took a long time to answer that one. “I don’t know what to say, Regina.” Which was pretty much the truth.
It didn’t end with Regina. She took off, I got cleaned up, and went downstairs. Tanya stood waiting for me at the foot of the stairs. “Can we talk before you have breakfast, Prophesied One?” she asked me.
Being called the Prophesied One was really beginning to annoy me. I was going to upbraid Tanya for calling me that, and then remembered I’d sent her off to talk to Hannah. Maybe she had, and this was some consequence. I tried to get a sense of Tanya’s emotions. She was definitely feeling better about herself. So I agreed to talk, and went into the living room and sat down. And the next thing I knew, Tanya had knelt down in front of me and rested her head on its side in my lap. It was a curiously intimate gesture, and I felt as if it were now my duty to protect her.
Without lifting her head, Tanya said, “I spoke with the Instrument Hannah Wyatt. She told me I was taking a perverse pride in thinking myself a secret demonolater, because I was not. She told me that not every sin comes from the temptation of demons, yet that demons could be cunning and tempt us into sins we would not normally commit. And I told her that my faith must have been weak for a demon to tempt me to the vile deeds I had done.
“The Instrument laughed and told me everyone’s faith is weak now and again, and that after what had happened to me, it was no wonder I thought myself a demonolater. But she told me that if a demon could infect me with evil, then certainly a holy person could drive out that evil. And so I asked her to help me. She told me that it was not for her to do it. She told me your power comes from the Divine as surely as her own, and that your blessing could drive out demons and make me strong in the faith again. And although I know I do not deserve it, I ask for a blessing, Prophesied One.”
I was going to have to have words with Hannah. Whatever did she mean by doing this? And how did she know I was the Prophesied One? Was this some revenge on Alex’s part for what I’d said to Regina? But my problem at the moment was Tanya, and my unhappiness with my curious status was not Tanya’s problem. So I racked my brains to come up with a blessing. The Children have a cornucopia of them, but I couldn’t remember a single one. So I said to myself, to hell with acting like one of the Children, because I am not. I rested my hands on Tanya’s head, and said to her, “May the virtues dance with you through life. May the love of your fellow human beings provide the music. And may your peace of mind lighten your steps. This is the blessing I give to you, Tanya Thompson.” It sounded good. I’d wondered where I’d gotten it from. And I lifted my hands to indicate the blessing was concluded.
Tanya got up with a smile on her face, bowed to me, and said, “Thank you, Prophesied One.”
I corrected her. “Emily. You’re to call me Emily.”
Over breakfast, Tanya told me about her visit with Hannah. After Hannah and I had removed Penelope to Lakeside, Hannah had been splitting her time between Lakeside and North Village. But now Hannah was back in North Village fulltime. She had dismissed the Watch from guarding her cottage, saying they were no longer needed. She now took whom she pleased from those waiting at her door, and no one in the crowd complained. The very first time Hannah came out while Tanya was waiting, she’d seen Tanya, and invited her in directly, saying she knew Tanya’s need was great.
During her consultation with Hannah, Tanya learned that Hannah had summoned Penelope from Lakeside to take care of Jezebel. Those two were staying in Hannah’s bedroom in North Village, while Hannah was sleeping on a couch in the living room.
Hannah had even taken Tanya to the bedroom to see Jezebel. It had been a difficult experience all around. Jezebel had been frightened at first, until she recognized Tanya, and then she clung to Tanya so tightly and would not let go. Hannah and Penelope had to pry them apart, and Tanya left with Jezebel’s cries for her to come back ringing in her ears.
Oh, and in the course of telling me all this, Tanya solved a small mystery. She had mentioned to Hannah that I was the Prophesied One as a matter of course in explaining why I had sent her to see Hannah. I could see that blaming Tanya in any way for this was pointless, so I let it go without comment. Just one more reason I’d have to have a word with Hannah sooner than later.
We hadn’t quite finished breakfast when there was a knock at my door, and Angus McPherson came in. He wanted a private meeting, so he and I moved to my study and closed the door. Once we’d settled down, Angus began, “The High Council met last night to consider the recent events in the deserted village. After reviewing the events, as related to us by the Prophesied One, Alex Bancroft, the Council passed a resolution thanking you for your role in uncovering the murderer of High Councilor Stephen Nash. This resolution will be included in our public statement that will be issued later today.”
I tried to be gracious. “Thank you, Angus, and convey my appreciation to the High Council.”
Angus smiled, for once a sincere smile, and replied, “No, Emily Fisher, it is the Council that is in your debt, not vice versa. We wish to show our appreciation. As you may know, the Council was guaranteed your services for a month if we wanted you here that long. We have informed your employer that we will be requiring your service for the rest of that month, as we are entitled to. However, we will make no further demands on you while you are here. You may continue staying here, come and go as you please, and spend time with your family, as you choose. Consider it a well-deserved vacation.”
I don’t know whether Angus expected me to rise up and kiss him, but my feelings were no doubt far from whatever he did expect. I sat there, wondering just what I had got myself into. I couldn’t believe the High Council really appreciated my presence that much, and suspected that Hannah had put Angus up to this. And I didn’t really want to stay. My life was in D.C., not here. A day or two to say good byes, and I would be gone, if I had my druthers. Though, I had to admit, I’d promised to see what I could do about Stacia.
So I thanked Angus, told him how much I appreciated the gesture, and shooed him out the door. And then I hightailed it back to my study to write and file my report with the agency as quickly as I could. I figured my only chance was to get my report done and turned in before the High Council’s request was acted upon. If the agency got my report first, they’d see my work here was done, and order me back to D.C.
Too late! I’d been typing away for only a quarter hour when I got a call from the agency, from Mrs. Chattings no less. The Iron Lady actually condescended to congratulate me on solving the murder and said she would read my report with interest. Then she lowered the boom. She told me that the Children had requested I stay on for the full month, and that for the sake of good customer relations I would of course do so. I had not a single chance to get a word in edgewise, nor was I asked if this was acceptable to me. And so the next two weeks of my future were settled.
And to complete my joy, at lunch time my mother called to tell me Elsie was in tears. She had shut herself up in her room and wouldn’t talk to anyone. My mother asked me if I’d come over and try to talk to my sister.
Naturally, I agreed. What else could I do? I’d just been sentenced to two more weeks of staying in Quasopon as a “vacation.” It was rapidly shaping up not to be a restful one.
End of chapter thirty-nine