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The Prodigal And The Purple Lady by Michaela Francis

EXTRACT FOR
The Prodigal And The Purple Lady 
(Michaela Francis)


Slaves Of The Amethyst 11

Narrators Foreword

 

It was not without precedent that the Mathomdale Fair of that fateful summer should come to be seen historically as a pivotal occasion. The Festival, with all its long history as a gathering of the clans of the Line of the Goddess, had a rich tradition as the time of the year when the scattered families of that Line would come together and determine their futures. It was always a time when new alliances were formed, when marriages were arranged, slaves bartered and sold and old quarrels resolved. It was one of the few occasions when the Line came close to an open declaration of its existence and where those people of the Line celebrated their mutual inheritance and identity and, as such, each Fair contributed its own commitments and contributions to the future.

Even within this context however, the Festival that year was of enormous significance. For one thing it was a festival held in time of war. The conflicts engulfing the Line around the world gave particular poignancy to the gathering of people in Mathomdale and underlined the imperatives of unity in the face of the threat facing them. The Lady’s speech at the opening of the Festival is seen as a rallying call to the families of the Goddess and the hardening of determination to meet that threat. It is significant too that the war had brought numerous refugees to Mathomdale, many of whom would come to be of great importance in the future of the Line. It was, for instance, the first public appearance of the youthful Lady Gitana, the equally youthful Lady Jamila and many others besides. Few could have predicted, upon seeing these sadly displaced young people, the enormous importance they would come to represent among the Slaves of the Amethyst.

Then again the festival was presided over, in the titular role of Festival Queen, by the Lady Jennifer the younger; a role once also held by her mother, the Lady Katherine. This in itself was of great if symbolic importance; a continuation of a tradition that married the House of Mathom by way of ancient and pagan ritual to the Line and underlined its dominance as the ruling house.

Another significant factor, albeit one frequently overlooked by historians, is that this was the festival that brought the Lady Eugene back to Mathomdale. It is sometimes difficult to assess the influence of this shadowy yet powerful woman, long estranged from the House of Mathom, but those researchers who care to delve will recognise its importance. She is sometimes known by such romantic names as “The Dark Angel”, “The Black Avenger” or “Sword of the Goddess” and innumerable stories and legends have been woven around her. Yet she was a far more complex woman than these tales would suggest. That she returned at last to Mathomdale in the company of three very young slaves and carrying a future child of the House of Mathom in her womb, all of whom would grow into such glittering stars of the Order of the Amethyst, must not be overlooked. The Lady Eugene came home to Mathomdale at last but she did not come empty handed but bearing priceless gifts.

Finally this was the Festival held in the year of the revelation of Prophecy One. No festivities can be seen as mundane or without significance in the light of that terrifying reality. The future being determined at Mathomdale Fair was not some nebulous and indeterminate one. It was a future with a timetable and it was coming fast.


 

Chapter One

 

It was the final day before the commencement of the Summer Festival. Jennifer awoke, from a fitful night, to find the sunshine streaming through her windows. Gitana lay alongside her; the great main of her wavy dark hair spread like a fan over the pillow. She was sleeping peacefully, holding a corner of the duvet to her lips. Jennifer felt calm in the light of the morning although she had slept poorly and her body felt weak and shivery. Nevertheless, the emotional troubles of the last days had been placed into perspective by Gitana’s dreadful story. How trite Jennifer’s troubles seemed now. She felt that her worries were just childish petulance in comparison with the frightful ordeal that the girl beside her had had to endure. Jennifer felt very protective of her young new friend. In affection she leaned over and kissed the beautiful South American girl in sisterly tenderness. Gitana stirred and mumbled something in Spanish then she opened her eyes and looked at Jennifer.

“Buenos dias Señorita.”

“Good morning Gypsy. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes. Yes thank you. I was tired after all.”

“I think maybe you were suffering from jet lag although I’m not quite sure what that is.” said Jennifer with a little chuckle. “Are you hungry?”

“Si Señorita Jennifer.”

“Well it’s nearly eight o’clock and I think we’re having breakfast at nine so if we want to get anything to eat we’d better be up and about. Do you er…. er well you know …need any help with the bathroom?”

Gitana giggled “Please Señorita! Our village was a rich one. We didn’t live in caves Señorita.”

“Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to insult you. I…. I know nothing about Colombia. Forgive me.”

Gitana laughed happily and grasped her new friend warmly to kiss her. “Please it is nothing Jennifer.” She fondled Jennifer’s hair in affection. “You are very beautiful in the morning Señorita.”

Jennifer laughed warmed by the company of the young girl and her twinkling dark eyes. “I don’t feel very beautiful today Gypsy.”

“Why Señorita? Are you troubled?”

“I’ve just been very silly these last days Gitana. I’ve hurt some people that I love. Somehow I have to put it all right again and I don’t know how.”

“Ah you will put everything right caro. You are a healer.”

“Sorry?”

“In my land, among the people of the Diosa, Señorita we say there are those who the Diosa has granted the gift of healing, healing the spirit. When our spirits are troubled we seek out the healer and they take the pain from us.”

“Well Gitana I think I’ve caused more pain than I’ve healed.”

“Oh no Señorita! That you could never do!”

Jennifer looked at her bemused. “Well never mind. Look do you want to use the bathroom first whilst I check if I’m on rota for duty this morning?”

“Si Jennifer.” Gitana skipped out of bed impulsively but before she could rush to the bathroom she caught sight of the portrait of Lady Mathom on Jennifer’s wall. “Oh Jennifer. You have a picture of the Emperatriz on your wall.”

“Yes Gypsy. We all do. She’s our Mistress.”

“She is wonderful Señorita! I only saw her for a short time yesterday but it was as if I had known her all my life. Reina Madre to us all! We had pictures of her in my village but I never dreamed I would stand beside her, talk to her, touch her. You are very lucky to have such a Mistress.”

“After my conduct recently Gitana I don’t think she’s lucky to have me.”

“No Señorita! She is lucky. She is always lucky.” To Jennifer’s surprise Gitana curtsied reverentially to the portrait before seeking out the bathroom. Feeling strange Jennifer rose from her bed and stood before the portrait. It was a photographic print of the Lady in full ceremonial dress, her full gown the colour of her eyes and there were diamonds and amethysts about her neck and the raven coloured hair was crowned with a glittering tiara. It had surprised her to see what reverence and esteem her Mistress commanded from such diverse peoples from around the globe. Gitana, Jamila and Laila had never seen her before but quite clearly, even in their distant countries, she was almost an object of worship to them, a religious figurehead. Suddenly Jennifer felt terribly unworthy to be a slave to this woman. She had let her down badly she thought. She had not lived up to the standards of a woman whose authority was worthy of such respect and honour. Her Mistress would be disappointed in her. Feeling very small Jennifer curtsied to the picture. She felt better for having done so.

She called up Abigail on the internal system to inquire about any possible duty that morning but Abigail reassured her. “No Jenny. Chill. We’re all excused duty this morning so we can concentrate on settling Laila, Jamila and Gypsy in. All of us that is but Becky. She’s got something on with Darren straight after breakfast but I don’t know what.” Jennifer thought that Abigail sounded strained this morning but it wasn’t the time to talk to her.

“So we’ve nothing on?”

“Yes you have. You and Alice have to get your things together. You’re supposed to be moving down to the Mathom Arms this afternoon sometime.”

“Oh yes I’d forgotten about that.”

“Well Alice is getting fitted out with her ball gown this morning and she’s going to be a bit pushed so if you get your act together maybe you can help her after lunch.”

“Yes of course.”

“How’s Gypsy?”

“She’s fine. She’s just under the shower.”

“The Lady might want to see her again today.”

“I’ll warn her.”

“Ok. Cool. See you down at breakfast.” Jennifer hung up. So she would see Julie today. She took a deep breath. Somehow she had to find some wisdom. Almost as if praying for it she curtsied once more to her Mistress’s portrait.


 

Chapter Two

 

Up at Rose cottage in the upper valley Eugene was making her obeisance to a rather more mundane object. She was on her hands and knees in front of the lavatory bowl being deliciously sick. Mali entered the bathroom looking worried. “Please lady you are unwell?”

Eugene wiped a hand across her mouth and gulped in a long breath. “Just suffering from that age-old affliction that is the curse of womankind Mali. The bloody grief we women have to go through just for the privilege of propagating the damn species!”

“Sorry lady?”

“I’m pregnant Mali. Ladies get sick when they’re pregnant. It goes with the patch apparently!”

“Oh you not see doctor lady?”

Eugene bit back the acerbic remark that had threatened to escape her lips and thought about that one. Actually it was a very good point. She ought to see a doctor! She’d not sought medical advice ever since discovering that she was pregnant. She knew damn all about pregnancy for heaven’s sake. She should put herself in the hands of a competent doctor. She shook her head. “Oh I’ll be all right Mali.”

Mali looked nervous. “Please lady. Me, Ana and Vesna, we talk. We are worrying about you. We want you go see doctor.”

Eugene looked at Mali in surprise. The girls were worried about her? She’d become so used to the idea of her being responsible for their welfare it had caught her completely by surprise to discover that they were concerned about her. They’d obviously talked about it among themselves and Mali had been appointed as spokeswoman. She felt a great affectionate amusement. There was also pride in that as well. They had so clearly taken her as their mistress that her well-being had become of paramount importance to them. She rose to her feet with a smile and took Mali’s hands. “I’ll be fine Mali. Honestly I will.”

But Mali was in a stubborn mood this morning. She shook her head vigorously. “No no lady! You please go see doctor. You having baby. Maybe new sister or little brother. It no good you no go see doctor. We worrying.”

Eugene sighed terribly touched by the girls’ obvious concern. “I will do Mali. I promise that next week I will go and see a doctor. Now will you girls stop worrying about me?”

Mali smiled “Yes lady. Thank you.”

“Come along then. Maybe I can keep something down this morning. Margaret said that the fridges and pantries were well stocked so let’s see if we can find something to rustle up for breakfast.”

“Oh please lady.  Ana she making blekfast. You having baby. It no good you do all work. Please be sitting. We bling you blekfast.”

Eugene put a hand on her hip and demanded “Just what the hell is going on in this house this morning?”

“Ah sorry lady. No be angly. We talking about you. We…. we…”

“Yes I know. You worrying.” Eugene laughed and tousled Mali’s hair. “Ok then I’ll do as I’m told.” Up until then Eugene had done all the cooking and assorted domestic chores for them in the safe house near Kingston so she was bemused to sit at the kitchen dining table by the window overlooking the garden of the lovely cottage whilst her three young ladies pampered her. She wondered what Ana would manage to conjure up for breakfast. It would probably be rotten but she was determined to try and eat it as graciously as she could manage. To Eugene’s great surprise breakfast was in fact very good. Ana had made some Russian style breakfast omelettes that were both light and tasty and there’d been some excellent wholemeal bread in the bread bin and dreamy Mathomdale butter along with jam and marmalade, some cold meats and cheese. Vesna had been delegated with the task of making the coffee and that was less successful for it was as black as treacle and about three times too strong but Eugene didn’t dare to tell her that.

“This is very good Ana.” she told her as she ate her omelette. Ana blushed with pleasure to be so complimented. “Where did you learn to cook so well?

“In the house where I servant lady.” Ana told her. Eugene dropped the subject. It wasn’t a happy time in Ana’s life but then there had been few happy times in her life so far. However, thought Eugene with satisfaction, she looked happy now. They all did. In fact they all looked radiant sat around the breakfast table watching her eat her breakfast with pleasure. They were all dressed nicely in some of the new clothes she’d expended so much money on in Kingston yesterday, their hair was neatly brushed and they were spotlessly clean. There were definitely undercurrents going on around here. Eugene was beginning to feel adopted.

She did not possess slaves of her own in fact. It was true that she had faithful employees in her business in Hamburg and her long-neglected family in Austria owned two slaves but her constant life on the road had always precluded her from owning her own. She had so little to do with the two slaves in Austria that she was virtually a stranger to them. So Eugene simply had no real background in raising slaves and now all of a sudden she seemed to be lumbered with three of them. It was a strange new experience for her. Any experienced slave owner would have laughed at her current predicament and told her that your slaves owned you quite as much as you owned them but Eugene was quite unused to the way in which your slaves developed their relationship with you. It was by no means disagreeable but Eugene reflected quite impractical. All slaves required stable solid environments and she didn’t even have a home as such. Her apartment in Hamburg was hardly the place to raise three slaves and in any case she had more or less decided to sell up most of her business in Hamburg. She was having enough trouble coming around to the idea of raising her own child let alone three slaves as well. She decided that she’d best find good homes for the three girls before they became too bonded to her.

“Please lady do you want more?” asked Ana.

“Goddess no! I’ve eaten too much already.”

“Oh but you eat for two now.”

“Ana darling, since the second person in the equation is probably less than the size of a baked bean by now, I think we can probably relax about his or her possible requirements for extra calories don’t you?”

“Sorry lady?”

Eugene laughed “Never mind. Come on let’s clean up.”

“Oh no lady you stay sit.”

 Eugene sighed in mock irritation as Mali and Vesna jumped up to clear the breakfast dishes. Eugene looked out at the glorious sunny morning in pleasure. It was a beautiful scene from the windows of the kitchen. The little garden was ablaze with flowers with the early insects already busy about the blooms. The fell tops were inviting in the clear morning air above the garden and there was a buzzard on the wing across the valley. A tiny little beck flowed under a little bridge just beyond the front gate of the garden and Eugene had listened to the rippling of its waters as she’d lain in bed that night. There was a great peacefulness in this beautiful corner of England that lay along the course of the River Mathom and Eugene wanted to revel in it. There’d been so little peace in her turbulent life. Now she just wanted to walk along that little stream until it made its way into the main river or maybe walk up to the old Abbey and sit on the grass under the venerable ruins.

 The ringing of the telephone in the living room shattered her revelry. Suddenly she was very frightened. Tentatively she approached the instrument. As a matter of courtesy she had sent an email informing Lady Mathom of her arrival but she was conscious that she should talk to her Mistress personally and the thought filled her with dread. It was ridiculous. She had talked to the Lady thousands of times over the phone but now she was frightened to do so. With her heart beating wildly she picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Oh hello lady Eugene. Just Margaret from the pub here. Just wanted to know if everything was all right up at the cottage there.”

Eugene let out her breath “Yes. Yes it is. Everything’s just perfect. Thank you for stocking up the fridge and pantries and everything. That was very thoughtful of you.”

“Oh it was nothing. I’m glad you’re satisfied.”

“I am indeed. It’s lovely here.”

“Yes it’s a beautiful old place. May I ask how long you are stopping?”

“Oh sorry I don’t know yet. Is there a problem? I mean has the place been booked by anybody else?”

“Oh Goddess no! No you can have the place as long as you want. It’s just that you said you were staying for the festival at least and perhaps a little longer. Well I wondered if you’d be interested in a sale we might have coming up next week. We’ve a lot of displaced refugees that we’re looking for homes for so we’re trying to arrange a private auction just after the festival. Mostly South American but all good stock and reasonable prices. It’ll be all very exclusive and all the slaves will have a Mathomdale stamp of approval on them. If you’re looking to pick up a couple of brothers and sisters for your coffle it will be a golden opportunity.”

Eugene fought back the urge to fall about laughing. “Thank you for the invitation lady but I think I’ve got my hands full with the three I’ve got now!” Eugene glanced towards the kitchen where the three girls were twittering happily between themselves over the kitchen sink.”

“Oh well never mind then.” Margaret sounded disappointed “Bear it in mind in any case. Oh yes the Lady phoned me up this morning to ask if you’d arrived safely.”

“Oh! Oh yes I must call her.” Eugene’s heart was fluttering once more.

“Oh she said not to lady. She just told me to welcome you to the valley on her behalf and told me to tell you to just relax and enjoy the festival. She says she’ll call you on Sunday or Monday and until then she’d like you just to take things easy and enjoy yourself.”

“She doesn’t want to see me then?”

“She very much wants to see you lady. But she thinks that you need a little time and space for yourself. She says and I quote, “Tell her that I love her and that I’m thinking about her” end quote.”

Eugene felt weak at the knees. “Oh! Oh thank you! I….. I don’t know what to say. Thank you! Please convey my deepest love and respect to her should you talk to her again.”

“I will do lady. Listen I’m very busy with the festival and everything but let me know when you come down to Mathom and we’ll have a drink together. I’d love to get to know you better.”

“I’d like that but I’ve got my three young ladies to ride shotgun over.”

“Well bring them along They’re lovely. We’ll keep them chained up so that they don’t get up to too much mischief at the festival.”

“Thank you then. I might pop down to the pub this evening. Daniel said that Alice, his wife, is going to be there tonight. I’d like to see her.”

“Do you know Alice well then?”

“Oh yes. In fact she’s on my books as a model.”

“Goddess! You’re an interesting lady Eugene. You certainly get about.”

“Yes I do. Tell me are Rebecca Walpole-Mathom and Lord Robin going to be around today do you know.”

“I doubt it. All the other girls except Alice and Jennifer are being kept on a short leash at the Hall for the moment because of the security restrictions as a result of the war and Lord Robin is away abroad somewhere.”

“Oh I see.” Eugene’s heart was dancing to the tune of mixed emotions. “Well perhaps I’ll see Rebecca during the festival. I know her well. We met at Bolswick Bay earlier this summer.”

“Oh really? Well, as I say, you certainly get about. Anyway must fly. Hope to see you later.”

“Yes until later then.”

Eugene walked back into the kitchen in elation. Her Mistress loved her! How wise she was. She’d given Eugene exactly what she needed. Three glorious days to worry about nothing but enjoying herself and taking in the splendour of the valley of the Mathom. She clapped her hands commandingly. The girls turned to her in expectation. “OK girls. Let’s all go for a nice long walk.”

Mali looked at her uncertainly. “Please lady is good if lady go walking when she having baby?”

Eugene put on a face of great solemnity. “Doctors all say medical science prove walking very good for lady having baby.” She laughed at the girls’ serious expressions. “Come on let’s see what we’ve got in the pantry and we’ll take a picnic with us. If there’s anything we need there’s a little shop in Marveaux we can stock up from apparently. You and Ana see what we’ve got for sandwiches Mali, and Vesna and I’ll boil a few hard-boiled eggs. This is going to be fun.”