Strandpiel postscript

In die donker – in the dark

Op 'n berg in die nag,

lê ons in donker en wag…

(Bok van Blerk, De la Rey, opening lyne)

V1.2, some more minor revisions for the uusal depressing reasons


I know. I couldn't leave it alone. It bothered me that there was no Famke in the final chapter of Book One. I couldn't leave it without giving the Tykebomb a scene or two. I didn't want her coming round and complaining, for one thing. So here it is.

Happy Hogswatch!

The Assassins' Guild School, Ankh Morpork

"What the Hells happened to Sandra?" Susie Metcalfe said, anxiously.

"Search me." Famke Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons said, with an indifferent shrug. She returned to the chore of maintaining and polishing her working boots. It was another little discipline her mother had drummed into her, and indeed into her sisters. Care for your boots, Mum had said. I know we have servants and one of their many jobs, if you let them, would be to clean and polish your footwear. We used to have a Boy who did that. But this, you will do for yourself. And you are asking me why, Famke Cornelia? Imagine if you are on a trek, thirty miles away from any human habitation? You have only one pair of boots? And because you neglected them, or you looked to others to clean them, the sole begins to fall off, or else the upper separates from the sole, it is raining, there are inches of mud on the ground, and thus damp and infection gets in?

Mum had then described things like trenchfoot and, in really cold places, frostbite, offered to show her medical iconographs, and repeated one of her mantras: you are only as good as your feet. And your feet depend on good boots. Lose your feet in the wild and you die.

Famke looked after her footwear. She had also asked what had happened to The Boy, the sixth servant in the household where for as long as she could recall, there'd only been five. Mum had been non-committal. Apparently, there'd been bother of some sort. He had been sent back to the Other Country. Before you were born, Famke Cornelia. And no point asking Bekki, she was only three. We didn't get another Boy. So you look after your own boots, meisie.(1)

Famke shrugged. She'd find out. No hurry. And she knew that at some point in Second Year, outdoor expeditions and treks would begin. And they'd only get longer and more arduous. Making sure you had good boots, ones you could rely on, made sense. That one in Lancre, in the summer, had been a pleasant stroll compared to the ones in front of her.

Suzie sat down on the bed next to Famke. She looked worried.

"Kay, you're close to Miss Glynnie." she said.

"Not that close." Famke said. "And before you ask, just because Mum and one of my aunts are teachers here doesn't mean I get special privileges. They don't invite me into the staffroom so I get to hear the goss, or anything like that. Mum's really careful about that. She talks to Dad and she talks to Bekki, but if I try to get anything out of my big sister that Mum might have told her, she just shuts up and says "nice try."

Famke grinned at her dorm-mate.

"And Miss Glynnie doesn't play favourites. She might fix it for me, and I know I'm not the only one, to get some advanced teaching now and again, but she certainly doesn't tell me her reasons for doing things. Look, we all saw her take Sandra Venturi off for a word after Sandra had been shooting her big fat mouth off. And we all heard her say she had something planned for Sandra, some sort of special lesson, whatever that is. And we all saw Sandra come back, white as a ghost and trembling. Then she gets taken off to the Infirmary and Matron Igorina probably got a few happy pills into her to help her sleep. That's all we know. Me, I'm not thinking about it. If it means Sandra's not here and in sick bay, I'm happy with that. Makes the dorm a pleasanter place."

Suzie looked doubtful.

"Well, yes. But… every woman teacher has got her version of the Vimes Run."

Famke shrugged. She'd done the Vimes Run. It held no terrors for her. And it was common knowledge that if you pissed off one of your teachers, it was at your peril. Miss Band had innovated when she'd introduced the practice of sending really annoying people, or ones who'd got slack or over-confident, out to target Sam Vimes. Other women teachers had followed her example, tailoring exquisite punishment to their own inclinations or specialities. Survivors, when they had stopped shuddering, admitted you also learnt something, even if the lesson was "do not annoy your teacher."

"So? My mum finds you a dangerous or disgusting animal to look after." Famke said. Acerian Skunks were a favourite of Mum's. "Miss Tanner books you in for some work experience. At the abbatoir or the tanning yards."

Miss Tanner was the Crafts Mistress. She believed her students should really understand leather at all its stages, from fresh hide to finished item.

"Old Artsy-Fartsy has you grinding paint pigments." Suzie said. She shuddered. "At least she makes sure it's a ventilated room and you get a breathing mask." Mrs Stitched-Lansbury knew all about paints. She also believed an artist should know how to make their own, from scratch. As she pointed out, painters suffered for their Art in that virtually every paint pigment, especially if you chose them with care, was poisonous to a greater or lesser degree. Now it's your turn to suffer for your Art. Mortar and pestle, breathing mask, latex gloves, supply of cinnabar to create a vermilion pigment? Good. When you've finished that, I've got some lovely yellow arsenic salts over here…and then we can talk about what makes a really good fast primary blue.

They discussed Vimes Runs for some time.

"The point is, Kay, we don't know what Miss Glynnie's Vimes Run is." Suzie said.

Famke shrugged again.

"Could be that's what Sandra just had. And that's why she got carted off to Matron Igorina for some heavy-duty ton-of-dried-frog happy pills."

Suzie nodded, seriously.

"I wish I knew what."

"Ah, just stay on the right side of her. Safest way." Famke suggested, finishing her boots and beginning to gather her cleaning things together. She studied the welt of a boot carefully, checking it with a fingertip, then replaced it in her locker.

"Ah. Famke."

Famke heard the familiar voice from behind her. It was Miss Glynnie all over; you could have sworn she wasn't there, then you'd turn round, and…

"Yes, miss?" Famke said, respectfully. Her Housemistress liked to be informal with her pupils and to use first name terms where she could. But it didn't mean she was a soft touch, and it certainly didn't mean you could call her Ethylene to her face. Famke wasn't sure what would happen to anyone who did, but she wasn't going to try and find out.

She looked into the serious face, fringed by long unbound dark hair. Miss Glynnie wasn't smiling.

"Earlier this evening you had a little disagreement with Cassandra Venturi." Miss Glynnie remarked, in her carefully reassembled voice, that sounded as if she'd diligently taken all the pieces off the sprue, painted them individually, and checked the instruction leaflet prior to construction.

"I took Cassandra away from the situation and gave a her a little advanced instruction in the hope she would learn something valuable and she would become a better person for it." her teacher said, pleasantly. "I have every hope she will. As you were the other person involved, it is only fair you receive the same lesson too. Come with me. We have two hours before curfew."

Famke followed her teacher out of the dorm, trying to look nonchalant and unconcerned, noting the appalled looks on the other girls' faces. She reflected that at least she would know for sure, now, what Miss Glynnie's version of the Vimes Run was.

Miss Glynnie led Famke down quite a lot of stairways. Filligree Street was a big building, the heart of the Assassins' Guild on the Disc. It went quite a long way up on a big site, for the City centre. It had to: there wasn't really very much across it could expand into as other big Guilds were jostled up against it on all sides. It famously shared a deceptively thin partition wall with its back-to-back neighbour, the Fools' Guild. Students whose dorms were built against this dividing wall were routinely warned against breaching it. Sanctions applied; ferocious ones. It was whispered that alarms had been built in, at great expense, to maintain the integrity of the common wall.

But the Guild had expanded. Famke knew at the time her mother had been taken on as a teacher, it had taken a collective deep breath and accepted the Time Was Now Right to accept young ladies as students. The School had also relaxed, by degrees, its inclusions policy. It was no longer as socially exclusive as it had formerly been, even though the older and more prestigious boys-only Houses still kept to the very old ways, largely as a sop to socially élite and Entitled families of the nobility. Student numbers had doubled.

With pressure on site, overspill campuses now existed at places like Mollymog, and new institutions like the City Zoo, the Animal Management Unit and Tegg's Nose provided off-site teaching and instruction. There was also the Equestrian Centre at Garstairs that taught all things horsey.

The Guild had also thought creatively about the space problem on Filigree Street. You couldn't expand outwards without evicting the Fools, the Teachers or the Bakers from their Guild premises. It was impossible, and would look ugly and unseemly, with no regard to fine old architecture, to add extra storeys to the buildings. But Ankh-Morpork was built on other, older, Ankh-Morporks. Why, a lot of the Undercity had pre-existing rooms, cellars, even old halls, that were in structurally good order. Why not learn from the Dwarfs and expand downwards, get some clever Dwarfs in to advise?

Thus, a lot of the Guild's teaching facilities, aided by good ventilation, dehumidifying systems and damp-proofing, were now underground. It all added to the sinister image of unholy things done in dark places. Even if those dark sinister places were actually, these days, airy, pleasant and well-lit.

Famke wondered exactly how many flights of stairs Miss Glynnie was going to lead her down. They even passed Rehearsal Room Seven-A, the heavily soundproofed music studio given over to percussion, which was normally Miss Glynnie's professional domain. Up until now, Famke had thought that was as far down as the School went. But no; they passed down another two flights of stairs, two more levels of sub-cellar, and she realised this was as low as the Guild went. Probably.

Nine levels below the street, Famke thought. She'd counted the number of flights of steps. And everything here had a sort of half-finished, temporary, look to it. The Dwarf systems for maintaining air flow and keeping the place acceptably dry only seemed to have been installed recently. There was still a hint of clammy damp in the walls and the air. This part of the Undercity had an air of only just having been reclaimed after millenia of neglect. Even the lighting in this corridor was sparse and dimmed.

"I was permitted space and a budget here for a personal project." Miss Glynnie said. "The Dark Council found my idea intriguing and asked what I required to make it work. Your mother and Miss Band were very supportive. Over the last few months, Dwarf artisans helped build this to my design. It requires a little adjustment, but I am pleased with the outcome. Several people have helped test it."

Famke had a little mental picture of a guinea-pig squeaking in a treadmill, or else one of the lab-rats at the Animal Management Unit, dropped into a maze and tested on how well it could locate the cheese whilst avoiding the…

And if Miss Band is in on this, there will be traps…

Miss Glynnie smiled tolerantly.

"I require you to empty your pockets, Famke. All of them. You carry nothing into this place. Except the clothes you are wearing. That's important. Drop everything into this box. I promise you I am not concerned about any items that might normally attract sanctions…. matches, Famke? Do not let me see those again. Thank you. Oh, and your mother selected your footwear? Boots off, please. Thank you. No knives in the sheaths, good. Just allow me to extract the lockpicks from your heels, and check the soles – no, your mother was prudent, and she did not buy you the boots with the hidden blades. "

There was a slight clink as the emergency lockpicks ended up in the box. For an encore, Miss Glynnie deftly located and removed the Gigli saw and extra lockpick concealed in Famke's belt, patted her pockets, even the hidden ones, and pronounced herself satisfied. Famke was allowed to put her boots back on, and she was led to a door.

"You will enter this place." she was told. "Your task is to orientate yourself and to make sense of it. Nobody is trying to trip you up, and there are no lethal traps in there. There is nothing in there that can kill or injure you. Nothing at all. On the other side of that door, there is just you. Only you. After a given length of time, I will come in to escort you out. Just as I did for Cassandra. Remember."

Miss Glynnie took Famke's face in both hands and moved it to hers. Famke felt her teacher's warm palms against her face. It wasn't unpleasant. She looked into intense eyes.

"There is just you. Only you." she repeated.

And then the door opened. Into intense blackness. Famke studied it, then took three steps forward. The door closed behind her. It should have thudded shut, or creaked. But it did so in total silence. And the residual light from the corridor, such as it was, died.

Famke stood in the dark. She opened her eyes wide, reasoning that after a count of maybe sixty, they would adjust and she'd be able to pick out something. There was never absolute darkness anywhere. She counted to sixty. Unaccountably, dim shapes and forms and outlines completely failed to appear.

It began to dawn on her that for your eyes to adjust to lower light conditions, there had to be some light present for your eyes to adjust to. Here there was none. None at all.

She said she got dwarfs to build this place. Thora was explaining once about the very deep galleries at her home. Deep-down Dwarf stuff. No light at all.

Famke started to move, very slowly and cautiously, sweeping her arms wide and slowly in front of her, checking her forward path with infinite caution from floor to head-height, probing for any tripwires or mechanisms, ensuring the very floor in front of her remained a floor, that her probing fingers did not, for instance, find an edge above a drop where a floor suddenly wasn't…

Not so bad, she thought. So I can't use my eyes. Limitation of the exercise.

She considered the floor. Some sort of carpeting. Over a thick slightly springy something. Thick underlay, gives slightly as I walk on it, but not very much. Can't hear my feet. Is this deliberate too?

Famke continued in this way for perhaps a few minutes, advancing maybe six feet. Then remembered her teacher assuring her there were no conventional traps in here. She relaxed, and decided to take this on trust. She returned to what she thought had been the door she had come in by. She frowned. There was a wall there. Padded with something with the same slight give to it as the floor. Careful probing with fingertips found what might have been the regular shape of a doorway – some way to the right of where she thought it might be. But it was flush to the wall. She frowned again. She was sure she had walked straight ahead, in a straight line from the entry door. But turning to come back again had taken her over to the left. Was she getting disorientated already?

Your task is to orientate yourself….

Famke realised she was failing at it already. She thought, furiously. This is a wall. Use it. Keep it on my right at all times. Count my paces. At least build a picture in my head as to how big this place is.

Moving slowly and carefully, she counted the paces from the entry door until she came to what she thought was a conventional right angle in the wall. She memorised a number, then started the count again, keeping her right hand on the wall as she moved. Then there was another angle in the wall. This felt different, subtly so, to the previous one. She concentrated and made what she sensed was a little bit less than a quarter-turn. Memorised a second number, then resumed a new count.

The wall felt strange and familiar at the same time. Then she realised where she'd seen a similar wall: the new music studio Mum had paid for at home, where she and Bekki and Ruth, and Bekki's drippy-but-decent BF, had played music. This was soundproofing. Like the stuff the Dwarfs had installed at home, but different.

"Well, this isn't so bad…" Famke said out loud. She stopped. She could barely hear her own voice. It sounded like a faint whisper. She shouted. It sounded like a louder faint whisper. She tested herself. She put fingers to her throat over the larynx and really shouted. Same faint whisper, but the vibrations in her throat reassured her that had been a shout. She clapped her hands. A faint "phut" noise.(2)

No vision. No sound, either.

She realised she'd lost count. She retraced her steps to the oddly-angled corner and started again.

There was another oddly-angled corner, another number to memorise, and then a longer wall. It seemed to have a kink in it, about a hundred paces along. Then another turn, and then the possible outline of a door again… Famke frowned. Was she back where she'd come in? She kicked herself for not having marked her starting point. And she couldn't assume there was only one door in… she counted from the door to the next corner. It tallied with her original count. So she was back where she started, then.

Famke tried to visualise it in her head. A long not-quite-a-rectangle, with two long sides. The shorter wall at the far end a little longer than the one with the door in. A, what do you call it, trapezoid shape.

As for how high it was… well, can't work out how to measure that, for now. She considered taking a boot off and throwing it up to work out if it encountered a ceiling, and reflected she'd have to be able to see it fly and hear it hit things. Since neither was a given in this place, all she would do would be to lose a boot. Nothing to climb, too, in that smoothish surface: nothing for fingers and toes to feel for. No edificeering.

Famke sniffed. Was that mint she could smell? Just a single tantalising whiff, and it was gone again. Puzzle. But never mind, not important. Funny, it seemed very sharp and clear, as if I was smelling mint for the first time, or something… on my tongue too, as if I was tasting it.

Famke braced herself and decided it was time to start exploring the inner space. It meant leaving the oddly comforting and solid presence of the Wall behind her, and giving up its feel on her fingertips… she felt as if she were wishing a friend goodbye. She squared her shoulders and stepped into the Dark, seeking to quarter the space as methodically as possible.

After a while, in the monotony of Nothing, she began to feel decidedly odd. Just the floor under her feet. And the warm featureless odourless air around her. Nothing to touch. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear.

She flexed her fingers to feel her fingertips against her palms. She clasped both hands together for reassurance. For just an instant there she'd felt herself dissolving, as if the fundamental boundary, the one that marked where Famke Cornelia Smith-Rhodes-Stibbons ended and the rest of the world began, that was breaking down and she was no longer sure where one ended and the other started. This was getting weird. Very dimly, she started to perceive possible reasons why Cassandra Venturi might have had a crisis in here and had ended up being sedated in the infirmary.

She's an idiot, Famke told herself, firmly. You are not an idiot. Get a grip.

Nothing to touch, nothing to see, nothing to hear, and now nothing to feel.

Famke remembered her teacher's words again.

"There is nothing in there that can kill or injure you. Nothing at all. On the other side of that door, there is just you. Only you."

Nothing at all. Apart, that is, from me.

Famke sniffed the air again.

This time the sharp scent was lemon. Briefly, just a hint. Then it was gone. It lingered in her nose and on her tongue, sharper than it had a right to be, then died.

Famke shook her head. Another puzzle.

Then she walked into something. She hadn't expected anything. But it was there. At about mid-thigh level. The physical sensation of touching something was intense, far more so than it had a right to be. Famke went "ooof…." And fell forwards.

It was a couch, or maybe a bed. She felt along it, wondering if this was some sort of sadistic trick. No. Just a normal single bed. With a pillow. It was soft and wonderfully inviting. No sheets or anything, jut a bare sort of couch-thing.

Famke smiled to herself. She remembered the old song.

Op 'n berg in die nag,

lê ons in donker en wag…

Well. It wasn't a mountainside at night. Where a ragged group of Boers waited in the cold, mud and rain with only old sacks to cover them, awaiting morning and a renewed battle with the Morporkians. But it might as well be night. And it was dark. No doubt about it being dark.

Time to lie down and wait. And if Miss Glynnie finds me asleep and having happy dreams when she comes in to find me, then serves her right.

Famke laid herself down in the dark to wait. There really wasn't much else to do. All her other senses seemed to have shut down. Or to have been shut down. With the possible exception of smell, which was perplexing.

She didn't sleep, as such. There was something indefinibly odd going on around this bed, or couch, or whatever: it was comfortable, yes, but somehow after a while she felt as if it wasn't really there any more, as if she was floating, unsupported, in space. But she relaxed, and pictures started forming in her head. She expected this, somehow. Then she wasn't sure at all if they were forming inside or outside her head. The boundary between inside and outside was getting less and less clear. Memories. Nice ones. Long-ago birthday parties. Being excited when Mummy had brought baby Ruthie home for the first time. And not-nice ones. Those shouting rows with Mum when neither of them was going to back down. Famke felt these keenly, and sensed her self-assurance eroding. This was uncomfortable.

She heard her grandfather's voice, when they'd been together in Lancre, for the Witch Trials. Just after the fight in the farmyard. It came clearly, as if Oupa Barbarossa was there with her - more, she thought, than just memory.

Wellnow, meisie. It appears you have your mother's fighting streak in you. You think I got these grey hairs naturally? Listen to me now. You got away with that because those Zulus were boys, not much older than you. You, on your own, charged three Zulus? Nobody backing you up or covering your flanks? Jislaik, meisie. They didn't know what to do and they retreated from you. They ran. Do not think I'm not proud of you for that. But do you think you would have lasted for five minutes if they'd been adults? Grown men with training and combat experience? While you were duelling the man in front of you, the other two would be coming round to your sides with their spears and -

Her grandfather had been right, Famke realised. She could have been killed. it was a sudden, deeply uncomfortable, realisation.

And then the vision arose, of three huge Zulus coming at her with assegais raised. It was clear, it was vivid, it was full colour, and they were out there. Famke realised she had no weapons. She was defenceless. She even heard the war-cry…

Then a little voice in the back of her mind said "This is a memory too. The chant they raised in the farmyard. Grown men chanting with the voices of thirteen year old boys? Besides, you're lying flat on your back on a bed. Remember? If they're right in front of you they're hovering in mid-air on their fronts. Therefore, hallucination."

Famke made herself look as the Zulus ran at her and stabbed. Then evaporated, as she faced the hallucination down, staring it in the face and mastering her fear.

What did Sandra see when she laid down on this couch? was quickly followed by Yuck, I'm sharing a bed with Sandra Venturi? Ewww!

She tried to calm her pounding heart down with deep, regular, breathing. The pictures stopped for a while. She sensed that these were thoughts and memories and feelings that were somehow being made intense, maybe because her brain still had to operate but there wasn't really much for it to operate with justnow. She tried to focus on good ones, without success. Family. Friends.

Then the woman appeared, standing at the bedside. She flickered in and out of focus and Famke regarded her, without fear. She looked a little bit like Mum, with maybe a hint of Aunt Mariella. She was attractive, late twenties perhaps, but had some awful scars on her face… Famke tried to recall family history.

Well, kleine kryger. the woman said, in Vondalaans. Her voice faded in and out with her picture. …can talk to you… here…. speak to your sisters… proud of you…. Never forget…. watching….

She leaned forward as if to kiss Famke on the cheek. Then the image faded and a hand was on her shoulder, shaking her gently.

Miss Glynnie.

"Let us leave?" she heard her teacher, her voice far and faint. "Hard to talk in here."

Miss Glynnie took her hand and Famke stood up, feeling strangely disembodied. She led Famke out of the dark place.

They left by a different door – Famke had simply not noticed it – and sat in a dimly lit room. It still seemed painfully, agonisingly, bright.

Hot tea was there. With lemon and mint. The taste was exquisite.

"It is best you recover in here for twenty minutes or so." Miss Glynnie said. "Everyday sensations tend to be painful when you return to the sensory world."

"Miss. What was that place?"

Miss Glynnie gave Famke a smile.

"I call it the Sensory Deprivation Chamber." she said. "My idea was to give selected students a brief taste of what it is to live, as I do, in a world without sound. To test how they adapt to loss of a primary sense and how to deal with that. To develop strategies. Then I considered. Why not deprive them of all their senses? Insofar as is possible. Do you remember, Famke, I said to you, explicitly, in there, there is nothing at all? Only you?"

"I remember." Famke said. "You did warn me."

Miss Glynnie smiled.

"In there, with everything else stripped away, you begin to discover who you really are." she said. "The realisation came as a shock to Cassandra, unfortunately. The Dark Council believes it has merit as a training aid and as a test. When the idea is further refined, it may be used as a stage on the Final Run, perhaps. Or else, all pupils on the last year of the Black will each spend one hour in there. No longer. You were privileged. You got to experience it five years ahead of time. Now shall we discuss your experiences?"

Afterwards, Miss Glynnie smiled. She held a hand out to Famke.

"If you're willing, I am prepared to teach you more about living in a world without physical sensation." she said. "We can go in there together for advanced tuition. And here, informally, between just the two of us, I have no objection to you addressing me as Ethylene."

"Thank you, Miss." Famke said, dutifully. "Er. Ethylene."

And Famke returned to her dorm, humming the De La Rey song.

People looked at her, anxiously.

"Kay? What happened?"

Famke grinned at them.

"Not a lot, really. Nothing at all. Really. Nothing at all. Sandra's just an idiot."

Later on, she did explain, guardedly, that it was nothing at all with a specifically Assassin-teacher slant to it. People were more inclined to accept this.

A day or so later, a subdued and somehow altered Cassandra Venturi returned to the dorm. People were understanding. Nothing at all had happened to her. Kay had said so.

(1) Because there have to be footnotes. Johanna and Ponder originally had six servants, wished on them by Aunt Friejda, who meant well. Then they got a very young nanny out of the Phlaanders country. The Boy was from Rimwards Howondaland and allowed to work overeas as a domestic servant to white people. Such privileged black Howondalandians got special Passes to facilitate this. The Girl was barely seventeen and white. And, well, things started happening that apartheid law would dissaprove of. Johanna had a quiet word with Uncle Pieter, who understood the foibles of human nature. They decided the kindest thing to do was to rescind the Overseas Residency Pass for the Boy and send him back to the Homeland - albeit with very good glowing references and a guaranteed good job. Johanna still felt bad about this. And she determined it was not a tale her daughter should get to hear. Not justnow, anyway. It's in a story somewhere, possibly a Discworld Tarot short: Susan Sto Helit, as the nearest thing to a Guild of Nannies leader, was consulted for her advice. And everybody in the household now cleans their own damn boots.

(2) Johanna had suggested to Miss Glynnie that Ponder took her up into the dome of the Library at Unseen University, where there were some truly interesting acoustics. The Shouting Gallery, the Screaming Gallery and the Laryngitis Gallery (3) had been explored. See my tale Hear Them Chatter On The Tide.

(3) Named after Arch-Chancellor Laryngitis.

Notes Dump:-

Bloody hell. I have discovered there is a real-life Olga Romanoff. She lives in London and is the linear descendant of the last Tsar; her supporters and diehard royalists give her the title of Princess Olga, although this carries no legal or other status in Russia (she is, I believe, free to visit if she wishes, provided she doesn't use the title), and she appears to accept there is no realistic chance of her becoming Tsarina any time soon. She seems pleasantly OK, by royal standards, but nothing like the way I visualise my Olga at any point in her life.

I have also discovered a stupendously, awfully, atrociously bad novel with the title of "Olga Romanoff – Syren of the Skies" in which the exiled heiress to the throne takes solace in flight. Now what are the chances of that?

At least it gives me Olga's Pegasus Service nose-art and callsign: "Syren". I couldn't do anything else, could I?

A sample of the peerless Victorian prose, in which Olga is described thusly:

"The other was a young girl, in all the pride and glory of budding womanhood, and beautiful with the dark, imperious beauty that is transmitted, like a priceless heirloom, along a line of proud descent unstained by any drop of base-born blood.

"Yet in her beauty there was that which repelled as well as attracted. No sweet and gentle woman-soul looked out of the great, deep eyes, that changed from dusky-violet to the blackness of a starless night as the sun and shade of her varying moods swept over her inner being. Her straight, dark brows were almost masculine in their firmness; and the voluptuous promise of her full, red, sensuous lips was belied by the strength of her chin and the defiant poise of her splendid head on the strongly-moulded throat, whose smooth skin showed so dazzlingly white against the dark purple velvet of the collar of her dress.

"It was a beauty to enslave and command rather than to woo and win; the fatal loveliness of a Cleopatra, a Lucrezia, or a Messalina; a charm to be used for evil rather than for good. In a few years she would be such a woman as would drive men mad for the love of her, and, giving no love in return, use them for her own ends, and cast them aside with a smile when they could serve her no longer." ( From:

The Syren of the Skies



To which my Olga might shake her head, scowl, and make reference to "govno"... Irena might be moved to snark on reading this.