I walk the streets of another city, or rather we walk these streets. Belinda, my 'Linda is with me. For the first time in nearly half a century, I love and am loved in return. It is early evening as we walk along the banks of the river. We bask in each others company, alone for the first time in over a week., able to talk freely between ourselves. We inspire little notice from the others on the street. Two teenagers, brother and sister perhaps, walking and talking and taking in the sights. But we are so much more for so many different reasons. We have been together for only a short time, but already she can read my moods.
She speaks, "Peter, what's wrong? You've been like this all day."
"I'm all right Linda, I'm just remembering . . ."
A time, exactly 45 years earlier almost to the minute, or at least so I imagine. I see it in my minds eye, so clearly. I return home and within ten minutes, my stepfather and my Mother lie dead at my feet, and by my hands. A frantic search in a panic as I retrieve a few choice items, and then flee the burning house. And then realisation and horror and revulsion. And four and a half decades of pain.
"I'm fine Linda. I'll be all right."
She won't accept that answer, "It's Amelia, isn't it."
"How do you know!", the words lash out before I think. I regret the tone immediately. But I regret so much after the fact.
"Monica told me the date."
"Oh - I didn't think she knew it. But, since you ask, yes. Today is the anniversary of Her death."
Belinda looks pensive, and she asks the question that I knew she'd ask sooner or later, the question that I have been dreading.
"Peter. Why did you kill her?"
I walk on silently for a moment, and then I sit down. Belinda sits beside me.
"How much do you know?"
"Only what you've told me, and what Monica has added. But that's not much. She said I should ask you. I know Amelia looked after you for a long time, and that you killed her and her husband in 1926, but very little else."
"She did more than look after me, Linda. She was my Mother, not biologically, of course, but in every respect that matters. She took me from the street when I was 16 and made me Her son, and for 150 years, we were a family. Then She married a man. A good man. His name was Jeremy Harding and he tried his hardest to treat me as his son. I wouldn't let him, though. He stole my Mother, and I could not accept that."
"Each year, on my birthday, from 1777 until 1925, my Mother and I went to Skara Brae, the place where she grew up. It's such a beautiful place, Linda, and so old. There are so few places on this Earth that do not change, but Skara Brae is eternal - it is immortal. It was so important to me, and so critical in my life. Christmas meant little more than presents, and as for Easter, well I've risen from the dead myself. But my birthday was special."
"Jeremy didn't know this. How could he? He had no idea what we were, Mother had chosen not to tell him. He decided to take us to Paris for a short holiday. We were to be there on my birthday. So I killed him, where he stood. How dare he take my Mother, how dare he change my life, and how dare my Mother let him? I went to Her room and stabbed Her in the back. Physically as well as metaphorically. And then I took Her head."
Belinda sat there so silently. I could hear the world around so clearly. I waited and finally could wait no longer.
"Belinda. If you wish to leave me, I do understand. But please, I beg you, don't. Not for me, but for yourself. You are not ready to be alone yet. The risk is too great."
She looked at me, her eyes filled with tears.
"I love you, Peter, and I will never leave you."
and we kissed, on the bank under the sun, for the first time. I had kissed before, my Mum years ago and then my Mother, but this was the first real kiss I had ever had. It measured up to all my expectations and I wanted more, so much more. But it was getting late, and we had to return home.
As we walked up the street towards our home, Belinda spoke,
"Peter, when is your birthday?"
"The 22nd, two weeks away."
"Will you take me to Skara Brae?"
My heart sank.
"I can't go back there Linda. Never, the pain is too much. Please don't ask me to do that."
Those eyes again,
"Peter, forget I asked. I don't want to make you do anything."
and we kissed again as we entered our home.
Monica, being the personification of efficiency that she is, had our meal ready within a few minutes. We ate. Monica looked at me and at Belinda through most of the meal. After we had finished, Belinda went into the living room to watch television. I rose to follow, but Monica stopped me.
"We need to talk, Peter."
I sat back down.
"Peter, I'm not going to beat around the bush. What are you and Belinda planning on doing?"
"I beg your pardon."
"You know what I mean, Peter. Do I have to spell it out? I saw you two as you came in. Something has happened, hasn't it. I want to know what that something is. Just tell me. I assure you, you can't shock me."
Shock her? I began to see what she was getting at.
"Um, Monica. I'm not sure that it's any of your business. I'm not a child. Don't let my appearance distract you from my true nature! I am over 200 years old."
"Peter, years aren't the only criteria for age - at least, not in your case. You are a child in so many ways. I don't want you to do anything that you might regret later."
"Monica, I've done so much that I regret all ready. And I believe that it's my right to make my own mistakes. If I make them, I have to live with them. So be it. I can accept that."
"Can Belinda accept it?"
"She can make her own choices, Monica! She doesn't need you interfering." I moved to the door.
"Doesn't she? Do you really believe that she can make that choice. Peter, no matter what you think about yourself, she is a child. Don't let her true nature distract you from her age! She is only 15 years old."
I stopped walking and slowly turned around.
"Peter, just think about it. She loves you. Anyone can see that. If you asked her, I believe that she would go to bed with you in a moment. But it wouldn't be fair and it would be wrong. Peter, if I am right and you are a child, you are both too young for sex. And even if you are right, and you are an adult, she is still a child, and you have no right to do that to her. You do love her, don't you?"
"With everything I have, with all I own, with all my heart, Monica."
"Then you will wait until she is ready."
I moved to Monica and kissed her cheek.
"Thank you, dear Monica."
"What on earth for?"
"For being right, and being willing to say so."
"You would have worked it out, sooner or later, Peter. It is far better that you do it before you do something that you will regret. If you'll take some advice from me . . ."
"Do things together, be together, be yourselves. Have fun and everything else will take care of itself."
I decided to take her advice. I entered the living room.
"Belinda, let's go to Skara Brae on my birthday."
"Pardon? Are you sure, Peter?"
"Of course I am." And I was.
We prepared for our journey and made our way across the continent, and then across the sea to the coast of Britain. A leisurely trip, a holiday of sorts, which I spent instructing Belinda in history. History as I saw it. We have, my race, a unique perspective on history. We witness so much and we remember things forgotten. We look at the world from a viewpoint that must be alien to the mortal mind. This is our world, all that exists within it can be ours. Indeed, if the legends be true, for one of us, the world shall be ours. I do not believe that One will be me, and though it pains me deeply to say it, it shall not be Linda either. But it is the duty, the responsibility of all men and women, immortal and mortal alike to know this world and care for it.
Since I was born, the world has been explored until it has been all but totally mapped. Man has conquered disease to an extent, he flies and walks upon the Moon. When I was born, these ideas would have been almost heretical in their audacity, had anyone proposed them at all. Science knows so much, and mankind learns so much more each day. But no man can ever catalogue this progress. His life is not long enough. I believe, therefore, that the duty of observation and of care fall to me and to my kind. In teaching Belinda of these things, I hope to help her to take her place in the world.
I also continued her instruction in matters critical to her survival. Belinda was raised in a different way than me. I do not for a moment imagine that her existence was idyllic, she had no parents and was passed from pillar to post all her life. But I grew up as one of the poorest of the poor of the streets of London. My mum had to sell her only commodity, her body, to keep us from starving, and to put a roof over our heads when she could. As she grew older, and as I did, the burden fell on me. I worked, when I could for the merest pittance, and when that failed I became a thief. I had to fight to survive from birth, and that hardens a soul.
Even after Amelia claimed me as Her son, even after I was able to live in comfort and in leisure, I was never allowed to become complacent. I was battle trained and taught self discipline. I was never allowed to relax my vigilance for a moment. I was taught to prepare myself for battle, and then to wait for it to arrive. If I relaxed myself for a moment, my Mother was not adverse to cutting my flesh. It healed, but the memory remained, and so did the skills that She taught me.
My Mother never let me fight. She knew my limits caused by my size, and by my physical age. Her training was a precaution only to give me a chance in an emergency. In 150 years of immortal existence, I killed nobody - until I took Her head.
Since that time, I have killed a few. I do not care to remember the exact number. In each case I have had no real choice, but that doesn't make it any easier. Monica was afraid that I might destroy Belinda's innocence. I shall have to do more than that to keep her alive. She must be made ready to fight, to endure pain and suffering. She must learn to kill without compunction and without hesitation when the situation warrants it. But she must learn when to run, as well, and when to ask for peace.
She must learn what my Mother taught me.
Britain, the first land I remember. I am tempted to say the land of my birth, but I have no way of knowing if that is true. Nevertheless it is my home. From this small island, a quarter of the world was ruled, and I remember that time. My Mother and I walked among the rich and the powerful. I know this land so well.
We passed though England, seeing the sights, with Monica taking the opportunity to expose us to 'culture', or at least her version of it. We went to the galleries, listened to music, and immersed ourselves in Shakespeare. We moved into Scotland and over to the Orkneys, to the island of Hrossey and once there to Skara Brae, home of my Mother and of her people. We walked among buildings at least 4000 years old, under a Sun that only sets for a short time each day. Each time I have come here it has been at the same time of year, and it has always seemed perfect. Almost eternal day over an almost eternal village.
As always, when I am here, I try to imagine what it was like in the days when my Mother lived here. I turn to speak to Belinda
The scene changes.
I no longer stand among a set of well preserved ruins, but instead among stone buildings and Belinda is no longer beside me. Instead stands a man, tall and straight, dressed in furs with a single gold chain about his neck, a sword at his side. My sword, this man wears my blade. He looks at me and speaks. It is a strange tongue, but somehow I understand it.
"We must leave soon, Mela. Those who die control the other Islands. All of the other strongholds have now fallen. The People are scattered. We must leave, or we shall lose our heads."
I speak, but the words are not mine. The voice is familiar, but it is not mine. "Lanya, this is our home. We cannot leave."
"No longer, my Beloved. Our day is past. But it shall return. One day the world will be ours again."
I return to my own world, the ruins intact once more. I feel so weak, and I almost fall. Belinda grabs me and steadies me.
"Are you all right, Peter?"
I have to think. I need time alone.
"Linda, I need water, bring me water."
She runs off. I slump to the ground. What did I just see? Ghosts perhaps. I don't believe in ghosts, but then who would believe in immortality? Imagination? In 200 years I have never imagined such as that. It seemed so real, and yet . . .
Rain beats down upon the sand. Fire burns around me. I hear screams and yells. My sword, blood stained, is in my right hand, in my left – the hand of a child. A girl, perhaps ten years old. She carries a blade as well. A sound behind me. I whirl and parry. Too late. A spear wielded by a near naked savage, thrusts into my chest. My sword falls from my hand.
I lose my grip on the girl, and I die.
"Peter, wake up, please wake up."
My eyes flip open rapidly. Belinda kneels next to me. I can see Monica coming over a small rise. I leap to my feet.
"What?" Belinda looks at me in concern.
"We're leaving! Now!"
We begin to run, away from Skara Brae, south along the beach. I am in a cold sweat, every fibre of my being trembles. I have felt fear before, sheer terror in fact, and I have faced death. But never before have I felt the way I do. Belinda's hand is in mine now, and I almost drag her with me. Monica runs behind. My sword is in my hand now, as I run. I don't know what I am running from. I just want - I need to get away. We run into the low hills and I push Belinda into the thick bushes. I turn again and gaze upon the burning ruins of my village.
My village? Burning?!? What am I thinking? The ruins are as normal. There is no fire. Just Monica standing in front of me, concern on her face.
"Peter, what's wrong? Is there another immortal about?"
Belinda emerging from the bushes, answers. "I can't feel one."
"Peter, what is going on?"
I answer, "I'm not sure, Monica. Something isn't right here. I keep seeing things. I'm not sure what, but they feel like memories. They're not mine. At least, I don't think so."
"Pardon? I'm not sure I understand."
"I certainly don't." Belinda seemed to be rather annoyed at me for some reason.
"I'm sorry, both of you, but I feel wrong, somehow. We have to leave. I want to leave. Please!"
Getting off the Orkneys in a hurry isn't exactly easy, but Monica managed it. I don't like to think of how much money it cost me. We were soon back in Scotland, and in a hotel. Now she wanted answers.
"What happened, Peter?"
"I don't know, Monica, and that's a fact. It was as if I was in two places at once. I was with Linda, and then I was with a man. I was on the beach and then I was fighting in a battle. There was a girl . . ."
"Me?" asked Belinda.
"A little girl, with a sword in her hand."
"An immortal?", that was Monica.
"I couldn't sense her. I don't know."
"Can you tell me anything else?", Monica seemed rather tense, almost excited.
"The mans name was Lanya, and he called me - Mela. He carried my sword."
"Yes," I picked it up and looked at it. My blade, given to me by my Mother, nearly 200 years ago. In all that time, it had never been out of my sight, or in the hands of another person.
Monica asked, "May I see it?"
I looked at Monica and at the blade. I handed it to her.
"It's heavier than I thought." She turned it over in her hands. Her mind was turning over too.
"Peter, didn't you once tell me, that this sword had belonged to Amelia's chieftain."
I looked at her.
"Did I? Well, yes that's true."
"Could you have been tuned into the past. Picking up vibrations in some way."
"Seeing ghosts, you mean. I don't know, Monica. It seems so unlikely, somehow."
Belinda showed off her recently acquired British culture. "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
I spoke to her in the words of the Bard, "She never yet was foolish that was fair," and then to Monica, "You are both correct, of course. It may be unlikely, but it may be true. And I have never been as frightened in my life. I never want to be again."
Belinda came over to me, and Monica cast me a pointed look and left the room.
We kissed. Belinda embraced me and we sat there together for some time, basking in each others company.
And then she spoke.
"Peter, aren't you going to do anything?"
"Do anything. I mean, well, you know."
"Oh that. I don't think so Belinda."
"Don't you love me?"
"You know I do. It's not for lack of love, nor for lack of desire. I just don't think we're ready."
"Why not? Don't you want to?"
"Only if you do. Never feel that you have to do anything that you don't want to. It must be entirely your choice."
"Do you really mean that? You're not just saying that?"
"With all my heart, I love you. I want only what you want."
"Peter. I have to tell you something. But I'm afraid."
"You may tell me anything, my Linda. Anything at all."
"This is bad."
"You are talking to a boy, who was the son of a whore. Who grew up on the streets, who stole for a living, and attempted to murder for money. Who was hanged at age 16. And who killed the woman who raised him. Nothing you can say can hurt me." She looked at me. She screwed up all of her courage and she spoke.
"I don't want to make love to you, not yet. But it's not because I haven't before. I was . . . The night you found me I was . . .", she began to sob.
I embraced her and held her. We rocked together for a while as I tried to soothe her crying. After a time she began to speak again.
"I was raped, Peter. I'm so sorry."
She was sorry? I didn't understand.
"But why are you sorry? It wasn't your fault."
"I could have done something. I should have fought harder."
I turned her head so she looked into my eyes. I spoke in a voice that was so strong, I could barely believe it was my own. All I wanted to do was cry with her.
"It Was Not Your Fault. You did everything you could!"
"How do you know?" She stared at me.
"I know you. That's all I need to know."
I thought of what Monica told me the night after I found Belinda dazed and bleeding on the street. The last thing I wanted to do was know the details of her attack, the details of the savage attack that had left the woman I loved, in pain and blaming herself. But for her sake I would listen to anything. That was all the solace I knew how to offer, that and telling her it wasn't her fault.
"Linda, do you want to talk about it? Only if you want to."
She did and I listened.
I cannot write the details down. I don't need to anyway. Every word is burned indelibly into my brain, and into my consciousness. When she had finished, I spoke.
"They will die, Belinda. Horribly and in pain. I swear that on the blade I bear. This blade will carve out their hearts." I didn't tell her what else I had planned for them.
"No, Peter, you mustn't do that. I won't let you."
"Why not? They deserve to die."
"I won't let you put yourself in jeopardy. You could be caught and go to gaol. They are not immortal, you don't need to kill them. I don't want you to kill anyone. Please, promise me, that you won't do it."
I looked at her, and for the first time in my long life, I made a promise that I have no intention of keeping.
She seemed relieved. "Peter?"
"I love you. Just because I said not today, I didn't mean never."
"Whenever you wish, my Linda. I will be there for you. The choice is yours."
I left her room and went down the stairs. Monica was returning from wherever she had been. She looked at me, at my face, into my eyes and grabbed me in a close embrace. And held me for a moment. She then pulled away from me and went up to deal with Belinda.
I went outside into the street. Dusk was settling over the city. An old city, like so much of Britain. Cars moved among the old buildings on roads designed for other sorts of traffic. A mixture of the old and the new, of history and the future. And I thought of myself and Belinda. What future is there for us? Two immortals in a world so cruel. A world that must either kill us, or eventually set us against each other, if we live to the time of the Gathering. There seemed to be only one choice. Live for the moment, but love for eternity.
"How oft when men are at the point of death have they been merry!" or perhaps as we're in Scotland, a Scotsman's words.
"To see her is to love her
And love but her for ever:
For nature made her what she is, and never made anither!"
We returned to England the following day and moved on into London. Another ancient city, and my ancestral home. I come here but seldom. London is a large city with a long history and consequently is likely at any stage to contain several immortals. I have found it better over time to avoid such concentrations. There is an added consideration. Amelia lived here for quite a long time, I do believe. She made friends among the people here, among other immortals. I knew some of them myself. They may feel the need to revenge Her death.
I do have a townhouse there however. My Mother left it to me in Her will, but I had never been there since Her death. I went there now, however, with Belinda and Monica. My key still opened the door. We entered.
The furniture, while still elegant and matching the decor of the rooms was modern, but I recognised many of the ornaments and paintings. The house was clean. It was very obviously lived in. We were about to leave, quickly, when Belinda and I felt someone. She had her blade out in a second, I noticed approvingly. I drew my own.
A voice boomed out from up the stairs. I could not see the source, as a wall blocked my view. But Belinda could and she could be seen. So could Monica.
"Ah, my ladies. I so seldom have company, especially two of my own kind. And armed as well. Hardly the behaviour of guests."
I heard a blade come out of a scabbard. Belinda moved in front of Monica.
"My name is Belinda Milner, and I don't want to fight you."
I stepped forward, myself.
"My name is Peter Woodley, and I wish no harm to any man who does not wish me harm" and then I recognised him.
Sir William Mawson. One of Amelia's friends that I mentioned.
"Peter," he said. His blade dipped in salute.
"Sir William," I sketched a bow. "Kindly, explain your presence in my home."
"I thought you were dead. Died with Amelia."
"I am very much alive, Sir. Now, are we going to fight, or are we going to put down our blades."
"I have no desire to fight," he turned to Belinda, "My Lady?"
She placed her sword beneath her jacket. I'd have to talk to her about that. Just because someone says they are not going to fight you, is no reason to sheath your weapon. You do it together. The way that William and I did now.
He came down the stairs. "Are you going to introduce us, Peter?"
"Of course, Sir. Ladies, this is Sir William Mawson. Sir William, this is Monica Sturton and Belinda Milner. Monica knows about our kind, Sir William."
We all shook hands, and went into the drawing room.
"I thought you were dead, Peter, killed by whoever took Amelia's head. Who was it? Do you know?"
I looked at him.
"I did it, Sir. I killed my Mother."
"Because I was jealous of Jeremy. I killed him first and then I killed Mother. I couldn't bear to live with Her hating me forever. So I killed Her."
He was silent, so I spoke again.
"Do we fight, Sir?"
He shook his head, "There Can Be Only One. We will all kill those we love before the Gathering ends. I see no reason to begin the killing now."
Belinda spoke, "Sir William, Peter told me about the legends. Do you know why there can be only One?"
"Why would I know, Miss Milner?"
"Well, I thought you might, you're older than Peter and . . ."
He began to laugh, "My girl, I'm at least 30 years younger than Peter. You're new to this life, aren't you. Don't worry, you'll get used to age confusion. It wouldn't matter anyway. I don't think any of us know why there can be only One. We just know. Whenever two immortals are in close proximity for too long, tension between them becomes intense, and they either have to part or they fight."
"Have any immortals ever avoided the problem, choosing not to fight?"
Sir William looked at me, "You haven't taken her to Paris?"
"I've been avoiding it."
"Not a good idea, Peter. You know she needs to see him."
"Yes, but he always preaches so much."
"He is a priest, lad."
Belinda spoke, "Who's in Paris?"
Sir William answered, "Darius. He's one of the oldest immortals alive, and one of the best of us. He was a powerful and great warrior once until he killed a holy man, an immortal, at the gates of Paris. He became a pacifist and now he lives his life on holy ground. He's very close to a saint and one of the few immortals you can trust with your life. He'll protect you. Remember that if you are ever in danger. He is a priest though, and he will try and turn you to his way of peace and love. Ah, but who am I to say he's wrong. Peace has its advantages. Peter, take her to meet him. She has to sooner or later, and her safety is a well worth the price of a lecture from the Padre."
"Yes, Sir." Ten minutes in the presence of the man and all the courtly ways and manners that my Mother drilled into me return. She really did teach me well.
"Now, Peter, what's the drill? Are you going to throw me out into the street, or can we come to some sort of arrangement?"
"Stay here, as long as you like, Sir William. We will not be in London for long. Just a few weeks to kick over the traces, and see the old city, and then off to lands anew."
"Well then, lad, we'd better get rooms sorted out for you and the ladies.
We made the necessary domestic arrangements and then I took Belinda out to see my home city. We walked the streets, an old fashioned way I know, but you can't see a city from a bus or a taxi. I took her to the galleries, as Monica had, but this time for a different reason. I took her to see my Mother.
Her portrait, that of a mystery woman, painted in about 1820, hangs in one of London's smaller galleries. It captured Her well, Her beauty and Her spirit are so obvious.
Belinda spoke up, "She's so beautiful, Peter."
I gazed at Her portrait. I miss Her so much.
"She's not the only one, Belinda. You remind me of Her in so many ways. And you make things easier for me. I haven't been able to look at this picture since She died. I hadn't gone back to the house, since before that. It's easier with you. You make it easy."
We left the gallery. As we descended the steps, Belinda asked a question.
"Where did you live, Peter, before Amelia, I mean? Can I see it?"
We took a taxi then as a gentle rain had begun to fall, and I wanted to get there before we were soaked, and before my nerves failed. We arrived in the general area presently and got out and walked. A very few familiar buildings still stood. Most of the houses had been in poor repair even two centuries ago, and were now long gone. I showed her the few I recognised, and we headed back to a main street in search of a cab.
The scene changes.
I was walking amidst the urchins of London, looking for one particular boy. He had to be here, He must be. I had seen Him before, but I had not been ready then. Now I was, I had a knife, and I would take Him. Yes, I will have Him, He shall be mine. There He is, stepping into that alley. I move up towards Him. He is looking down at His hand. I speak, but not my words.
"Excuse me, boy?"
His eyes comes up. It is me?!? A knife comes into His hand, and he speaks.
"Your money or your life."
This child dares to try to rob me. I won't have that. I backhand Him across the face. I grab His wrist, I twist sharply and the knife falls. I strike Him again and again and again until He fades into unconsciousness.
I let Him slump to the ground. I rip my dress. Amelia's dress? And I scream for help. Some men come running. I point at the boy on the ground.
"He tried to rob and rape me." I say.
"Pardon?" It is Belinda speaking. I shake my head to clear it.
"It happened again, Belinda. I think I know what is happening."
I grab her hand and run to the street. I signal a passing cab and we return home.
We arrived at the house and I paid off the cabby. I almost dragged Belinda inside. I felt someone and had my sword in my hand before I realised it was Sir William, who had come running down the stairs.
"No, Sir, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking."
He raised an eyebrow, "Are you forgetting Amelia's training?"
"Don't speak that bitch's name!" My sword slashes out and smashes a vase. One of her favourites. I savagely attack a statuette of Zeus that rests upon the mantle. I gave that to her as a present, our first
Then William is behind me, and he wrenches my blade from my grasp. I struggle but he holds me hard. Then Monica grabs me and gathers me up in her arms, and I collapse and cry like a baby.
When I was calm again (a matter of minutes, my training and discipline reasserted themselves.) Monica asks the obvious question.
I sat down next to her.
"I've had another one of those visions, like at Skara Brae. This was in my old neighbourhood, where I was brought up. I took Belinda there."
"I saw another vision. I recognised this one, it was when Amelia and I first met, but I saw it through Amelia's eyes. From her point of view. I think I have her memories."
"Mother of God." That was from Sir William, and then Belinda speaks.
"How is that possible?"
"I don't know, Linda, I really don't."
Monica sits back in her seat next to me.
"I have a theory. Peter, as I understand it, when an immortal is killed their quickening is passed onto another immortal. Sometimes personality traits are passed on?"
Sir William answered, "That is correct."
"Then why not memories, why couldn't Peter have adopted Amelia's memories when he took her quickening?"
I started to deny it, but why not? It was as good a theory as any.
"Perhaps, Monica, perhaps you're right. It would explain the incidents."
"Yes, but it doesn't explain why you tried to destroy the house, when you came back," she said reprovingly.
"I have her thoughts as well, Monica. I know what she was thinking when she came upon me. I've idolised her, and revered her for two centuries, and I was wrong. She was not the saint I thought she was. She was a bitch. She was going to kill me, when she came after me. She was going to use a knife and kill me. I've been wrong about her for so long. I never want to hear her name again. Sir William."
"This house is yours. We are leaving immediately."
I went up the stairs to pack, Belinda made to follow, but Monica called her back. The three of them began to talk.
I entered my room and began to collect my things. After a time, there was a knock on the door, and Monica entered.
"Peter, there is something you should know. Sir William told me."
"What is it?"
"It's about Amelia."
"No, you will never mention her again."
"Peter . . ."
Monica looked at me. "Peter, I will not be spoken to like that. Apologise, at once."
I looked at Monica. Only once had I seen her this determined. When I first told her what I was, and asked her to leave. She refused, and I could not sway her.
"Peter, we are going to Kent."
"To Kent. Why?"
"To see Amelia's grave."
"Please Monica, I can't go there."
"Why not? Because you can't forgive Amelia, or because you can't forgive yourself."
I sat down on the bed.
"Peter, when we met and you told me what you were, you made one request of me. It was that I must never pity you. Well, for the last year and a half, I have watched you wallow in self pity and the worst display has been in the last ten minutes. I won't tolerate it any more. We are going to Kent, there is no argument. After that, I will never mention her name again, unless you wish it. But we are going."
And so we did. Belinda, Monica and myself drove down to the village of Lympne in Kent, just a few miles inland. This was where I lived with my mother and my stepfather in the first half of 1926. As we drove the last few miles, I looked over to the east, and saw upon a hill, the burnt out shell of the house.
"Stop the car, Monica."
I got out, and began to walk towards the house alone, by the same route I took on that day in 1926. I arrived at the house and gazed up at the ruins. 45 years and no one had made any effort to rebuild it. It seemed like a shrine. I remembered what it looked like. I stepped into the ruins.
The scene changes.
I stand at my bed packing my dresses into a small suitcase. I will need the larger trunk, in order to take all that I will need to Paris. I must get Jeremy to fetch it for me. I feel Peter enter the house. My Son is home. Happiness overwhelms me. I am heading to Paris, with the two people I most love in the world. I must tell Jeremy who we are, when we get there. It won't be easy, of course, but perhaps Darius will help. I hear my Son come up the stairs and the go down again. His birthday soon, I must get a present. After I've explained to Jeremy who we are, I can take him to Skara Brae, with Peter and myself on Peter's birthday. That should be a nice surprise. I hear a movement behind me. I know the footfalls and the breathing. It is Peter. But I ask anyway.
"Peter, is that you?"
"Be a dear, and fetch my trunk from the attic would you."
And a sharp pain enters through my back. A sword. I am wounded. I must find my blade, I must warn Peter. I must protect Him. The sword is withdrawn and I manage to turn.
And Peter stands before me, a bloody sword in his hand?
I hear my voice, but not my words, once more. "Why?" There is blood in my mouth, the salty taste, my legs are failing and my body will not respond. I begin to fall.
He raises His sword and speaks.
"There Can Be Only One."
I fall to my knees, and collapse forward. I try to speak, I need to speak, but I cannot say a word. I need to say the words.
I forgive you, Peter.
And then darkness comes.
I stand there gazing at the burnt out shell. The tears course down my cheeks. I know the truth. I step back out of the old ruin, and I pass by the old flower garden, now overgrown with weeds from years of neglect. I pluck a flower, and then I pluck three more.
I return to the car, and we continue the drive into Lympne, to the old church yard. I have not been to this church in 45 years and never since the death of my mother but I find her grave immediately on instinct. I gaze at the stone.
In Memory of
Captain Jeremy Harding M.C.
and his wife
and their son
Killed In a Tragic Fire
9th June 1926
I lay a flower upon the stone for my mother. She took my life, and I took hers. She forgave me and so must I forgive her. A second flower for my stepfather. I knew so little about him. I had not known of his rank or of his medal. I never took the chance I had to know him, and I killed him out of rage. A flower is a small token, but it is all I have to give. The last two flowers I give to Monica and to Belinda. They accept them in silence. No words are necessary.
We return to London and to the house. Sir William refused to accept the house from me, although he agreed to continue to live in it - to look after it until my return. We packed and left for another city that night. We can not afford to stay in one place too long, it is far too dangerous. And we took one thing with us - a painting purchased from one of London's smaller galleries.