Once Warloc stopped talking, the room was deathly quiet. There wasn’t even any wind outside. Siobhan sat there dumbly, not knowing what to say.
‘That was her now,’ Warloc said. ‘I thought she was an apparition. They’ve started looking like her, you see. They know it has an effect on me.’ He exhaled heavily. ‘Well, now you know.’
There was another silence.
‘What did she say?’
Warloc told her. ‘The Emperor has heard about you. I didn’t tell you this, but there have been visions about you.’
‘About me? Why?’
For once, the questions didn’t seem to bother him. ‘In these visions, you’re very important. You’re using magic, and Quelch thinks that you’re going to use it to defeat him. For the horrible things he’s done. She also... told me about the Emperor’s plans to kill the Oracle.’
‘Well, what are you going to do?’
Warloc made an odd noise and buried his face in his hands. Siobhan waited, and eventually he re-emerged.
‘There’s nothing I can do,’ Warloc said wearily. ‘If I try to speak to the Emperor, he could kill me before I get to Jocosa.’
Siobhan frowned. ‘Well, that sounds like a very defeatist attitude to me. I think you ought to try.’
Warloc looked up. ‘Look at me, Siobhan. I’m not strong enough.’
‘You keep saying that,’ she told him, ‘but what have you tried to do about it? All this is obviously bothering you...’
‘It bothers me every day, but -’
‘No, no buts. Listen.’ Siobhan felt authority rising in her voice. ‘You’ve been going on like a martyr for two years, and your poor wife has been stuck with that clag-head of an Emperor.’ She thought using his native swearword would lend weight to her argument. ‘You know what? I think we should go and see the Emperor, now, before you die from lack of sleep. And if he refuses to do what we ask – what we’ll DEMAND, in fact – well, we’ll kick his butt.’
‘I didn’t understand absolutely all of that.’
‘Maybe, but... you take my point.’
Warloc sat there, and actually looked like he was thinking hard.
‘Come on,’ Siobhan pressed. ‘It’s worth a try. He’s not expecting this.’ She grinned. ‘He’ll be dead scared when I turn up.’
‘Siobhan, please don’t joke.’ He paused. ‘I’ll sleep on it. I think the apparitions are finished with me for now.’
Siobhan took some time getting to sleep. She sat up in her chair for a while, thinking about what she’d seen and heard, and wondering what Warloc was going to do. Had she actually suggested going to see the Emperor and demanding that he hand Jocosa back?
The night’s events had proven very tiring, however, and she fell asleep in the end. She had a strange dream. The beginning was full of weird animals with big head, and odd looking armoured insects. Then she saw her grandma running into a building. She followed, and inside, the walls were covered in paint splatters. Then she climbed a flight of stairs.
Suddenly she was in a huge white room. At the other end was a woman with very unusual hair and enormous earrings. Her body disappeared, until she was just a big disembodied head. Underneath the head was a floating golden orb, which floated over to Siobhan. The orb was a sort of free floating voice box. Siobhan made the mistake of talking directly to the orb, where the words were coming from. The woman’s head became very angry, flew towards her and swallowed her. Then the dream stopped.
When she woke up, it was already bright. She found herself lying under the cloak again, though she couldn’t remember crawling under it again before she went to sleep.
Siobhan sat bolt upright in the chair. Warloc was in the room, tidying up.
‘Morning, Warloc,’ she said, getting out of the chair and stretching. She yawned loudly.
‘Good morning, Siobhan,’ Warloc said. ‘I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided to do what you’ve suggested.’
‘We’re going to see the Emperor.’
‘Oh brilliant. When do we leave?’
Warloc was filling up his bag with food from the cupboards. ‘Very soon. I suggest you get together anything you might need in that bag of yours, and we’ll go as soon as we can.’
Siobhan nodded, getting her bag from off the floor. She emptied her school books out onto the floor. An old school tie covered in biscuit crumbs and a teaspoon also fell out, and she went red and kicked them under the pile of books.
‘I’m going upstairs to get my uniform,’ she said, and went up the stairs. She retrieved her clothes from the side of the bath. They weren’t quite dry yet, but she brought them downstairs anyway. She was sure to shake the rest of the crumbs out of her bag before the uniform went in.
‘Can I take that spell book?’ she asked.
Siobhan found the spell book they’d been using yesterday and put that in as well. It was very heavy. She hoped they wouldn’t be walking far.
‘How far are we walking?’ she asked, tucking her wand into the front pocket of the bag.
‘Well, I don’t know what you use to measure distance,’ Warloc said. ‘But I estimate it will take us three or four days.’
‘Oh my God,’ Siobhan said, sagging at the knees.
They set off almost immediately, Hurley right behind them. Warloc planned to go to see Dahlia, and tell her what was happening.
‘Are we telling Gargantuum?’ Siobhan asked.
‘He won’t come back here for another two weeks. And we can’t go to Giant County; it’s in the opposite direction to where we’re going.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Enough questions,’ Warloc said, pointing the end of his staff at her. He was wearing his cloak and he’d put some new feathers in his hair.
Siobhan’s bag was heavy, and she was regretting bring the spell book with her. She’d also elected to bring her mobile (turned off to preserve battery power), some food of her own, a bottle of water and some pens. What use the pens would be without paper she didn’t know, but she didn’t want to leave them behind.
Warloc’s bag contained food – and not much of it. Of all the jars in that cupboard, two of them were alright to eat from. They also had some bread, a few carroty things from the small patch of earth round the back of Warloc’s house and some squashy things that looked like green tomatoes. The cheese was starting to go mouldy, so they’d left it behind.
Siobhan wondered what four days of walking would do to her. Hopefully it would burn some calories, she thought. Not that she needed to burn any calories. She felt like she’d lost some weight already, actually. Training with Warloc had taken up most of her time these last few days, and she’d been forgetting to eat. If she’d been at home right now, she might be sitting on the sofa eating prawn cocktail flavoured crisps.
Well, maybe not, she thought. It could be a school day. What day was it today? Friday? Saturday? Sunday? Monday? She didn’t know. She’d lost track. Did Warloc have a calendar? Maybe she should have asked before they’d left to go on this mad voyage to see the Emperor. The voyage she’d suggested.
Siobhan remembered telling Warloc he should face his fears and get his wife back, like they did in the films. But she’d not really meant it in any serious way, and she never imagined herself joining him, somehow. Yet here they were.
‘Do you go to, er... school, a lot?’ Warloc was asking.
‘Hmmm? Oh, yeah, five days a week.’
‘And the other two days, what do you do then?’
‘Well. I sit around a bit, watch TV; maybe go to the shops with Mum.’
‘What are they?’
‘Shops? Places you go to buy food. We have bits for vegetables and bread and things, and things you need to try, like fizzy drinks and chocolate. In our supermarket, there’s a bit upstairs for clothes and electric stuff. Why’d you wanna know?’
‘I’m showing interest,’ Warloc replied.
‘But are you really interested?’
‘Not as much as I’m pretending. But yes, I’m interested.’
‘OK, well I’ve got a question for you. You know I told you that we have Wizards -’
‘And Mages and fairies and knights and elves and goblins and giants and things... well, what sort of things do you have, in fiction?’
‘Stuff you write about that isn’t true. Just, you know, for entertainment.’
‘We don’t write much fiction. The process of making a book is very difficult and expensive, so our books are all magical guides and histories of Augura.’
‘We do tell stories, though. We have a whole range of stories about the Nagards. They’re people who live under the earth, able to breathe in air through the dirt and earth. They’re not magic, just like most of your people aren’t magic. But they create these wonderful things and use them to make life better.’
‘One of the Nagards, Gree, he burrowed up to the surface one day, in the story, and he saw the moon shining. And he was so impressed that he decided to create a device for capturing the moonlight, which for us is impossible.’
‘Us too, I guess.’
‘And he made his device, and it brought silver down from the moon which shone into the burrows of his people, and they were happy. But another group of Nagards decided it was a bad thing, and they strapped Gree to his device and left him there until morning. Then when the sun rose, the device brought down fire from the sky and Gree burned to death.’
‘But he did not die in vain. The story says that Gree became the first potato, and when silver shone down into the tunnels through the device, more potatoes grew. And that’s the story. Of course, we all know potatoes were brought over here by a strange person hundreds of years ago, but it’s a nice tale for children.’
‘Interesting story, yeah. Bit weird though.’
‘There are more stories. One is about how the Nagards brought us the Augurian language – which seems to be just the same as yours... another story is about how stones were made. They’re all things like that.’
They walked in silence for a bit. Hurley was flying above their heads and being very quiet. Siobhan could hear the wind roaring high over their heads, but it was calmer near the ground.
‘It’s a shame I lent my MP3 player to Gargantuum,’ she remarked. ‘I could be listening to music now.’
‘I think it’s going to rain,’ Warloc said. His cloak didn’t have a hood, but at least he was wearing something. Siobhan was wearing a P.E. shirt, green shorts and a vile green jumper round her waist. And she could feel a few raindrops already.
‘That’s Dahlia Alexander’s house,’ Warloc said. He pointed to a house made of twigs and sticks. The roof was covered in brightly coloured flowers.
‘Well,’ Siobhan said as they walked towards it, ‘it’s nice, but it’s not what I expected the Queen of the Elves to live in. It’s structurally unsound. What if a big bad wolf comes along and blows it down?’
They walked past weird and wonderful trees and plants and finally were at Dahlia’s door. Warloc knocked.
Dahlia answered the door. She smiled at Warloc, and when she saw Siobhan, her long ears waggled.
‘Siobhan, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Do come in, both of you.’
They entered. Hurley stayed outside.
‘Do you think the Emperor will forgive Jocosa for trying to escape?’ Dahlia asked when they’d explained everything.
‘I... don’t really know,’ Warloc admitted. He sat on a wooden stool opposite Dahlia’s armchair. ‘It depends what you mean by forgive. I believe he will still let her live in the Palace under close supervision, but I don’t know how she’ll be punished.’
‘I think you’re being very brave,’ she told him.
Siobhan was taking the opportunity to look around Dahlia’s house. The flowers were on the inside of the roof as well. She wasn’t entirely sure if they were held there by magic, or if they were growing there, or if it was just an illusion. There was also a long, L-shaped wooden table covered in jars of herbs, stone urns, a pestle and mortar made of green marble, a bottle of something purple and viscous, endless piles of stones and chips of rock...
Dahlia stood up and dug into her dress pocket. She pulled out a small bag tied at the top with string, and handed it over to Warloc. Siobhan noticed her long fingernails.
‘Take this,’ she was saying. ‘Open it only if you need to.’
Warloc nodded. ‘I understand. Thank you, Dahlia.’
Siobhan wondered idly what was in the bag, but then a drop of water landed on her cheek. She looked up. Water was dripping through the gaps in the roof.
‘Dahlia,’ she interjected. ‘Your roof is -’
‘Don’t worry,’ Dahlia told her. ‘A few drops come through here and there, but it doesn’t matter. It’s good for the flowers.’
‘Are they growing there?’
‘On the roof, yes.’
‘Well, I’m not a fan of flowers really, but this is very nice.’
‘Thank you. I hope you’ll be happy here.’
Siobhan looked at Warloc, then at Dahlia. ‘Sorry?’
‘I said, I hope you’ll be happy staying here.’
‘What? No, I’m going with Warloc.’
Dahlia’s ears drooped and her smile faded. ‘You’re taking the girl up the mountain?’
‘Yes, I am. She was the one who gave me the idea.’
Dahlia looked flustered. ‘I’d be happy to take care of her, Warloc, you know I would.’
‘I know, Dahlia.’
‘She’s not safe going with you.’
Siobhan spoke. ‘Thank you Dahlia, but I want to go. For a number of reasons really, but mainly I want to help Warloc.’
Warloc nodded. His mouth twitched.
‘Well,’ Dahlia said, ‘if that’s what you want to do, I can’t stop you. Just be careful, both of you.’ She rose from her armchair on wobbly arms. ‘A few miles in that direction is a swarm of insects which you’ll have to walk around, I’m afraid. After that you’ll reach the river.’
‘We’ll follow it up the mountain from there,’ Warloc assured her. He handed the bag over to Siobhan. ‘Thank you for your help.’
‘As long as you don’t expect me to come with you as well,’ Dahlia laughed. Her ears seemed back to normal. ‘I’m too old for that sort of thing now.’
‘You’re the strongest woman I know,’ Warloc told her.
‘Besides Jocosa,’ she replied.
At a nod, they both left. Hurley flew straight into Siobhan’s face. She wasn’t impressed.