English Encounter: The Final Story part 2 By Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read if you are under age or if it is illegal to do so in your end of the swamp.
To a very special friend who traveled with me through this story.
My grateful thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan who work as a team to see that these stories meet a high standard of accuracy.
A final word: The Encounter series loosely reflects The Rift Arc. I wanted to end this series by taking the uber characters back to where the trouble all started and see if, this time, the characters could escape their fate. I've endeavoured as much as possible to make sure that the facts and cultures described in this series are a fair and accurate portrayal. I hope you have enjoyed traveling through this series with me. Because this story interrelates with both the Encounter and Seasons series, it would be best to read those stories before reading this one.
Robbie sat in a hard hotel chair staring out at the dark room. After a super evening, she and Janet and had returned to their room to make love long into the night. After Janet had fallen to sleep, Robbie had tossed and turned and had finally got up so as not to disturb her soulmate.
She felt very depressed, almost fearful. She had no idea why. Maybe one of those chemical imbalance things, although she had never really had much trouble that way. The plans for the movie were going well and it was super having her family back with her. Robbie had missed them terribly! No, it wasn't any of those things.
It was a creepy sort of dread, as if there was something ready to pounce. It was like the fear she had carried all those years believing that she had killed her father and would eventually be caught and jailed. Yes, that sort of fear. A fear that came from inside because you knew that within, you had a streak of evil that allowed you to kill with your bare hands.
Robbie lifted her hands and looked at the long, artist's fingers in the eerie light from the window. They were elegant hands yet strong. It might have been Alexandria who had killed Phillip Williams but Robbie knew she could have. She was angry enough when she saw what he had been doing to her sister and brother. She had hit him hard enough to break his jaw.
Yes, that was the dread. It was knowing that she was a murderer at least in spirit if not in action. How could she justify being a loving wife, a good mother to two wonderful daughters, when there was a spot in her soul that was so black. No, more than just a darkness, it was a patch of true evil.
It scared the hell out of her! What if she lost her temper that quickly and explosively again? What if she hurt someone, Janet or the kids... she forced that thought away. It made her feel sick to her stomach.
It was Janet moaning and thrashing about suddenly in the bed that snapped Robbie from her depths of despair. She went over and sat on the edge of the bed and softly stroked Janet's hair.
"Shhh Love, I've got you. Everything's okay," Robbie whispered. Gradually, Janet's nightmare past and the petite woman again slept peacefully, her right hand clutched tightly around Robbie's.
Janet had been dreaming of sitting in the coffee shop waiting for Billy Williams, the race-car driver. She had met him the night before at a party and had made a deal. They were meeting today to formalize the details before going to a lawyer. The deal was simple. Billy would pay Janet a lot of money to marry him and have his child.
Her cold hands bent stiffly around the warm mug of coffee. She needed the money desperately to pay off some large gambling debts that her grandfather had accumulated in her name. She had tried to get a loan from a bank but they had refused her because she already had a mortgage and a student loan. If she didn't get the money she was going to jail.
So she was here. Waiting to coldly talk out the terms for selling her body. I can't do this! I'd like to have a child someday but not as a business deal! What kind of mother would I be if this is what I am prepared to do to get money? What kind of a person am I?! I always thought I was a good person. But now I'm desperate, I'm willing to do anything to survive! There is something deep inside me that is really bad.
The bitter taste of bile rose in her throat and she swallowed it back down as she looked up into the cold ice blue eyes of the man who had slipped into the chair opposite her. This was it. The dread spread through her like a flood. There was no going back.
In her sleep, she cried out in panic, fighting against the inevitability of her dream. Then a low, soft voice reached her and she felt herself move back from the edge of despair. "Shhhh, I've got you."
Across the city, Gunnul lay in bed beside Jamie with her eyes open. The eyes were unaware of the soft city lights that danced rhythmically across the ceiling of their bedroom. Her mind had taken her back to that last day on the frontier of Turkey so many years ago. She and a her traveling companions had bravely defended a narrow pass against an invading force.
From where she hid, she could see those she and the others had killed lying out on the barren ground. Flies danced in and out of their nostrils and open mouths or walked across starring frozen eyes. Some of the dead were so young, nolonger children but not yet men. Their skin had drained of colour then gradually turned patchy green as their bodies bloated with the gasses of decay. Eventually, the skin burst open, exposing rotting meat and white maggots. Gunnul could tell by the stage each corpse had reached on what day each boy-man had been killed.
When the dry, hot wind blew from that direction the bitter-sweet smell of decay was horrifying. It was better, however, than when the wind came from behind. Back there, they had hurriedly buried their own dead, kicking a thin layer of pebbles and dirt over their blood soaked bodies. One of the dead was the man she had been engaged to marry. Yesterday, she had watched in horror as the maggots had wormed their way out of his shallow grave.
There were only two of them left now. Her companion hadn't opened his eyes in hours. He still breathed though, in irregular, raspy gasps. His chest was covered with blood. Gunnul wasn't sure anymore from which wound he was dying. The diary he had kept so faithfully, until yesterday, lay in the dirt beside him. The pages turned one after the other in the wind.
Gunnul had taken command from the men. She had shown them how to close the pass with dynamite and defend the narrow opening. From where had that blood lust come? What had given her the strength to plan coldly and kill without mercy? What kind of person was she to be able to butcher? She looked down at her bloody hands. One, fingers spread, held her guts in from a ragged wound across her abdomen. She was too weak now to brush away the flies. It was not necessary really. The maggots would eat the rotting flesh and prevent gangrene from setting in early.
Not that it really mattered; there would be no more defense. She waited now for the enemy to over run their position and finish them off. There is but one God and Allah is his name. Allah protect my soul! In the distance, she could hear tanks advancing. It would be weeks later that she would wake in a hospital bed and learn that the tanks had been those of her own country's army.
Gunnul, lost in her horrific thoughts, was startled when her lover woke suddenly, stifling a scream of fear. Gunnul caught her and held her close. "Jamie, I have got you. Shhhh, my special one,"
Gunnul reassured. Jamie buried her face deep into Gunnul's shoulder and held on tight.
She had been dreaming of those days when she had been married to Gunnul's twin brother Moe.
Gunnul had got all the strength and decency of her family, Moe had inherited all the weakness. He was a substance abuser and when he mixed drugs and alcohol he became violent.
Jamie could hear his voice whining from the past. "It is the drugs, it is not me!"
"Then get help again! You kicked the habit once you can do it again!"
"I can't as long as you keep nagging me! It is all your fault! Make that baby stop crying or I will! You couldn't even give me a son!"
"You stay away from my daughter, you fucking bastard. Get out, do you hear! Get out of my life and never come back!" she had yelled. It was then that she had watched in horror as he had picked up the baseball bat and come after her. He had almost killed her. Smashed her leg so that she would be crippled for the rest of her life and kidnapped her daughter. Thank God, he had turned Christy over to Gunnul to be raised! Thank God.
Had she been the problem? Had she been so bitchy with him that he had slipped back into substance abuse. Was there something really mean living inside her? A dread exploded in her gut and she woke with a stifled scream, relieved to find Gunnul there beside her to hold onto until her heart stopped pounding.
"Are you okay, Jamie?" Gunnul asked with concern.
Jamie nodded her head. "Yes, I...I....do you think, Gunnul, if I'd been less critical... more understanding of Moe's problems, that he would have been a better person?"
Gunnul felt like she had been hit. She forced her face to remain expressionless. "My brother was not a good man, Jamie. He was a nasty, sneaky little boy who grew into a violent, weak man. That had nothing to do with you. You are a good person."
Silence hung heavily. Gunnul had to ask, although, she wasn't sure she could deal with the answer. "Do you regret that things did not work out between you and my brother?"
Jamie looked up with surprised, startled eyes. "No. If my marriage had not failed, I would never have met you. I can't imagine going through life and never having known the happiness and love that you have given me! I love you so much, Gunnul!"
The knot inside Gunnul lessened once again. It never went completely away. Gunnul felt the ghosts of those she had killed weigh heavily on her soul. She was sure that someday Jamie and Christy would find out how much blood was on her hands and be revolted by the knowledge.
One of the few times they had fought in their marriage had been over the lumpy scar that slashed across Gunnul's abdomen. Whenever possible, Gunnul would keep that part of her body covered by the way she lay or by the draping of an arm or sheet. One night, after Jamie had made love to her, Jamie had laid her head on the scar and Gunnul had reacted instantly, rolling her off and covering herself up.
"I do not wish ever to be touched there!" she had commanded, to her startled lover.
Large eyes turned worried. "Does it still hurt you?"
"Does the scar embarrass you? It doesn't bother me, Gunnul, anymore than you say my twisted leg bothers you."
"It is not that."
"Then what is it?" probed Jamie.
"It is ...you will let it drop and never mention it again!" Gunnul had snapped, getting up from their bed and storming off. She had come back some hours later and had found Jamie sitting in a chair by the window. Stiffly, she had apologized. Jamie had nodded her acceptance sadly.
The incident had never been mentioned again. Jamie was very careful not to look at or touch the
ugly scar. It bothered Jamie that it was a small barrier between them. She hoped that some day Gunnul would be able to trust her love enough to tell her.
Jamie lay in Gunnul's arms, letting the Turk's warmth invade her being and settle the fears that the nightmare had unleashed. Gunnul was her hero. Was everyone's hero. She knew the modest woman would not tell her of her heroism so she had read everything she could find, including a translation of the journal kept by the last man to die.
"Sometimes, when I am in your arms like this or when I see you laughing and playing with Christy, I have to sort of shake myself and remember that the woman I love is General Gunnul Dedeman. The person who lead the six heroes against the invading force and held them off for three days until reinforcements could arrive. Five of you died and over two hundred of...Gunnul? What's the matter?!"
The woman beneath her had jumped in shock and gone cold and rigid with fear. "Don't leave me, Jamie. I...I won't hurt you or Christy...please...I am not like my brother...I know I have killed but.."
"Gunnul! Sweetheart! Hey, stop! Where did this come from? Darling, do you really think I'd think less of you for sacrificing everything to save your people? Do you think I'd believe for a minute that you would kill in cold blood?! Gunnul! How could you think that?!"
It was now. It had to be said. She could not live with the awful truth any longer and not tell Jamie.
"I came alive. It was exhilarating, the fear, the challenge. I didn't think about it beyond making a devastating hit on the enemy. And then later, I lay there for hours waiting for the next attack, looking over this field of dead..."
Jamie saw Gunnul's eyes drifting back into the past. She turned the sad face with her finger tips and kissed Gunnul softly. "You listen to me. You have a natural ability to be a military leader. It is not surprising. I have read your family history. There were many military leaders in your family. That does not mean you are a killer, Gunnul. Oh Gunnul, you are one of the softest, most caring people I know!"
"There is so much blood on my hands, Jamie," Gunnul admitted sadly. "I wished to protect you and Christy from that."
"Gunnul, Christy and I are both well aware of what you did. It is not us that need protecting. We did not live it or carry the memories of that awful time. It is you that needs protecting. You are not a killer, Gunnul. You are a born soldier. A natural leader. There is no shame in that. There is nothing to fear in having those talents!"
Gunnul wrapped Jamie close, shaking with emotional release. "I must have done something good in my life for Allah to have blessed me with you!"
Jamie decided to take a chance. "Here," she said gently. "Let me see the scar." She ran her finger tips over the ragged, rough wound. "You have bled enough, Gunnul; physically, emotionally, spiritually. Allah sent you there that day because he knew the traits that he had given you to help save Turkey. Don't feel this scar marks you as violent. It doesn't. It is a symbol of how kind you are that you would willing give your life for others."
"It made me barren," Gunnul choked out.
"You are not barren, Gunnul. You have a daughter by me. You might not have given me your seed but you raised and molded our daughter into a very special human being. She is just as much a child of your body as she is mine."
"Do you think this is true, Jamie?" asked Gunnul, not daring yet to let go of a pain she had held for a long time.
"I know it to be true!" Jamie responded firmly. They lay wrapped in each other's arms until it was time to rise for the dawn prayers.
In the next room, Christy lay awake too. She had followed him in her mind as he spread his evil first on one side of the city and now here. He had kept to the shadowy places, his bulk moving with surprising agility and silence. He was close now, waiting for her.
Quietly, she slipped from the couch bed and went to the window. There, in the darkness, beneath an old, twisted tree, stood the distorted, massive figure. My father, you have come after all these centuries.
It is time, Hope. Come to me!
Soon. When I am ready. The young child smiled knowingly. She knew this time it would be different.
Robbie signed for the room service and brought the coffee and toast over to the bed. It was still too early to wake their daughters in the next room. "What are you reading?" Robbie asked as she handed Janet a coffee.
"Another book on Celtic mythology. Do you know that some people believe that there are lines of power running through the ancient landscape. They believe that the Celts actually shaped sighting points and aligned pathways along these lines."
"Do you believe that?!" Robbie asked in surprise.
Janet laughed. "Having got kicked out of my church for marrying you, I'm not sure what I believe anymore. I guess I'm searching for answers."
"You think too much!" Robbie complained good-naturedly. "You had a bad dream last night."
Janet looked uneasy. "I had a dream about meeting Billy and working out the terms for having Reb...it embarrasses and shames me what I did then."
Robbie shrugged. "It shouldn't. You found a way to survive. You didn't sleep with a stranger; it was done at a clinic. You love Reb with all your heart, cared for her, raised her well, where is the problem? Hell, I got knocked up having sex with my teacher and deserted my kid! If anyone should feel they are evil it should be me!"
Janet leaned forward and kissed Robbie's temple. "Well, you are not. You supported and protected Ryan as best you could. We are both lucky to have two such wonderful kids!"
"Yeah, we are," smiled Robbie softly. "I'd better go get the two of them up. We got a busy day ahead of us!"
When Robbie knocked gently and entered the connecting room, she found Ryan standing at the window, already dressed. Her daughter's jaw was set and her eyes looked off into the distance.
"Hey, you okay?" asked Robbie, coming forward to place her hand on Ryan's shoulder.
Ryan started as she became aware of her mother's presence. "Oh yeah, fine. The rugrat got me up at four to go to the bathroom and then went back to sleep again! I've been reading and thinking about things. Mom, do you believe in fate?"
Robbie leaned on the wall and looked at her daughter. She was getting past that gawky stage and it was clear she was going to be gorgeous. The dark golden hair, deep green eyes and the tall athletic figure, made Ryan really stand out in a crowd. She was bright too and a really good kid. Someone was going to be lucky to get her daughter as a partner. That thought sent a jolt of fear and sadness through Robbie. Shit! I hope she picks someone as nice as Janet! Not some loser. And I hope it is not too soon because I'm not ready to give up my kid!
"I think I make my own fate. No one and no thing controls me!" stated Robbie firmly with a half smile and raised eyebrow.
"Aunt Janet controls you!" Ryan laughed, and poked her Mom as she saw the colour rise in her mother's face.
"Yeah, well that's different. She has legal permission to do so!"
Ryan looked back out the window thoughtfully. "I think I'm destined to be part of something very important. I can feel it."
"Yeah, I think it's breakfast!" joked Robbie, pulling her kid in for a kiss to the head. "Whatever, your future, Ryan. I want you to always remember to live up to your beliefs and follow your heart."
The Williams' day started with a trip to the Tate Gallery. After, Janet firmly believed that the famous modern art institution would never be quite the same again. Robbie was in high spirits and Ryan simply egged her on. Janet had stopped to bend down to Reb's stroller to point out to her a wood sculpture of a horse, letting the others move on. Entering the next room, she found her lover doing a Barbara Walters impersonation as she interviewed a Thomas Moore sculpture. >From behind the bronze rotund shape, Ryan fed her the gag lines.
Robbie spoke into a closed cell phone, using it as her mike. "I see by the identification tag that Moore named you The Kneeling Mother. Any reaction to that?" she asked, holding up the fake microphone to the huge metal sculpture for an answer.
"Well, at two and a half tonnes and with a brassy attitude, I don't have too much problem keeping the kids in line."
"Good point, Kneeling Mother! Just how many children do you have?"
"I'm not sure actually...art is a very creative endeavour!"
"Oh yes, that's MOORE isn't it!"
"He does say that a lot."
A small crowd was forming. "Okay you two, fall in before you get us thrown out of here!" ordered Janet with a laugh, leading them onto the next gallery to the clapping and cheers of those who had stopped to listen. "You two are so bad!"
Robbie smiled happily. She wore baggy clothes to hide her figure and with her trade-mark hair tucked up under a floppy hat and big horn-rimmed glasses on, she looked about as different as she could be from her media image. It was the "at home" Robbie that so few people saw.
They entered a small room off to one side and Robbie came to a complete halt. Her blues eyes were mirrored in a pair just as blue in the picture that hung directly opposite them. It was Vincent Van Gogh's Portrait of an Artist. Slowly looking around the room, they realized that the entire room was a showing of Van Gogh's work!
Robbie walked forward and stood in the centre of the room, slowly turning around to look at each picture. There were the sunflowers, brilliant in their colour. One similar had sold for one of the highest prices ever paid for a painting. There were the muted browns of The Sower, a poor peasant sowing seeds by hand in roughly turned soil. Van Gogh understood the peasant. Their plight showed up clearly in his artistry, yet also there was the quiet dignity of their hard work and simple lives.
Janet came over, wheeling Reb. "You like his stuff, huh?"
"Oh yeah!" Robbie lifted Reb from the stroller and herded her family over to stand in front of Starry Night, a piece on loan from the States. The image was the view from the window of the mental institution where Van Gogh had once stayed. A wind-tossed evergreen framed a picture of the village asleep in the valley below. The sky dominated the picture, swirling ribbons of darkness and stars. "Reb, Ryan, I want you to remember this picture," Robbie said quietly. "To me, it is all about being an artist. The night sky becomes the emotional tempest of his soul and the huge stars the flash of his genius."
"Van makes the stars move, Obby," Reb observed seriously.
Robbie smiled with pride, looking first at Janet and then at the three year old she held in her arms.
"Yes, he does, Reb. Van Gogh makes the stars move." She placed the small child back in the stroller and went to stand by Ryan, who had moved on to a picture of a corn field.
"He painted this field many times," Robbie told her. "In the end, it was there he went to shoot himself. He didn't die, instead he managed to get back to his rooms. The doctor, his friend, was called to tend him. The doctor packed and took away Van Gogh's paintings to sell, while the artist lay dying."
"That's sad and so unfair," observed Ryan.
"Artists are always one step ahead of the trends and beliefs of a society. They reflect what will be not what is. They can pay a high price for that."
Ryan looked up into her mother's serious eyes. She nodded and they moved on to join Janet and Reb. Together they walked through galleries containing Gainsboroughs, Hogarths, Constables, Cezannes, Gauguins, Manets, Rousseaus, Picassos, Chagalls, Matisses, Robins and many other modern artists. The Tate was huge and yet at any time only one sixth of its collection was on display.
"Look Mom, Turners!" smiled Ryan, as they moved into the next gallery.
"Cool, steal one for me will ya?!" Robbie challenged.
"Robbie!" Janet warned, an eyebrow rising.
Robbie smiled innocently but dropped into her tour guide mode. "The collection of Turners was the foundation of this gallery. Look at them, Ryan. They are so vibrant, even though the water colour has faded over the years. No one has come close to matching his genius for light in water colour."
"This place is really great, Mom," Ryan observed.
"What do you think?" Robbie asked Janet, while Ryan wheeled Reb over to see a picture of a dog that looked something like Rufus.
"I think walking through the Tate is to breathe the colours of God's universe. I can't describe to you how this art moves me!" Janet confessed. Robbie smiled, pride and understanding shining from her eyes. She knew her soulmate would feel as she did.
Checking to see that Ryan and Reb were still busy, Robbie pulled Janet into a room that held Monet's huge mural of the waterlily garden. "When I first saw this work, I made a promise to myself that I would bring some very special person here to stand by this romantic Parisian painting. Look ,Janet, how the paint seem to shimmer across the canvas like the reflected light off water. There is only one thing missing."
"What's that?" asked Janet, her eyes sparkling at Robbie's excitement.
"The soft kiss of two lovers," Robbie whispered, bending her head to capture Janet's lips and make the scene perfect.
Gunnul had planned their day very carefully so as to not tire Jamie out. They would have to do some walking but she had hired a cab and driver for the day to keep the walking to a minimum. She had toyed with the idea of renting a car as they would need one later in the week when they left London. But finding a parking spot was almost impossible in the city and so a driver was a much better idea.
Teefo and his wife joined them and Gunnul led them downstairs to the waiting cab. She had lifted a surprised Jamie into her arms and trotted down the stairs with an eager Christy at her side. Teefo and Peeti had followed at a much more sedate pace. Their first stop was St. Paul's.
"Whenever, I think of this building I remember a news picture I saw in a history book of the dome of St. Paul's visible above the smoke of the fires and bombings of the war," Jamie observed.
Gunnul smiled down at the woman she loved. Jamie knew what to say to reach her heart. Gunnul turned to explain to Christy. "St. Paul's Cathedral was rebuilt to Christopher Wren's design after the Great Fire of London in 1666. He is buried inside, as is Horatio Nelson. There are many famous military and state leaders buried here. People come and leave flowers on the graves of these people, who have been dead hundreds of years. I find it very touching. Fame and power does have its form of immortality, I guess, but leave a bit of art behind and you can touch people's soul's forever."
"Then I will become an artist, Mommy. I would like to touch people's souls," observed Christy, as the Dedeman party walked through the Gothic doorways into the vast interior space of St. Paul's.
For awhile, they sat in a back pew and absorbed the beauty and spirituality around them despite the tourists that came and went in flocks. Gunnul was pleased that she had taken part of her education in London. Her father had wanted her to have a good command of the English language and a knowledge of the European world. Gunnul was happy now that she could use some of that knowledge to show her family the marvelous history of the last great empire. "There are actually two domes on St. Paul's, one inside the other," Gunnul explained in a respectful whisper. "The inside one has a hole in the centre to let the light through. St.Paul's is designed in a high Gothic style with the classical Greek forms that were very popular in the Italian Renaissance."
"Gunnul, I'll sit here with Teefo and Peeti while you take Christy up to the Whispering Gallery at the base of the dome. I think she'd like that!" Jamie organized.
Gunnul gave her wife's hand a squeeze. "Come on, Christy! This is really neat!" Janet watched as the two people she loved the most disappeared up the worn stone stairs to the walkway around the dome above. While they were climbing, the others took the opportunity to walk around the huge cathedral and look at some of the architectural details. Modern functionalism had its place but these ancient halls continued to attract huge crowds because they weren't just art they had an atmosphere and presence that modern construction lacked, Jamie observed. These old buildings had soul, the new ones were cold and impersonal.
"There has been a church on this site since the 7th century," Jamie noted, as she read the guidebook Gunnul had bought her. "That was when St. Augustine brought Roman style Christianity to England."
"It is indeed a holy place," observed Teefo, who found Christianity a hard faith to understand. Why did they use a symbol of torture like the cross to represent their faith, he wondered? Sometime, when they were back in Turkey and had more time, he would ask Jamie Dedeman if she would mind explaining to him. Teefo was fiercely loyal to General Dedeman but Jamie had won his heart even if she was an infidel. Where the General was a lion with the heart of a lamb, Jamie was a lamb with a heart of a lion.
"I will stand here, Christy and you go around the walkway to the other side of the dome. I will whisper to the wall and because the acoustics are so good, you will hear what I say to you." Gunnul watched as Christy took her place then she turned a whispered, "I love you, Little One." Across the open spans of the dome, Christy smiled, turned and blew a kiss at her mother.
Gunnul joined her daughter and they leaned over to wave to Jamie so far below. Then they headed back down the stairs, to join the others.
They walked slowly down the Strand, Jamie letting Christy carry her crutch while she enjoyed walking arms linked with Gunnul. To their left were the the offices of the lawyers of the Inns of Court and to the right the Royal Court of Justice sat. Gunnul entertained them with funny stories of trials that had occurred there. She had studied business law while a student in London years ago.
"Central London is only one square mile in size, but there is a lot to see in a very small area. We'll stop at Convent Gardens to do a little shopping for lunch. For three hundred years, this was the market for veggies and flowers, but now it has become very trendy, with up market gourmet shops, boutiques and art galleries," Gunnul explained in her serious manner. Then she bent and whispered in Jamie's ear. "They have taken the Cockney out of the place if you ask me!" Jamie laughed softly, knowing that her lover would have identified with the colourful Cockney street vendors of her student years. The atmosphere then would have been more like a Turkish market.
Gunnul continued to the her group, "This is where Eliza got her flowers in My Fair Lady. Jamie, would you and Christy pick up something for us to eat while I run an errand?"
Jamie agreed without question. She could tell by the sparkle in Gunnul's eye that the errand would be some sort of surprise for her. Her lover was like that. She and Peeti checked out some of the galleries and shopped for cheese and fruit. Teefo was sent off with Christy to buy bread and some lemonade for them.
Once they had all gathered again, Gunnul walked them down the rest of the Strand and out into Trafalgar Square. There was Lord Nelson on his column. The column stood 160 feet tall and was put up in 1843 to commemorate of the British defeat of the combined Spanish and French naval forces in 1805.
They sat on a bench so Jamie could rest her crippled leg a bit while Teefo, Gunnul and Christy fed the pigeons with the bags of seed that Gunnul had secretly brought along from the flat. Pretty soon the pigeons had them surrounded in a grey-white cloud of flapping wings and noise. Peeti and Jamie laughed with delight as the three retreated from the onslaught, having left their bags of seed to the conquerors. Jamie limped over to her soulmate and used a tissue to wipe bird droppings from Gunnul's arm. "You are worse than a kid, do you know that Gunnul Dedeman?" she laughed.
"It was fun, Jamie!" Gunnul protested, like a small child, and Teefo and Christy laughed as Peeti helped them remove the direct hits and fallen feathers of the battle.
They moved on, detouring down Whitehall to see Downing Street. "When I was here as a student, you could walk right up to number ten," Gunnul observed, "but now, because of the fear of terrorism, that is no longer possible." They continued on cutting left until St. James park was on their right and ahead of them Buckingham Palace. Gunnul could see that Jamie was tiring. They found a comfortable place to sit amid the crowd of tourists and waited for the Changing of the Guard that happened at 11:30.
Gunnul sat down beside her partner on the edge of the Victoria fountain. "You are okay, Jamie?"
"Yes, Gunnul. I am having a wonderful time. Don't worry. I can manage," Jamie reassured with a smile.
Serious blue eyes scanned Jamie's soul for the truth and then relaxed. "When I was here as a student there was an old man who spent all day at the main gate of the palace. He had an twig brush and he would broom the entrance clean all day long. It is like the flowers that people leave on the ancient graves in St. Paul's, poetically beautiful in spirit and so sad in reality."
Jamie nodded and squeezed Gunnul's hand, knowing immediately what her lover was feeling. Gunnul was an excellent leader because she balanced efficiency with an understanding and empathy for the common people.
Gunnul watched the performance with the keen eye of a soldier. She took in the precision, the tradition of the uniforms and the smartness off the drill and evaluated it in terms of military standards. She was quick to note that the rifles the soldiers carried were modern and that some of the soldiers wore ear receivers. Heritage was clearly tempered by the need for modern security. Christy and Jamie sat side by side and simply enjoyed the show. Teefo and Peeti sat quietly, watching with interested eyes. The European world to them was a mixture of old traditions seeping through a veneer of modernism. They were not sure just what was important to the English and what was just show.
Gunnul felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand out. Carefully, she surveyed the crowd around. They had not picked a good spot to stand. Yes, they had a great view of the parade but they were also out in the open and vulnerable to attack. Logically, she could not think of a reason for such an attack but in her gut she sensed danger. It was simply a feeling of dread.
She made eye contact with Teefo who immediately stood and moved closer, scanning the crowd too with interest. He wasn't sure why his boss was on the alert but he knew better than to not take the look of concern seriously.
Jamie shivered and instinctively wrapped an arm around Christy. It was that feeling again. As if there was a great evil nearby that was ready to pounce on them. She felt feverish and an image of flames invaded her mind. She forced a smile onto her face and looked up at Gunnul. Her lover was right beside her looking about with ice-cold eyes. She senses something too! It is not just me!
Christy watched the parade with delighted eyes. She was not afraid. It was not time yet and so they were all safe for now. He was just stalking them, needing to be close, as a cat makes a game out of killing the mouse. If she felt anything it was anticipation. The Others were close by too. Soon she would meet the one that would help give her triumph.
Ryan was standing on Speaker's Corner talking about why there should be no censorship for art. Her family stood around listening and a few other curious souls had also been drawn to the speaker. The corner, next to Hyde Park was a symbol of the right of free speech in Britain. Anyone who wanted could come here and set up a soap box to talk on what they thought was an important issue. Tourists and passing Londoners would stop to listen and often get involved in lively debates with the speakers. It was a place for the fringe viewpoint, the strange and also the brilliantly insightful.
On the way there, Robbie had told them about stopping years ago to hear a man who looked much like Lenin speak on the need for an economic union between all the European nations. At the time, Robbie had laughed, feeling that the national pride and years of rivalry and strife between European nations would prevent any such union from taking place. But today, the existence of the European Union had proven her narrow view of reality wrong. She wondered if the man was still alive and had seen his vision come true.
Ryan had presence, Robbie realized with a start. Real star quality. That both filled her with pride and worried her. She had to admit that it fed her sizeable ego to see that her daughter had inherited some of her own talents and traits. However, she did not want Ryan following along the same path that she had taken. She knew better than most how ugly and cut throat the business could be. She didn't want some bastard using her daughter's hopes for his own gains.
Janet grinned and held on to her smaller daughter's hand. Ryan was a superb speaker and her ability to ad-lib and talk comfortably in front of a crowd was a marvelous skill. She could see Ryan, in fifteen years time, lecturing students or running the school that her mothers had started.
"That's Ryan! She my big sister!" Reb told anybody that would listen. Rebecca felt that Ryan and her dog, Rufus, could do no wrong. Her loyalty to both her pet and her big sister was steadfast.
They had passed Marble Arch on the way to Speakers' Corner. Robbie had wisely pulled Ryan aside while Janet and Reb continued on to share with her older daughter that this was the site of public executions for hundreds of years. At Marble Arch, the guilty and perhaps less than guilty would meet a grizzly end either by hanging or by drawing and quartering after they had been paraded down Oxford Street for all to see.
The Williams family circled around Hyde Park at a leisurely place, stopping to play tag with Reb, who needed to burn off some energy. Then they headed over to see Kensington Palace and the gardens around. Kensington today was really a series of apartments of the lesser members of the Royal family when they were in London. Janet told to the children, that it was here that the bulk of the flowers had been left when Lady Diana had died. She had an apartment at Kensington Palace.
Janet explained to Ryan that Kensington Palace was built in a Romanesque style and pointed out the ornate chimney designs. Robbie in the meantime had struck up a conversation with an English nanny who was wheeling a big, navy blue pram around the garden. Janet looked over and smiled softly as she saw Robbie proudly showing off Reb, who sat in her stroller playing with a small teddy bear dressed as a London Bobby that Robbie had bought for her.
Janet thought back to the night in the car, well over a year ago, when she had asked Robbie to be Reb's guardian should anything happen to her. Robbie had almost put them in a ditch in surprise! She was glad she had gone with her gut feeling. It had brought Robbie and Ryan into her life and forged a very special love.
After a leisurely lunch at a nearby restaurant, the Williams rented rowboats and stroked out onto The Serpentine, the large lake that dominates Hyde Park. Janet and Ryan were in one boat and Robbie and Reb in the other. Janet was enjoying watching the equestrians exercising their mounts along Rotten Row, the horse trail in the centre of the ancient city. For hundreds of years, the aristocracy of London had met here informally, bonded by their common love of riding.
A sharp bump brought Janet out of her daydream. Armed with oars and two rowboats, her olives had immediately created a game of naval attack! "Go Obby! We get Mommy and Ryan!" Reb squealed with delight. Janet reached over the side and splashed water at her lover.
"Hey, no fair! My Able Seaman can't reach the water!" protested Robbie, with a laugh as she brought her boat along side.
"All's fair in love and war, sailor!" Janet growled, reaching over to Robbie's boat to tickle Reb who sat on the bench barely able to move in her lifejacket.
They floated side by side then, enjoying the heat of the afternoon sun and talking about the pictures they had seen at the Tate that morning. Janet listened while Robbie and Ryan discussed whether animation was a technical skill or a true art form. Robbie argued that only the backdrops were art because they were the work of individual artists where the animated figures were a team effort. Ryan argued that many of the masters in the past used student to do the undercoats of paintings based on the master's sketches and then the master would just finish the paintings off. This was to her the same sort of team effort. Reb had slipped into an afternoon nap, warmed by the sun and propped up in her red lifejacket.
Janet watched the sun reflecting like diamonds on the water. Her eyelids drooped. The afternoon sun was hot on her flesh. The sparkle of light on the water became flames waving, curling around her; drowning her in their heat. The bands of flashing flame grew tighter and she felt herself being lifted from the boat and pulled into a rhythmic tide. She felt the dread course through her and she gripped the gunnels, holding on with white knuckles. A stifled scream burnt away in her throat as she felt herself slipping.
Suddenly cool, strong arms were holding her. "I've gotcha, easy! Janet, shhhh, what happened, Baby?" Janet snuggled into Robbie's chest and the image that had made her body quiver with fear slowing dissipated.
Ryan had been focused on her mother's discussion when she had felt the boat heave to one side. Quickly, she lurched the other way, using her weight to stabilize the rowboat. Looking back, she saw her Aunt Janet, clinging to the gunnels with a look of complete terror on her face. "Aunt Janet, are you all right?!"
Robbie saw the fear and acted immediately. She grabbed the gunnels of Ryan's craft and held it tight against her own. "Quick, Ryan, switch boats!" Robbie ordered. Ryan hopped lightly from one craft to the other and Robbie, equally as agile, slipped over and took her place. She leaned out and grabbed Janet, pulling her forward into her arms. "I've gotcha, easy! Janet, shhhh, what happened, Baby?" she whispered softly, holding her lover close.
"Oh, Robbie! It seemed so real! It was like that dream I had, I...I...I just panicked!"
"It's okay, sweetheart. You probably drifted off to sleep and the dream returned because you were thinking about it. It's gone now," reassured Robbie. Yet inside, she felt this repressive dread, as if something, something horrible, was going to happen. As soon as Janet calmed, she picked up her oars, and with a terse nod to Ryan, the mother and daughter rowed for shore.
Gunnul let Teefo and Christy gallop on ahead while she and Jamie walked their horses along Rotten Row. A ride, using horses borrowed from a friend, seemed like a romantic way to end the day. Peeti did not ride and chose instead to wait in a small café by The Serpentine for their return.
"I have been reading a lot about ancient cultures and beliefs, Gunnul," Jamie said. "I find it strangely fascinating.
"It is good to know and respect all beliefs, Jamie, but you will remember that there is but one God and Allah is his name," cautioned the literal Turk.
Jamie smiled and reached over to touch Gunnul's thigh. "We have different religions but our God is the same, Gunnul. I am not searching to replace God with some pagan belief. I am just extending my knowledge. I suppose being the partner of a Moslem, has made me look past the Christian teachings of my childhood and want to know more about what religion and belief really are."
Gunnul looked perplexed as she tried to understand what Jamie was saying. Her belief was part of her culture, part of who she was. She wasn't sure why Jamie needed to explore farther. "You mean you need to understand the human need behind faith?" she questioned.
"Yes, that's it. Did you know, Gunnul, that there has never been a culture found, no matter how small or isolated, that does not have rituals for glorifying God. Even Neolithic man buried his dead with flowers and drew spirit symbols on the walls. Why? And if there is only one God, Gunnul, why do we fight wars over doctrine? Look at how close our faiths and beliefs are, and yet we have fought for hundreds of years over how we worship that God."
"Does it matter, Jamie? Religion is an act of faith. You must trust in God and his mercy, not question his ways."
"I just need to know more. We will be going to some really interesting religious sites while we are here and I want to get the most out of that experience. I know you have traveled a lot but I haven't and I'm really excited about the things we are going to see. Particularly Stonehenge! It has always fascinated me! It calls to me, Gunnul!"
Gunnul laughed at Jamie's excitement, pleased that the trip to England was giving Jamie so much delight after all. She had wondered after Jamie's panic attack in the museum and bad dream whether she should call the trip off and return to Turkey. Perhaps it was the strain that they had gone through when Christy had been so very, very sick catching up to Jamie. She had been so strong then.
Her head turned to observe two rowboats out on The Serpentine. They seemed in trouble. She wandered if she could help. Then the two boats parted and the rowers headed for shore at a steady pace. Whatever, the problem was, it seemed okay now.
Her mind focused fully on what Jamie was saying again. It was wonderful to be here with her family, with Jamie, riding under the mottled patterns of shadow cast by the old trees along the bridle path. Life was good.
Robbie took off her glasses and put them on the bedside table along with the report that had been faxed to her by Brian. She looked over to see Janet engrossed in yet another book on Celtic lore.
She smiled; Janet was a true academic. She studied everything that was new to her.
Robbie rolled on her side and used the tip of her tongue to tease the soft pink of Janet's ear. "I love you," she whispered, feeling the responsive shiver run through her lover. Janet stifled a moan and kept reading. Robbie smiled. Oh, playing hard to get, huh!?
Robbie moved closer letting her long length lean against the small form beside her. She tilted her head and nuzzled the soft, vulnerable flesh under Janet's jaw. She felt, Janet's pulse quicken on her exploring lips. The tips of her dark, thick hair, she knew trickled across the top of Janet's breast. Robbie felt Janet lower her book as a shudder ran through her body. Robbie smirked, her head buried in Janet's shoulder. She reached and took the book from Janet's limp fingers.
"What are you doing?" Janet managed to moan.
"I'm going to show you what trust and faith are all about," Robbie promised, her voice rough with desire. "I'm going to worship you until you reach that very special ecstasy that only two people joined as one very deeply can reach."
Robbie rolled over, her hips slipping between Janet's legs. She could feel her lover's excitement hot and wet against her belly and felt herself skyrocketing to that special plain of awareness. She dipped her tongue into the hollow on Janet's shoulder. Some worship should be a slow, beautiful exploration of spiritual strength until need demands decisive action, Robbie concluded, as she felt her lover's passion grow beneath her.
Ryan lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. The Venetian blinds on the hotel window divided the city light into strips and projected the bars of light onto the ceiling. In the bed across from her, Reb slept soundly. Ryan knew the time was near that she would have to prove herself. She wasn't sure how or when but she knew that her strength and courage would help to make all the difference.
It was funny, she never had believed in second sight or predestination. Yet, she was sure about this. She had tried to tell her mom the other day but couldn't think how without sounding like some New Age wannabe. So she'd let her mother make a joke of it and allowed the subject to drop. She should warn her though, but how and when?
Whatever was going to happen, it involved a girl around her own age. She was sure of this, just as she was convinced that the girl was near. In fact, when she was out in the rowboat today, she had scanned the shoreline feeling the girl's presence almost like a force against her chest. Was the girl a good influence or bad? Ryan wasn't sure. She knew only that they were destined to be part of something very important. Now how could I explain that to my mother!? Mom would just think that all those blows to my head had finally done some damage! Maybe it has! Ryan sighed, rolled over and drifted off to sleep.
The massive figure hunched in the darkness. He knew it was dangerous to be about but the little one drew it like a magnet. Once again, he waited in the shadows of the trees looking up with blood red eyes at the small pane of light glowing from the top floor of the building. The shape smiled, revealing sharp fangs. It had been dangerous, yes, but satisfying to feel the fear within these weak descendants of the original pair. The monster could smell the scent of sex on those descendants of the one he had violated thousands of years before. On the others, the monster caught the stale tang of blood. These two were violent souls that guarded the descendants of the one who had been chosen for him. He would have to be careful. There could be no mistakes this time. Even gods can fail if no one believes in their power. This time, however, he had his daughter at his side. Spirit of my flesh, soul of my lust, vessel of my anger, I am here. The shadowy form smiled, teeth exposed in a snarl; she knew he was there. He could sense it.
Turning, he moved away. It was time to prepare. It would not be too many days now. Only a blink of time in the thousands of years he had lay waiting. He covered the miles in long loping steps, traveling fast and sure through the night. Until, near dawn, it arrived again at the place close to the centre of the universe. Here, on this wind swept field, space/time looped back on itself. Here history did not have to repeat but could change in a blinding, terrifying flash.
The ring of Watchers observed with silent, stone cold hearts as the blackness opened to receive its monstrous father once more. The circle of stones remained silent as they always did, not judging, not warning, simply recording objectively the vast flow of space/time through the cosmic heavens.
The next few days in London went quickly for both families. The Williams visited the Science Museum and wandered around in awe at the size and depth of the collection. There was even a piece of grey moon rock sitting in a case that Robbie and Ryan plotted to steal. Janet led them away with a good humoured shake of her head before the two allowed creative thought to become a competitive dare. God help me when Reb is old enough to join in these Williams' highjinks! I'm beginning to suspect that Reb will be the worst of the bunch!
They had moved on down the street to the Natural History Museum where Ryan and Reb had to be bodily dragged from the earthquake room! "Reb, if you start to feel sick you just throw up on Ryan, okay, partner?" Robbie teased.
"Okay, partner," Reb responded happily.
"Thanks Mom!" Ryan protested in disgust.
"Did I tell you to take her three times into the earthquake room?!"
"She thought it was fun, didn't you, Reb?" argued Ryan, with a grin down at her little sister who was holding onto Ryan's hand with pride.
"The floor giggled like jello, Ryan," the three year old observed.
"Jiggled, Reb. Yes, it sure did," Ryan laughed.
The Dedemans had started their last day in London first at the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum on Marylebone Road. Madame Tousaud had been a Swiss caught in the events of the French Revolution. The sad faces of those who had seen their concept of an orderly world chopped short by the blade of the guillotine were the basis of the oldest collection of wax effigies in the world. The first Tussaud museum had been founded in 1776! The Dedemans wandered from display to display, picking out the famous people whose likenesses were captured in wax. Gunnul, however, refused to take her family into the Chamber of Horrors even though Jamie and Christy begged her to! "You two are very bad," Gunnul had smiled with a shake of her head, leading them firmly towards the exit.
"Jamie, did you really want to go?" Gunnul asked though before they reached the door.
"No, and I agree it is not suitable for Christy," Jamie admitted. "I just wanted to get a rise out of you!"
Gunnul raised an eyebrow and looked down at her feisty wife with amusement. Had Jamie said yes, she would have left Christy with Teefo and Peeti and taken Jamie through the chamber. She was glad Jamie had said no. Gunnul did not like to be reminded of the violence of humans, especially her own. Her thoughts must have shown on her face, for Jamie quietly handed her cane to Christy and leaned on Gunnul's arm instead for balance. Her fingers intertwined with her lover's in silent understanding and support.
After lunch, they took a cab to catch an afternoon children's performance of the London Symphony Orchestra at The Royal Albert Hall across the street form the Science and Natural History Museums. Then the Dedemans finished the day off with a tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was not a place that Gunnul wished to go but she had refused to take Jamie through the Chambers of Horrors so she thought she owed her partner this one. The museum housed one of the finest collections of Victoriana including some outstanding paper mache pieces and lots of ornate china. There was also decorative art from around the world and exhibitions of modern artists too.
Gunnul pasted a smile on her face and endured. In the morning, she thought, before they left the city, they would go to the London Zoo! Now that would be fun! As a student, she used to like to walk through Regent's Park and on to the Zoo. It was one of the oldest zoos in the world and although it was primarily involved in research and preservation it did have a collection of over 12,000 animals! Then in the afternoon, they could drive over to Greenwich and on towards Canterbury.
The sun set. Time moved forward as events moved closer. Fate raised its hand to draw the innocent into a tidal stream of events.
Continued - Part 3
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