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Hello, welcome to my blog:

As a new author, I should love to share my ‘Anstey’s Kingdom’ trilogy with you:

Surviving Anstey: A Story of Love through Time and Space

Anstey’s Revenge: Will Love be Enough?

Anstey’s Legacy: No Greater Love

Enter a world of alien refugees, fleeing through time and space from war on a distant planet, trapped in Elizabethan England by an evil dictator… Meet Kat, who thought she was human and Thomas, who knows that she (and he) are not. I do hope you will want to engage with their dramatic story, one that defies all odds, and learn if Thomas can make that final commitment to his forever love.

https://www.amazon.com/author/susanandtheansteybooks


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The aim of this part of my blog is to share a little of Kat’s mother’s life (the Kat you will encounter in my novel Surviving Anstey). It’s a kind of prequel to that book. Elizabeth tells me that she is more interesting than I am, especially since I’m virtually a recluse, tied to the house since last March because of the Covid 19 restrictions. Elizabeth is bossy; Kat and her father would probably agree. So…extracts from her story…

Elizabeth Wrenn, born 1556 (following the Earth timeline)
New Journal 1585 (following the Earth timeline)

My husband, doesn’t know I’m writing this. I’m reading through and translating my old jottings, the journal I brought from Domum-Orbis in the Auriga Constellation – once my home. William, he’s human, so some – quite a lot actually – of my past is difficult for him to understand. I can’t bring myself to tell Kat, our daughter, either. She’s far too young and a lot of my story is harrowing. William would hate it if I did tell her all. Some day I’ll have to.

As for William, I think that he would like nothing better than to forget that time in my life, a time before I knew he existed, before he rescued me from that man and we fled together. He doesn’t want Kat to know that she’s different; she already questions why she and I have these strange blue markings on our upper bodies. I whisper that we’re special, she and I, a secret never to be shared. I spend a lot of time manipulating the minds around us so that strangers aren’t aware of the blueness of our skin in sunlight. God knows what I’ll do if she ever falls in love with a human. Like I did.

Enough, I’m supposed to be concentrating on the past.
Was I sixteen years old back then? When my journal began. Give or take of course – the date system on Domum-Orbis differs from Earth.
I think my given name was Octavia. I wasn’t writing anything for someone other than me to read, so I didn’t commit my name to paper. It wasn’t wise, given the political situation. Even then, before the war started. Nowadays the language programmed into me, prior to my journey to Earth, inhibits my mind from knowing for sure. He, Anstey, changed it to Elizabeth and I didn’t prevent him. I needed him in order to escape from the war. He needed me to open an ostium… a rift in time and space…a doorway to a different where and when. Altogether a convenient arrangement for both of us (or so it seemed at the time.) But I’m ahead of myself again. Let me record earlier times – the University in Domum Orbis Central.

The Old Journal [my own translation and occasional comments.]
[EW: On my sixteenth birthday, I wrote:]
I’m so excited!!! Today I left the elite children’s academy for the last time and travelled to join my parents in their habitat at the University. In the CAPITAL CITY. I haven’t been here for years. Students from the powerful families, like mine, are discouraged from visiting home during the ten years of our youth training and I’ve always been willing to fit in with anything that enhances my credit rating. It’s not that I don’t love my parents…I do, but I’m ambitious and completing the academy program with a good grade is essential if you want to get on in the Capital. The Capital is where just about everything important happens.

My parents both teach here, at the University, but they’re not connected with the department I’m enrolling in next year. I’ve chosen to study otherworld history. Partly because they didn’t. Once the course begins I’ll have my own habitat! No academy dormitories (complete with dormitory prefect), no parents’ home – free to do as I please. Can’t wait.

Meanwhile I’ve had the letter, the all important letter, to confirm that I’m being tested as a class one elite woman…next week!! If I’m accepted, that is if I’m powerful enough, I’ll be going to the Elite Women’s Facility here in the Capital for a year’s induction course before starting at the University. Of course that means that I will have to commit to giving a minimum of three years of service to them later in my career. But that will be at a time in my life of my own choosing and it’ll be great. Everyone looks up to them – the most powerful women on the planet – and I could be one of them. Think positive, WILL be one of them.

Been too busy to write, getting ready, today is interview day. My mother’s been unexpectedly helpful, talking to me about simple exercises that can enhance my power and enable me to move objects by thought alone. She chose to be downgraded when she left the facility after her three years (they have a drug for that.) Otherwise my father wouldn’t have had a good enough skill rating to handfast with her – even though he’s a Professor in his own right and despite it being more than a few generations since his family relocated from the provinces. Her, my mother’s, family weren’t too pleased, but I know they, my parents that is, love each other. Even now they’re OLD. It’s been nice getting to know them, but I think they’ll be glad to have their habitat back to themselves once I’ve moved on again. Hopefully any day now, if I’m accepted… I’m sooo nervous. I’ll report back.

I think I’ve done it!
The women there were really nice. I won’t hear for a week (which will drag), but one of them, a few years older than me, she winked as I was leaving and said “I’m looking forward to working with you.” And she was really slow to add…“if you’re accepted.”
Celebrations! I’m so clever, I did it…I did it…I did it! The letter came by courier while my parents were out. I danced around the room…twice.

[EW 1585 Note: anything other than paper communications were, and probably still are, forbidden on Domum-Orbis. The minds of the elite women always had (have) access to everything in cyberspace, which is why they…we… were always feared as well as admired. The men on the central committee always did everything they could to undermine us…afraid we could undermine their entire system of rule. They claimed that elite women would have too much power if they were not kept in check by having an all male political system.]

My parents are taking me out for an adult meal, with drinks. They’re very proud. And so they should be, I’ve worked hard for this. Sacrificed friendships. Studied instead of partying. But it’s all paid off. I’m going to be in the group training to be scientific engineers: using dream creation techniques to build distant habitats (more on that later, I think it’s going to be amazing once I get the hang of it.) Also I’ll learn how to open ostia. [Note: ostium, plural ostia, translates as doorway(s), rifts in time and space. EW] People can move through them and find themselves in another place, even another world, and another time. That should mesh with my otherworld history degree. They have field trips (carefully licensed by the central committee) to other locations in time. I could be the one chosen to open the ostia. There aren’t likely to be many other students with my level of training. Maybe the odd one or two. But I’ll be the best. I can just feel it.

My new best friend at the EWF (that’s the Elite Women’s Facility) is Lucia. She’s older than me, not a novice, she’s already on her three year contract and says she might even stay longer. I’m quite jealous of all she can do: she’s already fully qualified to create habitats and open ostia, while I’m still trying to get my head around what it all means. Lucia isn’t one of the instructors, but she explains things better than they do. I trail around after her – accompanying her to the laboratories where it all happens – even outside training sessions. It makes a difference, actually seeing.

I think she, Lucia, is glad to have someone to talk to. She’s doing something illicit…I shouldn’t be writing this down. No-one will see my journal though. I keep it hidden in my room at home and don’t take it anywhere near the facility. I’m home at weekends.
It’s a man. He’s not old, but older than she is. Lucia isn’t supposed to go out with anyone while she’s on her contract service. The facility is a sorority. I hadn’t noticed him before, the man, but I caught a glimpse of the two of them when I went to my father’s office on campus the other day. I know he works at the University – some hotshot. I’ll casually ask my parents if they know him. Richard Anstey.
(My father sneered when I mentioned the name. Warned me to steer clear, but wouldn’t say any more.)

I confronted her about him today. She says she’s crazy about him, willing to take the risk. I’m not so sure, I think they’ve been arguing. She always looks as if she’s been crying when she comes back from meeting him. I suspect he wants her to do something for him and she’s afraid.

Lucia has a habitat outside the facility as well as her allocated room inside. She told me about it when we first met – she said she kept it on to return to at the end of her contract. She has plenty of money, an inheritance from her godmother. (Lucky her, if you’re one of the ultra-elite families you’re allowed to retain inherited money and property.) That’s where I think they meet, Lucia and Richard Anstey, she’s a bit cagey about it.

Oh my God, she’s in trouble. I’m the only person she’s told. She’s pregnant.

[EW: A confession. I lied. That last page or so wasn’t from my journal – it was from my memory. The words were truly those I wrote, but he, Anstey, tore the pages out. Every page from my first mention of his name onwards. But I don’t need the journal now. It’s all there in my mind in perfect clarity. It will help to give me distance if I tell it to you as a story. It unfolds in my mind like scenes from a play. It allows me to pretend to myself that it all happened to someone else. I don’t altogether admire the person I was then.]

Lucia left the facility a month or two after telling me about the pregnancy. She was lucky; they were willing to defer the rest of her commitment until after the birth of the baby – as long as she gave it up to her parent to deal with as necessary. I met with her whenever I was free. No extra coaching though, she was afraid that using her power might damage the child. Her parents were, apparently, supportive.

So she wasn’t alone, nor, however, was she over Anstey. However much she pretended she was. At first, she confided, he was angry that she hadn’t protected herself, didn’t want anything to do with her – or his baby. That shocked her; I think she’d hoped that they might handfast. Apparently Anstey had said he wouldn’t mind-share (a legal necessity for hand-fasting) with anyone…ever. She cried a lot, but I had the feeling that Lucia thought he would change his mind once their child was born. Then, suddenly, he was back around, calling on her, telling her how much he loved her. Hmmm. I was still convinced that he was after something, that he had tried to get it elsewhere, failed, and returned to Lucia to try some more. He was still insistent that she mustn’t reveal that he was the father. That didn’t sound promising…I thought Lucia was deluded. But I had to admit that he was good-looking…smooth…a talker. Possessing the kind of charisma that came with power. I arrived while he was there on one of my visits.

“Octavia, so pleased to meet at last. Lucia has told me such a lot about you…I hear you’re going to study otherworld history next year. That’s my department. I look forward to welcoming you. Any friend of Lucia’s…” He took my hand and smiled a very charming smile, his eyes linking with mine.

After that Lucia wasn’t quite so keen on my visits. Besides, I was busy studying. Though I did, occasionally, meet up with Richard for a drink. Well, he was persuasive and had some interesting views on the political situation. He said that Lucia was reluctant to go out, and he thought it better if they weren’t seen together – given the awkward situation. It could affect his position at the University. [The EWF had a lot of influence in our world just then.]

Round about this time the news sheets were full of talk of unrest in the provinces. It wasn’t uncommon. No-one from the provinces ever made it on to the central committee, and most of the laws the committee passed disadvantaged anyone who wasn’t born to a family from the prime-estate – our main landmass and location of the capital. Remember me mentioning my father…I think I did. Anyway, his family tried their best, generation by generation, to be accepted. But grading is fixed. You can’t raise your life allocation in administration or in any top-graded technical work. I wouldn’t have been able to attend the elite academy had it not been for my mother’s family grading. I only lost 0.4 of a grade through her marriage to my father. And I had to study all the hours God gave to make up that entrance deficit. The EWF is the only place where aptitude is all that counts. Having said that, I wouldn’t even have had a chance to apply were it not for my mother’s previous service there.

Lucia had the baby. Named her Isabel, which is a nice. In the end her parents ensured that she, their grand-daughter, was sent, straightaway, to a nearby baby-rearing establishment (expensive!) That was the extent of their ‘supportedness.’ I’ve never visited the one near the EWF. It’s a place where families with unbreakable contract commitments are required to leave their offspring until they are old enough to attend the relevant academy. Penalties for contract-breaking are punitive and most contracts demand that mothers return to work almost immediately after giving birth. I was lucky. My mother had me just about the time her EWF contract finished and before she signed up for anything else. It meant that we shared the first six years of my life – despite the family hardship it cost my parents. No annual payments for my mother, and my father’s end of year payment was reduced to compensate to society for my mother’s absence from productive work.

So far as I know, Richard never saw his child. Nor wanted to. We still met up on occasions and he never mentioned either Lucia or the baby. I had an idea that he still saw Lucia, though. She was back on contract hours and routinely working on advanced projects. Our ‘friendship’ fizzled out. None of the other women were over-friendly. Not that I needed them to be – I was too busy practicing my new skills and learning more.
Richard and I talked mainly about the rebellion that was threatening. I thought from what I’d heard that it was all just rumblings that would die down as they had on earlier occasions. Something the military would deal with…or the separate prime-estate mercenary security force.

He said that I should be careful. Both for myself and my parents. He hinted that any involvement by the military wouldn’t necessarily be on our side. Which was unthinkable, and I told him so. He smiled, that infuriating secret smile of his, and told me that I’d see when the time came. He urged me to perfect all the skills the EWF could teach me, but to be prepared to relocate, hurriedly. Taking my hand, in a fairly intimate way, he told me that I should talk to him if the situation worsened and I needed some safer location. Possibly for my parents too.

So everything simmered along for the rest of my time at the EWF, which wasn’t so much fun as I’d thought. It all came easily and there was nothing I couldn’t do by the end of that training year. Studying at the University would crown my learning experiences and there would doubtless be a lot of new faces at the EWF before I returned for my three year contract. My parents were happy that I had been successful… they didn’t need to know about the unpopularity issue, it didn’t concern them. I didn’t broadcast my association with Richard once I started at the University. Something best kept quiet.

Richard told me that Lucia was going to do some more work for him. He said they hadn’t patched things up, but he didn’t want her to realise how close he and I were. In case she made trouble. We’d kissed a few times, he and I, but nothing more, well nothing much more. Definitely not…that… I sure as hell wasn’t going to get myself into her situation, so I was comfortable with his suggestion that we should cool it for a while… but meet up secretly in the University every so often.

“The job she’s doing for me,” he said, looking serious and earnest, “it will help a lot of people to escape if the war gets any closer. Otherwise I wouldn’t be with her at all. Please understand… this is ultimately for us, for your parents and for dozens of others who will be in mortal danger if the capital is attacked.” Not his usual facial expression.

He was persuasive, eloquent, but I remained wary. Though I did have to think about getting my parents out. We’d stopped getting news from the provinces a few weeks previously. Something was very wrong about the silence. It surprised me, how much I cared about my parents now. Lucia’s parents and her baby – their coldness reminded me of how much my mother and father had given up to ensure that I had a loving start in life. And later, the mother-daughter bond that kept surfacing in me. Everything I did was underwritten by the power she had passed on to me before giving it all up to be with my father… and me.

[EW: Looking back at that time, it was almost unbelievable the speed at which everything descended into chaos.]

Two things… possibly connected.

Firstly a lot of equipment went missing from the EWF. Surely nothing to do with Richard (and Lucia)? Richard already had a licence to do some otherworld historical research. I didn’t know the details, but surely he would have been able to acquire anything he needed for a small field trip to the past of some primitive planet or other. Even if he was planning to ride out the war there. Surely he wouldn’t have required equipment on the scale they were talking about. Also, they would have allocated someone from the EWF to open the ostium. What did he need Lucia for? I hadn’t seen him with any of the women other than Lucia. The only person he paid attention to, other than me, was an older woman in the history department. They spent a lot of research time together, but she was married, I believe there was a daughter. I didn’t like the woman… she was a crafty, manipulative cow and she didn’t like me… at all. She wasn’t elite though. Just some jealous, boring University type who could never achieve what I was capable of.

And then… around the time of the first reported skirmishes and the news that the military were supporting the provinces… I heard about an accident. Lucia. An isolated incident. A rogue incursion by a lone soldier or mercenary, apparently from the provinces, though no-one actually saw him. A truly unlucky death. I said nothing. Richard kept closer to me after that. I was even more wary, but careful not to let him know that I had suspicions. He said he wanted me to sign a hand-fast contract, but without bothering with the mind-share bit. He was very attentive and kept reminding me that he was the only one who could save me… and my parents… if it all went wrong. I was a little scared. Beginning to see a certain ruthlessness in him… a darkness. But, as long as I wasn’t in love… like poor dead Lucia… I could take advantage of his need for me to make my parents safe. I could get the contract annulled later if there was no mind-share. Just a month or so off-planet until this all blew over.

Richard was definitely up to something. He was still keen, more than keen, to meet, kiss… He tried to arouse me by stroking the markings on my skin, trying to get me to stroke his. My initial attraction to him hadn’t survived my suspicions. He had betrayed Lucia, their baby, probably engineered her death. Not a good basis for trust. Nothing inside me – no feelings, no warmth – could overcome my certain knowledge that he was cold and manipulative.

I’ll admit there was a little residual lust remaining on my part. He was older, experienced and I had never had a lover. But…as I said before…I wasn’t stupid. I pretended to feel more without ever giving in to him. He said he could wait – played it as if he wasn’t altogether put off by my being “shy” as he phrased it. In my thoughts was the conviction that we would need him – my parents and I. While his ego was sufficient for him not to notice my change of heart. Probably not even a real change of heart. I don’t think I ever truly fell for him. It was just a crush. My response to the aura of power and sophistication that surrounded him…

Then the war really got going and we in the capital learned that we were hopelessly outnumbered and with access to only the most rudimentary of hand-to-hand weapons. The military, entirely on the side of the provinces, had been developing weaponry for a long time, or so rumour had it. The soldiers (all male) had been trained in using hand-worn weapons that could amplify the latent destructive power of their inferior minds. Make them more like elite women, though without the creative abilities. Devices that could allow the wearer to probe and shatter other minds in an interrogation. Devices that could kill at a distance, silencing heartbeats, obliterating minds. Although elite women could do those things too – no weaponry needed – there was the EWF foundation charter to deal with. Elite women were sworn to neutrality in any conflict. It had always been the way. The charter had been dreamed up by the politicians (mostly male) to counter-balance the exceptional talents of such a small number of exceptional women. I could have joined them, stayed safe, and Richard knew it. His play was always the precarious situation my parents would be in. That and the attraction he thought I felt for him.

All through that time, I knew that he was recruiting. Contracts were being signed. All kinds of people desperate to get away were promising their life’s work to him for the chance to escape. I saw a few of the contracts. He normally kept them hidden, but on one occasion in his apartment, when he was using the cleansing-room, I sneaked a view of a couple that were on his desk.

[Did I mention earlier that everything of importance was hand written? Licensed technicians were allowed personal computing devices to help with calculations and the like, but such devices were not allowed to talk to each other. With concentration, the minds of the elite women always had access to everything in cyberspace. No doubt still do: we were always feared as well as admired.]

Richard had the people he was recruiting tied up in legal knots. They would work for him until they were incapable. At that stage their children (yes, some children were accompanying their parents, and doubtless more would be born) would take over their contracts…and so on. No pay, but food, clothing and shelter were provided. Oh, and there was provision for a certain amount of leisure time and a limited allowance of credits for extras on special occasions. Both concessions could be rescinded at Richard’s discretion. He styled himself the Director on the paperwork. The higher the status of the contracted individual the better the hours were. I also knew that he had persuaded some of the security personnel from the capital to accompany him. My guess was that their contracts would be more advantageous. He would need them to keep the others in line. Also, or so I heard, there were some other children recruited. Orphans. To be trained up as the next generation of guards, or, as Richard put it, enforcers.

My turn wasn’t long in coming. He ushered me into his office one day and showed me mine. The contract I would need to sign. A promise to open an ostium for all his workers to travel through to our new location…a promise to hand-fast with him…a promise to share his bed. In return it offered passage for me and for my parents. I would share Richard’s bed and rooms. My parents would have their own accommodation. We would all be fed and clothed to the end of our days. No money of our own, but no allocated tasks either. Unless you counted sex with Richard as a task. I was beginning to fear that I might. He hadn’t a clue about that. There was something about his arrogance that made me shiver. In the meantime, my parents had to agree and we all had to be reprogrammed with a new language that would allow us to understand the humans occupying our new home. Heaven help them when Richard Anstey arrived on their shores.

The language programming was the key. Once that stage had been completed, we would be separated from our fellows until we were all ready to leave. Richard had hired a large conference facility. Recruits who had signed were already moving in and severing their links with the outside world…there had been talk of conscription into the Capital’s ill-organised and ill-prepared security services. Not if they couldn’t be found! My parents, on the other hand, were proving difficult. They didn’t trust the man and they didn’t want me to hand-fast with him just to save their lives. I told them that I was sure I could get the contract annulled if Richard refused to mind-share. They wondered who would dare to do such a thing for him. On reflection, I thought they had a point.

While I was still trying to persuade my parents, the head of the EWF called me in. It was not politic to refuse such a summons – I suspected that my mother had spoken to her: they were acquainted.

“Elizabeth…” No, of course not, she wouldn’t have called me by that name. I didn’t have it until the language re-programming was complete, but it’s so ingrained in me now. For that matter, I’ve already used Richard Anstey’s name. He chose that one after the language issue was settled. It’s extraordinarily difficult to explain: this block that comes up in the mind if you try to think in the Domum-Orbis language after re-programming. Particularly when it comes to names. Such a bizarre feeling to think that once you agreed to travel permanently to another time and place, to speak in another tongue, some part of you is severed… forever? I knew there were drugs and mind-programming sessions to ease you back into your own old self if you had only been programmed for a short field trip. But this would be something different. Who knew if there would be anything to come back to anyway? The University was already partially closed. The military were actually moving through this land mass, destroying habitats located outside the inner city.

“Are you intending to hand-fast with that man?” She, the woman in charge, was speaking. Disdainfully. I can’t remember her name, either.

“If it’s what it takes to get my parents away from here, I’ll do it. There are rumours that the advancing military are destroying anyone connected with the elite grades.”

“You know you could come to us. Despite everything that occurred. The facility will be a sanctuary to any elite women and any female children born to elite women.”

“If the military stick to the protection offered by the charter.” I thought she was being overly optimistic.

“Oh, they will stick to it. They’re too afraid of what we could do… those among us blessed, or perhaps cursed, with the ability to destroy. Your training didn’t allow you to be initiated into that area of our work.”

“I hope for your sake… But that won’t help my father.”

“No, you’re right. But you should be aware of the options available for you, and your mother. We’ll protect who we can. I’ve arranged for his baby, Isabel, to be relocated here. Her dead mother would have wanted us to take her into the fold, though the grandparents are resisting.”

A dig at me no doubt, but also a warning: “I have no illusions about the man. My only reason for leading him to believe I have feelings for him is the certainty that he is the only one who can save my parents.”

“Think about it… does he want them? Teachers such as your parents? What will happen if you don’t fulfil your side of the bargain? He’s capable of anything, and my information tells me that he’s only recruiting technicians, artisans and manual workers. Other than his private army, of course.”

“I can protect them once we’re through.” She was listening to me, but she was looking doubtful. “He needs me to open the ostium, otherwise no-one gets away. It may not be a good chance, but it’s the only one I have. I won’t let my father die.” I noticed her sigh.

“Do you know where he’s taking you? Lucia didn’t destroy the co-ordinates when she came back from her trips there. You know she used the dream-creation laboratory to prepare an entire underground complex for him?”

I shook my head. I had some ideas, but it was worth hearing what she had to say.

“He’s heading for planet Earth’s past. You’ve no doubt heard of it. England. The sixteenth-century. Peopled by superstitious humans – not unlike us, but lacking the mind skills and thought transference. Read up on it. The status of married women might interest you. Though they do have a queen on the throne – did you know that it’s a monarchy? If you go through, hand-fast with him, he’ll own you in their local Church law and the contract will bind you in Domum-Orbis law too.”

“I’m not afraid of him. He doesn’t have the power that I do and he’s too arrogant to imagine that I might turn against him.”

“Well you should be afraid. He’s already had one woman murdered – you think her death was a coincidence? She confided in me at the end. Told me she regretted what she’d done, that she wouldn’t leave her… their… daughter and travel with him. Next day she was dead.”

“I guessed as much.” I admitted – but I didn’t let on how sick that made me feel and how sorry I was. There was the inescapable thought that if he hadn’t been so certain that I would open the rift for him when the time came, he might not have been so quick to callously dispose of his earlier helper… the mother of his child for God’s sake!

I swallowed hard: “I’ll read up on our destination – I’m grateful to you for telling me – I’m sure I can stay one step ahead of him though. And there isn’t really a choice.”

She sighed again: “The complex is hidden inside the cliffs in a place called Devon. It’s a massive installation, one of Lucia’s best, and he’s taking sufficient people to run it. I can make sure those co-ordinates are obliterated from here so that you won’t be followed if you do decide to go – I doubt anyone would suspect me of a cover up, though I could be wrong – but I’m more concerned about the danger you are taking with you. Namely Richard Anstey and his men.”

I was glad to have confirmation of the destination. But the rest of her words made me more uneasy. Surely if sufficient numbers of workers were travelling, we could rebel against Richard should it come to a point at which we couldn’t stomach his contracts anymore? Or did the numbers of security guards going with us make that impossible? I was sure that I was the only elite woman in the group: he might not even know about my mother’s heritage prior to her being downgraded. He needed me. I clung to that thought. Until we were through the ostium and safely in our new home.

It made me wonder about the humans living on the Earth in that time and place. My reading thus far suggested that they were not so very different from us. Well, rather more primitive technologically of course, but, after talking with the EWF woman [it annoys me that I can’t dredge up her name… not that it matters and she’s probably long dead,] I had read enough in the University Library to be convinced that they laughed, cried, loved, studied, worked and played in the same ways that we did. Had more fun… that is unless they were destitute, starving, ill, prisoners, of the wrong religious persuasion. Seeing, meeting with them would tell all. Doubtless they were a thinking, feeling mix of good, bad and indifferent, as were we, as were most humanoids in the universe. If I needed an ‘out’ at any stage, maybe I could live among them. That would be a whole new experience… and I would be the one with all the power. [Interesting that those thoughts were already in my head.]

That was what I emphasized to my parents, particularly my father, as I suggested: “We could all go along with everything. Sign the papers. Escape the war. Then get ready to run, should we need to. You don’t know… Anstey may be perfectly reasonable in the new setting: he won’t want to risk courting an uprising. But, if he behaves badly, we can just move out and find a home in the local countryside, or further afield. We may be able to persuade some of the indigenous population to assist us, if it comes to that. Mother and I working together, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

I made a point of stressing that I would talk to Richard once we were through the ostium, tell him of my misgivings regarding the legality of hand-fasting without the mind-share. I persuaded my father that my contract would be annulled, that I wouldn’t go through with the marriage – whether in local law or Domum-Orbis law. He still wanted us, my mother and me, safely tucked away in the EWF. As if either of us would abandon him. In the end we wore him down, and he agreed.

Richard had been getting a little bit nasty and a little bit physical. He always apologized afterwards. So, not a big deal. And I suppose he was genuinely worried: this was a massive undertaking. It was essential for us both to remember that we needed each other if we were going to pull things off. The rebels were besieging the city. There wasn’t long left to us. Thing was, if I didn’t do my part no-one would escape – a big responsibility. I was afraid, though.

And then it was done. Too late for regrets. We’d signed. We were gathered with the others in the accommodation arranged for us, our home abandoned. It was happening so quickly: final language programming; clothing issue; equipment issue. Through all the bustle, my father could barely bring himself to speak to Richard, which didn’t bode well: I needed my parents to keep up the fiction that all would proceed smoothly once we were through. I kept them apart as far as was possible. Fortunately Richard spent more time with his ruffians and with the coterie of ‘yes’ men he’d acquired than with us. I sensed that he wasn’t too bothered with keeping me sweet now that we were committed – no-one was allowed to leave the building now that departure was imminent. I suppose I could have threatened him. Told him I wouldn’t activate the ostium. But, to what end? In all truth, we were beyond the point of no return.  

The Handfasting

The countdown to departure kept getting shorter. Days cut out of the schedule as the opposing military moved faster than anyone could have predicted. I thought we might be on Earth before I had to confront Richard again. But as ill luck would have it, given the energy I was putting into avoiding him, I was passing the conference room at the same moment that Richard was leaving it. [After one of his interminable meetings with his coterie of grey ‘yes’ men. Arse-lickers. Excuse me, that’s crude, but it had to be said.]

We were all speaking the same language by then and wearing the clothes that had been designed by the history department. The materials and fastenings were all Domum-Orbis… a synthetic weave that was the easiest kind of material to reproduce in any off-planet settlement work area. What was different from the garments we normally wore was the differentiation between the sexes: our usual any-sex tunics and leggings were reserved for the men and new long skirts and bodices had been designed for the women. I had seen pictures of female attire in the time period we were travelling to and this was fairly similar, though it wouldn’t pass any real scrutiny. Why was it necessary to conform when we would be underground and away from human gaze? I missed the freedom of the leggings, disliked the tight bodices and trip-hazard skirts. Besides, if we were ever to emerge from the seclusion of the settlement, we would have to acquire genuine garb to pass muster at close quarters. Why make such a change ahead of time? Early on I had mentioned my misgivings to Richard, but he had simply told me that he would be the one deciding what would be best for all of us. [Oops, I’ve wandered off the point: recollecting conversations with Richard has never been my favourite activity.]

Returning. To the point. Talking to Richard… and his surrounding colleagues.

Him: “Elizabeth. Where have you been hiding yourself? We need to arrange our hand-fasting. I’d like the technical aspects dealt with before we travel… you no doubt noticed that the contract you signed stipulates that we must be officially bound together. Before we travel.” I noticed the faintly threatening tone of the ‘before,’ but decided not to push things… well only a little.

Me: “It didn’t say ‘before.’” Said in a mildly puzzled tone of voice. I knew the contract couldn’t have said that: I wouldn’t have signed if it had and I’d already made him alter it from the first version – along the lines of no adjustment, no ostium. Our relationship had degenerated into mutual threats.

That was when he smugly took a piece of paper out of the folder. There was my signature. The wording was just as I remembered it…except… there was now a post-signature paragraph at the end, with what looked like my initials accepting the addition. Except that they weren’t my initials. But he was already putting the paper away again, whilst the ‘yes’ men grouped around us.

Him: “Tomorrow at midday. There’s an improvised Sanctuary on the third supra-ground floor… be there.”

Then he was gone, leaving me slightly panicked and out of breath. My first thought was to rush to my parents. That was before I realised that it was the last thing I should do – my father would insist on us leaving and put into action his plan to take the two of us, my mother and me, to the EWF. I knew him by now, he would willingly sacrifice himself for us to be safe. Yet if I went through with it, the thought was both frightening and repugnant, if I went through with it, Richard would own my service as a wife. Bed and offspring. Once that was done, if it was done properly, no annulment would be possible. But he already had the contract, what difference would the hand-fasting make? Unless he had changed his mind about the mind-share, giving me access to all his secrets and the crimes I suspected him of, the legality wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny… would it?

Feeling sick and undecided, I avoided my parents even more. There were my allocated departure tasks to work through for the rest of the day: sufficient to keep me busy and avoid any opportunity for them to question me.

[Looking at the lists of equipment at the time, I’d been astounded by the sheer quantity that had already been taken through. The place must have been fully functional, awaiting only the staff. Richard Anstey must have patiently delayed his moment to end Lucia. Not that his crime could ever have been proved – but I was always certain of his guilt.]    

Sometime during the night, I gave up fighting against my fate. There was no other way; I would have to hope for the best. That decision put paid to any idea of sleeping. I was almost glad when the time approached midday and I could get it over with. I went alone. There were no friends to support me. Richard had been quite forceful about distancing me from potential companions amongst my colleagues and everyone was too wary of him to go against his wishes. When I reached the door of the Sanctuary, he was marching down the corridor towards it from the opposite direction… with two of his larger guards in attendance. The only neutral person there was Christopher Notfeld, the Notary, who opened the door to greet us at precisely the appointed time. He seemed to be a pleasant, if reserved, man. I had met him before, briefly, and knew that he was travelling with a wife and child. Making an effort I smiled at him. No point in alienating everyone. Being a coward, I tried to include Richard in the smile. Antagonizing him further would be a mistake. When I looked slightly puzzled by the presence of the guards, Richard informed me that they would be the requisite two witnesses. I’d forgotten about that requirement.

I didn’t know how much Christopher Notfeld knew about Richard’s negative thoughts on hand-fasting, and, more particularly, the compulsory mind-share part of it. The easiest thing would be to play along. Fall in with Richard. He could make things very unpleasant for me and doubtless for Notfeld too. Like me, Notfeld would be very reluctant to jeopardise his family’s sole chance of escape. While Richard had some threat ready to hold over the heads of all of us, it was predominantly fear of the war (about which he seemed to know considerably more than the average citizen) that motivated the majority Some of those travelling, those deemed less useful, had even willingly paid convertible money (off-planet exchangeable precious metals) for their places in this exodus.

Aware or not, Christopher [I can’t stick with the family name, Notfeld, I came to know him better later so it seems cold, given what happened] behaved creditably, following the script of such occasions. When it came to the moment to give a pledge to our willingness to share minds, I was surprised to hear Richard agree without argument. I had to follow suit. Then we were ushered through the Sanctuary curtain to the inner space. I knew the format of the ceremony, there were no surprises: two cushions to kneel upon, a side table with candle and the four flasks of liquid drug that would be needed to breach our mind defences. Christopher retreated through the curtain, telling us to rejoin him when we were done.

I looked at Richard as I started to kneel and reach for the first of the flasks. I had been going to ask him whether he would go first or if he would prefer me to. Before I could do or say anything, he grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth. Held me tight against him and whispered in my ear: “Be absolutely quiet. You know I won’t mind-share. We’ll just sit in here for a while and play the part. Co-operate or your parents will be left here to die. If you defy me, then I’ll just have to arrange an ‘accident’ for you and them.”

My mind must not have been as guarded as I thought. Shock probably. I couldn’t speak with his hand over my mouth but he answered the question in my thoughts.

“Don’t worry, I have a contingent of enforcers around me now. It shouldn’t be difficult to kidnap another one such as yourself to open the ostium. I should prefer not to have to, but don’t test my patience.”

I tried to nod assent: he was expecting it and let go. For all of a millisecond I contemplated alerting Christopher to what was happening. Literally a millisecond. But I was certain that, if I did, an accident would happen to him too. There were two guards…enforcers… out there. Richard looked smug and took the flasks of liquid over to a one of the brass pots of flowers. He emptied them into it with a self-satisfied flourish.

Speaking low again he had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to pre-empt the rest of the ceremony and enjoy the bed part of the contract. Enjoy!? There, in the inner sanctuary, on the cushions. No. Not for anything would I desecrate this special place. My descent from lust to loathing was complete. For a moment I thought he would force me. He held me very tightly, I could imagine that there would be fingerprint-shaped bruises on my skin in the morning. His face was very close to mine. Then he kissed me, mouth hard against my closed lips, before drawing back.

“I think I’ll wait for the pleasure. I don’t want to shock that nice young notary out there. Once we’re on Earth though… In my rooms… Be ready.”

He let go abruptly. “I’m too busy to waste time here with you. We’ll go out now and tell him it’s done.” He practically dragged me through the curtains and into the main space. I could tell that Christopher was reluctant, he knew we hadn’t been long enough. But what could he say? We both affirmed that we had mind-shared and went through the ceremony of binding hands. We signed the book and Richards ruffians witnessed. And all the while my mind repeated over and over. “Not hand-fasted, not hand-fasted.” But my escape would have to wait until we were all safely on Earth. Perhaps I would have to share the man’s bed before we escaped, but it was the price to be paid for the safety of my parents. We parted outside the door. Him to his rooms, me to mine. The final moments were drawing near.

Penetrating Time and Space

We were gathered at the departure point. Richard, accompanied by his committee (or council or whatever he chose to name them) plus his brutish-looking enforcers, had taken charge. Busy with organising the order in which we were to proceed. My parents were towards the back of the queue. As the elite woman chosen to open the ostium, I stood to one side and could observe it all. For a moment I wondered whether Richard would listen to me if I asked for them to be moved forwards. But it wouldn’t matter, surely? As long as I could keep the way open then everyone should be safe.

Besides, we were not exactly communicating at present: I had made myself scarce, skulking in my parents’ rooms, and hadn’t seen him since are our fake hand-fasting. The word ‘fake’ sat chafing uncomfortably in my mind: only Richard and I knew about that with complete certainty. The handfasting register showed a legitimate marriage contract. In Domum-Orbis law, unless I brought a charge of illegal conduct against him, Richard now owned my service as a wife and it superseded all other contracts. One of the reasons that the sharing of minds was a compulsory part of the ceremony was to make it possible to turn back, at that last second, if the mind-share revealed any incompatibility. When contemplating entering a life contract, it was always made clear to both parties that there was no shame or penalty attached to a refusal to complete the ceremony at that point. The notary always expected that there would be a few minds changed because of what was revealed. But I had said “yes” to the words of joining: I had signed, thus was now as guilty of lying as Richard was.

My thoughts drifted on: reflecting that now there was the added expectation that we would produce a child, children, to continue our bloodlines. Though who knew how many changes there would be to such laws if we lost the war… make that when we lost the war. Aaagh! What was I thinking of! The war was irrelevant unless we were able to return one day. We were going to a new time, a new place. It would be Richard Anstey’s law there. The committee were bought and paid for; I could tell. So were the enforcers. Unless I could get help from somewhere… perhaps one of the humans… there would be no chance for me to escape from Richard. Once we were through the ostium and entered our new home, I, like Lucia, would be expendable unless I co-operated fully. Could I use my power to thwart him in some way? Or just give in. How bad could it be? Lucia had evidently enjoyed it. Maybe I would conceive a powerful daughter, one to train up after me. My imagination wandered and I could imagine my parents with me and a grandchild. Would that not make up for being Richard’s wife? I had a bad feeling inside me that said it would not.

Richard grabbed my arm, taking me by surprise, I hadn’t noticed his approach. “Are you ready? Can you hold the rift open if you stand to one side? We will start to go through in groups – my men and I first. You follow on after the first group and hold it from the far side. I want you to be on the same side of the rift as me: it will give first-time travellers confidence when they see that you are fully prepared to make the transition.” He linked to my mind with an image of where and when we were going and the co-ordinates.

He returned to the column and I half-waved to my parents, mouthing “See you on the other side,” before moving into position. I was determined not to be rushed: this would take strength. A lot of it. So many people to pass through before I could allow the ostium to close. My experiences of penetrating time and space were extremely limited, even if I had passed my EWF tests with top marks.

Looking at them all, I was struck by the thought that, if I had to guess at occupations from dress and demeanour, my conclusion would be that the travellers most ‘useful’ to Richard were in the early groups and that this included couples with children. No doubt children who might be capable of being trained-up in their parents’ jobs. Glancing at the front of the queue, I saw the notary, Christopher Notfeld, and his family. I hadn’t realised he had two boys. They looked like twins. I must have seen them separately and thought it was just one child. Also near the front, I spotted the history specialist I had always suspected of aiding Richard to transport equipment when he was working with Lucia. She was standing with her daughter near the head of the curling snake of those seeking to escape. I vaguely knew her husband by sight, so it surprised me to see him in a rear grouping. Separated from his wife and daughter, he was near the back of the queue – along with my parents and quite a few others who appeared to be single, some accompanied by children. At this tail of the snake there was a greater concentration of older people: perhaps other parents, like mine, accompanying contract-bound workers. The promise of access to a means of escape for their families would undoubtedly have been a sweetener, an important item on Richard’s persuasive list of reasons for prime technicians and artisans to sign up. Cunning Richard knew each individual’s ‘price’ and I was sure he had acquired everyone he would have a need of.  I wondered if other couples had been separated into different locations. It confirmed my suspicion that all those with essential skills, regardless of family commitments, were further forward. I felt a twinge of unease.

“Elizabeth! Get on with it. Now!” Richard’s voice grated on the edges of my mind. But it was too late to back down. I raised my arms, half-fearful, and, remembering my lessons I closed my eyes and saw only the image of the place we were headed for and the co-ordinates I had been given. There was pressure. The feeling of power boiling through me. Rupturing time and space. And it was done. A metallic taste in my mouth. The wall of the room dissolved into a grey shimmer and Richard started to lead the first group through.

I edged after them, focussing on keeping the way open, to find myself in the scene I had envisioned. Rocks, sand, sea, a sound and smell of waves and seaweed.

Oh! Wait! Something else. An alluring mind. Human thoughts. A man’s mind. Open and eagerly joining with mine. My reaction was immediate. If Richard saw a human watching, he would kill him – no doubt of it. I reached out, yelling silently into the human’s head: “Hide! hide! They mustn’t see you!

Too much pressure on my senses, I couldn’t sustain my contact with him without endangering my link to the ostium. Trusting that he had hidden, since no-one else seemed to have noticed, I re-focussed fully on my prime task. Meanwhile our people continued to stream through. It was only then that I noticed two of Richard’s guards placing odd-looking devices by the opening. Everything was happening at once – splitting my attention. Screams on the far side of the rift. Shouts urging those coming through to move quicker, sounds of an attack on the Domum-Orbis side. I tried to widen the opening to let the panicking, stampeding groups through. The devices. No! Please no… he wouldn’t. A blinding flash. He’d done it. Richard. I knew he had. The force of the flare obliterated my control over the rift. Those caught in it were lying dead and we were now totally cut off from those under attack on the wrong side. I tried to open it again, felt my power draining: I was too slow. Two of the enforcers grabbed by arms and dragged me away from the scene. Numb. My parents were dead. I had no doubt of it. My miscalculation had cost their lives. Richard Anstey had succeeded in murdering them and countless other dependents. Whatever he might say, I knew it was him. He’d never intended to be stuck with them. And I would never, ever forget or forgive.

William Wrenn

The enforcers semi-dragged me, gripping tightly to my arms. They were clearly conflicted, not knowing how to behave, after all I was Richard Anstey’s wife. As far as anyone knew. Presumably he had issued instructions regarding my removal from the scene of devastation in the cave. In the end they left me in a small single-person room, below ground in the complex. Definitely not Richard’s. Just as well, I might have tried to kill him if I’d seen him. Not sensible, he had too many armed guards around him… and a few of those, I’d noticed, had illicit mind-weaponry.

Whatever punishment I could inflict on the callous bastard would have to be carefully planned and carried out in private. I suspected that, for the moment (and it would only be a moment), he was afraid and would hesitate to enforce the ‘bed’ part of my contract until he felt safer. It was always possible that he was plotting a way to have me killed without any comeback on himself. He may have been surrounded by ‘yes’ men, but there were a lot of less-closely bound contract workers there too. Whilst he would be permitted to kill any of the human sub-species with impunity, getting rid of a hand-fasted wife from Domum-Orbis would be altogether harder. Questions would be asked. No point in him risking a rebellion… he would doubtless proceed softly at first. There would also be more than a few angry workers who had lost loved ones in the debacle with the obliterated ostium. Richard would be busy deflecting any blame and spreading word that the enemy military had done the damage.

Sitting on the bed, contemplating my options and trying to gather my shattered emotions together, I found that I couldn’t cry. Numbness had given way to anger and, with the anger, clear thinking asserted itself. My parents could not be brought back. Grief would have to wait until revenge was exacted for their stolen lives. I resolved to be ready when my moment came.

Certain that Richard would have me confined below ground, I half-heartedly tried the exit touch-pad… to my amazement the door slid open unimpeded. Presumably there was too much going on for the man to be worried about me. Reconnaissance was essential if I was going to do something to Richard and make a run for it. I had read widely about the era we had landed in. Only my skin markings would show up my alien origins. I was proud of the vivid blue of my markings in sunlight, but they could be covered up if needful. If only there was someone to escape with, someone who knew the locality and could get me far away. I thought of the man in the cave. I had saved him – if his thoughts were to be believed I had made a very distinct impression on him. I had the feeling that he might come looking for me and he mustn’t encounter any enforcers if he was to be kept safe. Surprised at the lack of guards I wandered along a corridor, taking an upward flight of steps, and emerged on to the surface… drew back momentarily as I saw Richard in the distance… organising something, ordering people about.

It was so good to be out in the fresh air and I was not alone in appreciating it. Quite a few others were emerging from below ground, taking advantage of the daylight and admiring a fresh and enticing sea that stretched out from the shore below the cliffs. We’d been a long way from the sea in the capital city on Domum-Orbis, so its close proximity here was another reason to celebrate our arrival in a new world. I already loved it there and could guess at Richard’s reasoning in allowing this initial ease of movement: keep the skilled technicians happy, given all that had happened. It would be later, once he felt secure, that freedoms would begin to be eroded.

Making my movements seem casual, I walked further than most and found a path heading down toward the cove. It was as if our minds had linked inexplicably. The human man’s and mine. Surely it wasn’t possible since he wasn’t one of ‘us’? But there he was, waiting for me, part way down. He was a well-looking man, no taller than me – not surprising, humans from this time-period were generally smaller than us (this I had gathered in my researches.) But he looked strong… muscled… capable of fighting. Something about his appearance affected me in a way I had not experienced before. I had felt something for Richard in the beginning, but this was very different. Looking back, I had been flattered by Richard’s attention, charmed by his interest in me. How incredibly naïve I’d been – with my parents paying the ultimate price. Or would we all have died anyway in the fighting? This man now… this human man, well his hair was an unusual red-brown that caught the light somehow and his eyes were a shocking blue, not the brown colour that most of our people were born with. There were oddities amongst us, of course, but few in the elite families. This was the best kind of good fortune: I registered from his surface thoughts that he was drawn to me, neither hostile nor wary. And I was not averse… He smiled. I let him speak first.

“Welcome to my world. I’m William Wrenn. Guessing you saved my life down in the cave. But what… who are you? I’ve never encountered anyone like you. And you spoke to me inside my head – how on this Earth do you do that. Are you an angel… a spirit?”

He didn’t seem afraid… though he should have been. My incursion into his thoughts read wonder and desire, but I would need to tread carefully if there was to be any chance at all that he might rescue me from Richard.

“Not an angel, not a spirit… just someone like you, but born across the heavens under different stars. In this time and place my name is Elizabeth. My mind was drawn to yours. Perhaps our meeting was meant to be.”

“Do your people come to conquer?”

“No, to hide. We are escaping from the war devastating our home-world… Domum-Orbis. There is one among us who might be a danger to your people, but he is my enemy too. However, I don’t believe he has any idea that you exist.”

Reluctantly, I decided that it would be dangerous to pursue our conversation so close to the complex.

“You should leave, and beware of coming too close to the cave in the future. Richard Anstey, the man in charge of this community, the one I was speaking of, he has armed guards and would regard you as a trespasser.”

“When and where can I see you again then?”

“It would be safer for you to forget you ever saw me… us.” I hoped he wouldn’t agree.

“Not a chance.” He grinned at me. “Never going to forget you… Elizabeth.” I didn’t tell him that he would forget me in a moment if one of Richard’s men wiped his mind. Or if I did.

“Nor I you… William.” I had to say it: he deserved some encouragement. “But I have to discover how closely guarded we are in the community. Is there a landmark along the shore, somewhere I could walk to at a particular time? The shore is less exposed than the cliff tops, and I fear that some kind of patrol will soon be organised to discourage local people from getting too close to the manor house that Richard has taken over.”

“Tomorrow, low tide should be just after sunrise. I could be west of here, another cave-complex, at around that time. I’ll look out for you.” His voice sounded gratifyingly eager and his thoughts concurred. He wanted to kiss me, I knew it, but I wasn’t ready. I don’t think he had any idea that I could read his mind. A hint of guilt made me feel uncomfortable and in a rush to leave.

“Make that the first low tide of the day. Look out for me each day, but I don’t know how free I’ll be to move about. I may not be able to come.” I turned, as I said it, feeling the wash of disappointment in his feelings, and walked away. Relented. Turned, waved and blew him a kiss. His face cheered up at that, and he made a show of pretend-catching it and touching it to his lips. Then he too turned and walked away. I knew I had my ‘out’ if I could only survive until I had an airtight plan.     

A Brief Respite

[The verse of poetry quoted part way through Elizabeth’s blog is from “Green Groweth the Holly” by Henry VIII, King of England (and can be found on the poetry foundation website poetryfoundation.org) SH]

I wasn’t eager to return to my underground room, but I needed time alone. It was essential to figure out a safe way that I could slip in and out of the complex if I was to create some kind of intimate relationship with this William Wrenn. And all without Richard ever suspecting what was going on. Already I found him… William, not Richard… rather distracting when we were together, which wasn’t exactly going to help me to think clearly. I assumed from my researches that we, as Aurigans, were sexually compatible with humans. It might come to that: making William love me might prove essential, and how better to do that than by allowing him to bed me? That didn’t seem so terrible. No-one had lain with me up until that point in my life. Richard Anstey, sure as hell, would not be allowed to ever. I had never really desired a male before, but I suspected that the rather strange and enticing feeling inside me could be my body telling me it was ready. If it was ready, then William Wrenn was the right man in the right place to answer that need.

Space to think and plan was denied me: Richard was waiting in my room when I returned. An enforcer was standing outside the open door. I knew I had to guard my tongue: the fierceness of my intention to take revenge and then escape was sufficient motive for keeping my emotions well hidden. Richard Anstey had to believe that he stood a chance with me, if I was going to escape his clutches. And I was going to escape. I had decided. If I couldn’t kill him, protected as he was, a large part of my revenge could simply be escaping… alive. That would drive him out of his mind with anger. The other part would be foiling his plans to bed and breed from me before I got away. I knew the way his mind worked. He would like to own a child, one who might be groomed to do his bidding. I could tell he was thinking of a child who might be born with the power I had, but one without the free will to foil his intentions. He would never have such a one from me. Besides, I had enough to worry about at present without a child to add to the burden. I wasn’t a motherly person. One day, maybe, but I wanted to live a life first. I wanted my mother back. Not possible. Richard Anstey stole her, and my father, from me. Somehow, he would pay for that. I didn’t have time for anything other than planning my revenge and escape. Richard was talking, the game was on.

Him: “Elizabeth! My dear, I thought you were grieving, so I left you alone, thinking you would prefer to be in your own space rather than settling straight in with me. Imagine my surprise at finding that you were absent.” I’d once admired Richard’s voice: now I hated it and heard the underlying threat in every word. Unexpectedly I thought of William’s – so guileless and eager.

Me: “You were right, Richard, I needed to be alone, that was thoughtful of you. I was feeling ill though, from the strain, and decided that a short walk would help. Fresh air. I can’t believe my poor parents are gone…”

Him: “I know, I know. Incredibly tragic. They were so close to safety: we all escaped from the attacking forces by the skin of our teeth. If only we’d left more promptly. If you’d been quicker with opening the ostium… not that I blame you, of course. No-one could have known the military were so close.”

I could feel my stomach rebel as I tried not to respond to his lie.

Him: “Shall I arrange for you to move into my rooms in the manor house immediately? They are a trifle disordered at present and I’m going to be busy with the transfer of the property into my name. My human lawyer is arranging things for a considerable fee. If you would prefer longer to grieve on your own, maybe visit the sanctuary to talk about your loss, then I shan’t insist on you being with me straight away.”

It wasn’t necessary to call on my empathic senses to be aware that he was still a little afraid of me. There could be no other reason for the delay. Ha. He had reason to be apprehensive, but I would wait until his guard was down and my path out of there was secure. I forced myself to say conciliatory words – it would be worth it in the long run:

Me: “I appreciate your understanding, Richard. I do need time to myself. If I stay in this room while you’re so busy and take some outdoor exercise to calm my mind, I shall look forward to joining you when my emotions are less in turmoil.”

Just you wait.” I thought to myself, keeping access to my mind severely locked down as he left.     

While Richard was preoccupied with his legal business, part of which – for some strange reason – involved burning down a section of the manor he’d acquired, he did leave me, thankfully, alone. I took that as fortuitous, for me at least, and didn’t enquire too deeply into the ‘accident.’ Perhaps the fire contained a not-so-subtle warning to potential dissenters: there were, from all accounts, bodies found within the burnt-out wreckage of the old servants’ quarters. None of my fellow travellers seemed to be missing. A ring of enforcers ensured that the fire and its aftermath were not closely examined, leave alone investigated. I won’t say I didn’t feel badly about whoever had died (and more than a little frightened at the thought that Richard Anstey might already be disposing of inconvenient humans with impunity.) But there was nothing I could do, other than take advantage of the continuing freedom Richard’s focus on such secretive business offered me.

Importantly, it left me at liberty to continue with the routine I was establishing. Visiting the library to expand my knowledge was an important part of that routine. There was no prohibition on borrowing books from the newly established complex facility and I wanted to continue to learn as much as possible about my new location. With this in mind, I focussed mostly on collecting volumes that were closest to the times we were inhabiting, together with earlier works that were valued by it. Chief amongst my prizes was a book that mentioned our home stars: the Aurigan constellation. Looking at Ptolemy’s ‘Almagest’ gave me a pang of homesickness for the world we had left behind and would never return to. It was impossible, however, to resist indulging in a few volumes from this Earth’s future as well. It would be handy to know what was in store for them… and now us.

In my visits, though, I was very cagey about speaking with the woman who was supervising library workers. It was Anne Gomfrey, Richard’s early helper, the one I disliked and suspected was jealous of me. Her small daughter was sitting quietly at one of the tables reading every day: the child’s face regularly looked red and blotchy from crying. I remembered the child had lost her father. I knew Anne’s husband had died in the ostium, but, unlike her daughter, she didn’t seem to be that bothered. It might have been simply that she was disguising her feelings in the same way that I was hiding my overwhelming grief for my parents, but I didn’t chance conversing in depth.

Far more important than the library visits, however, was being able to continue to meet with my hope for the future: Mister William Wrenn. Thinking strategically, I was glad we had agreed to meet as far away from the complex as possible that first time. From then on, we stayed on the shore and in the caves that were at the furthest accessible point from the cave we exiles had arrived in. Thus, my walks continued to be timed to coincide with the first low tide of the day and I was cautious. Whenever possible I only left the complex in the company of others who were taking exercise in their rest periods (I seemed to be the only one with no allocated tasks.) No-one else walked as far, so I was able to leave my companions behind and continue on, alone, as soon as I was out of sight of the above-ground manor buildings.

Avoiding speaking of my own situation, I encouraged William to tell me all about himself, the place he lived, his parents. I didn’t know how much to reveal of my own story, nor how quickly to proceed with the physical side of things. I didn’t want him to dismiss me as some ‘easy’ common slut. He seemed a little in awe of me, which was no bad thing. Men could turn in an instant. I thought of Lucia and Richard Anstey – the time when he was courting her. Also, I was experiencing some mixed emotions. I really liked this human man. I was becoming greedy for his company. I wanted to talk with him, laugh with him, touch him, kiss him and be kissed by him. What would happen if he knew about my ‘husband?’

Our time together was fast becoming the highlight of my existence. William showed me so much, knew so much about everything around us: shells on the beach; small sea creatures in the rock pools; birds who nested in the cliffs, ways to harvest a green juicy-leaved plant…samphire he named it… that clung higher up the cliffs. He didn’t seem at all like the men I had read about who inhabited this time and place. Though he did show off a little, to impress me, climbing, showing his agility and strength. More than once he picked me up bodily to carry me across wet sand or jump from one dry rock to another.

He also made me a lover of poetry – I had encountered verse from this time in the library, but poetry wasn’t something I had overly prized on Domum-Orbis. It became my favourite kind of literature when he held my hand and whispered in my ear verses such as:

As the holly groweth green

And never changeth hue,

So I am, ever hath been,

Unto my lady true.

and

Now unto my lady

Promise to her I make,

From all other only

To her I me betake.

Apparently, a former King of this place had written it. Henry, the eighth of his name. But when William whispered the words in my ear, I knew he was making a promise to me and only me. It was endearing: I knew he was declaring love, but keeping us both safe – for the moment at least – from having to deal with such a declaration. He didn’t know I could read his mind when he spoke the words. To be fair to me though, I was trying harder and harder not to take advantage of my knowledge of his thoughts. I just needed to be safe, and it made me so.

It was only under persistent persuasion that he spoke of his parents. I had gone so far as to admitting that mine had died when the rift closed and he had tried to comfort me. Hugged me close. There was bitterness in his voice (and thoughts) when he said that his father was a surly, angry man. Mister Wrenn senior had been a merchant in Exeter and had made sufficient profit there to buy a good property to retire to, one that brought in a tidy sum in rent income from surrounding farms on the estate. Accordingly, William told me, Humphrey Wrenn expected his wife and son to be grateful… every minute of the day. Which they were, but, as William put it, it was a difficult thing to be ever grateful and perpetually show it. I knew from the things he said that William happily worked hard around the property, but that his father always said it was unnecessary. Humphrey Wrenn wanted his son to study for the law and leave all manual work to servants. William told me, as near to being angry as I’d seen him, that his father’s idea was for William to travel to London: I could see how much he would hate it. William loved being where he was and had no desire to leave home for some indoor occupation. There was no support from his mother: Agnes Wrenn liked a quiet life and just wished that he wouldn’t argue and would do whatever pleased his father. William conceded that it was understandable: Humphrey Wrenn could and did make her life difficult when things didn’t go his way. William accepted that she viewed obedience as his prime filial duty. He supposed it was – and she reminded him of it frequently enough. Before I arrived, William told me that he had been thinking of leaving his parents’ house and travelling to his Uncle Samuel’s. His father’s older brother had inherited a not-inconsiderable estate from their parents. Further north, but not too far away. William’s long-dead paternal grandparents had bequeathed it, whole, to their elder son (the thought occurred to me that perhaps therein lay the secret of Humphrey’s dissatisfaction with life.) Now, though, William said he had no intention of leaving… unless by some glorious chance I was willing to leave with him. “Marry me,” he asked me, at last. Poor William, he didn’t know that his words would condemn him to death if Richard ever found out. Contrarily, despite it being what I had wanted and planned for; it suddenly wasn’t so easy to think of putting William’s life at risk.

“You don’t know me.” I avoided answering.

“Well tell me then.” Could I? I was afraid to.

“It’s complicated.” That was an understatement, but he was owed the truth.

I took a deep breath and started to tell him about Richard Anstey… my false husband… who had yet to claim me, but certainly would before too long…

Author Note: Spoiler alert. If you continue to read beyond this point you will know that my protagonists, Kat and Thomas, are wrong about something they surmise early on in Surviving Anstey: A Story of Love through Time and Space. You will know the truth well before they discover it. If that’s a problem, you may want to read the first book in my trilogy before filling in the background details with this prequel. Please be warned that there are also upsetting ‘adult’ scenes.

Elizabeth’s Revenge

We were deep in one of the sea caves, out of sight of anyone, when William asked me to marry him. After hearing about Anstey, he was especially tender, putting his arms around me and holding me close. We kissed… he told me how much he loved me…we were so near to doing something irrevocable. It was in my plan, why not carry through? My body certainly wanted to, desiring him as it had never done anyone before, but I was less and less inclined to risk something that would endanger his life. I kept trying to revert to a more pragmatic mindset. I had chosen a human to help me escape. I had decided to ensnare him by offering my body to bind him to me. Now, just when my plans were coming to fruition, why was I hesitating? But, hesitate I did. And William, well, he respected my wishes. I did read his mind then. His body wanted me too, but he was in love and would do nothing to harm me, attempt nothing that I was not in complete harmony with. How could I possibly risk the life of such a dear man? I clung to him as we parted that day. Half promising myself that I wouldn’t meet him again. Perhaps I could send a note – if I could trust one of my fellow exiles – warn him to flee the area? At some deep level I knew that I wasn’t that strong. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was as deeply in love with him as much as he with me. It made me vulnerable.

As if some sixth sense had alerted Richard Anstey, there were enforcers waiting to ‘escort’ me to my husband that same evening. If you were to take all the yearning and desire that I felt for sharing my body with William, but turn it into something equal and opposite, that would scarcely do justice to the repugnance I felt at the thought of Richard Anstey bedding me. I should have run, with William, long before. Crossing the courtyard to the manor buildings – an enforcer holding tightly to each arm – I was very afraid. Afraid but determined. If it cost me my life, my parents’ murderer, Lucia’s murderer, would never enjoy me. I was only sad to think of William, waiting in vain for me, never knowing what had happened. I should have written the note, warning him off. Knowing William, though, he might have come looking for me. Probably he still would. For the first time, I prayed to the God of my home world, no doubt the same God as the one of this Earth, to keep William safe. Whatever happened to me. I also prayed that William would know that I loved him. If I didn’t meet him again, I prayed he would understand that it hadn’t been my choice.

Enough maudlin thoughts. Action was what was needed now. Richard was not planning on needing to seduce his wife. I was his contracted property. The enforcers took me straight to the bedroom, opened the door and pushed me in. Shutting it behind me. Richard was looking in some mix of amusement and triumph, already bare chested. The sight of his body left me cold. He couldn’t see it, but something was unexpectedly stirring inside me, some aspect of my elite mind-powers I had not felt before. It was a fury, building, not entirely in my control. I kept it hidden from him. If he had cared about me as a person, he might have felt it. His arrogance was blinding him. Good. I didn’t know what I was capable of, but I knew it was the best chance I had of escaping the fate he had ordained for me.

Him: “I trust you intend to be a dutiful wife.”

I said nothing.

Him: “Remove your clothing. I should like to see what my contract has bought for me in return for arranging your escape from the war.”

I hesitated, momentarily, not quite ready to do anything. Then, to buy me more time, I did as he asked, noting the lustful look in his eyes. When he removed his breeches, I saw that he was more than ready to consummate the illegal hand-fasting. He noticed me looking and laughed.

Him: “You’ve eluded me for long enough. My men and I have had plenty of fun with any number of the local human females… it’s amazingly easy to wipe their minds afterwards and deal with any unfortunate results. This time, with you, it’s business as well as pleasure. I’ve proven fertile – dear Lucia, and others – we may soon have cause to celebrate. As soon as we know, you can return to your quarters in the complex. Hopefully it will be a girl with your powers. If you’re very good, I might let the child remain with you for a year or so. Before I take over her education and training. If it’s a boy, we can try again. Once you’re used to me, I’m sure your body will be more eager to respond.

Grabbing me by the arm and catching me off-balance, he shoved me down onto the bed.

Him: “Come on now, spread your legs a bit more dutifully for your contracted husband, I know you elite women think you’re better than everyone else, but I’m your master here. Relax and enjoy it. Lucia used to.”

It was now or never. The power surged through me, my mind breeched his, flooded him, mind and body both. Destroyed his ability to… He didn’t realise at first. Tried. Saw that his body was not responding as it should. Understood. Screamed at me; hit me; threw me onto the floor; kicked me. More than once. Ordered me to undo what had been done. Even through a haze of pain, I found that I was thinking clearly.

Me: “Can’t be undone. You may not want to advertise it to your private army. If you let me go to my own room, I won’t tell.”

I got up, unsteadily, and dressed. He stood there. I could tell that he couldn’t quite believe what had happened. Half-expecting his body to respond to me again. Which was never going to happen. Not for me, not for anyone else… ever.

Eventually he dressed himself. Red with rage. Hit me again, then coldly collected himself.

Him: “You can leave now. But you return here every evening. You will pay for this.”

He opened the door and handed me off to the two men who were waiting outside. I think they assumed that all had gone to plan. They must have heard noise, but could never have guessed what I had inflicted on their boss.

Him: “Same time tomorrow, dear wife.”

I had to give him credit for hiding what had happened from his men.

“Until tomorrow then, dear husband.” I mimicked his tone. Less chance of being found dead if I played along with the charade. Despite the fact that I was likely to be covered in bruises on the morrow I felt a quiet satisfaction. So much for him acquiring an elite child – or any other for that matter. His body was a dry desert. His line would end with him, but best of all, his body would never again find pleasure or release with any woman, human or Aurigan. Murderer, live your life sentence, I thought as I lay down, painfully, on my single bed in my single room in the complex.

The Aftermath

Next day I wasn’t feeling so good about things. Low tide was in one of its late-morning phases. I needed to see William. No reason I could allow myself to formulate. Just the need to have his arms around me and feel a touch that was gentle and kind and loving. I shook myself. I was strong, I could do this. Look how I’d dealt with Mister Richard Anstey. Except … except that the bruises hurt like hell, and, each and every time I closed my eyes, I could see the look of hatred in his eyes. No regrets about what I’d done. It was justice for murdered Lucia and for the daughter she’d borne who would grow up motherless. It was for my murdered parents. And, in the end, it was so that any child I might ever bear would not have such an evil man for a father. I was strong. I could survive. But I shivered at the thought of the revenge he might exact from me.

It occurred to me to visit the sanctuary and sit in silent contemplation for a while. What I’d done had drained me. I’d been warned of the detrimental effects of over-using the power inside me. Dream creation was one thing… and drug assisted. The opening of ostia, although it cost a massive effort to hold the image of the destination and its coordinates in a crazy in-mind balance, all while reaching out to tear a rift to the desired destination, was a positive feeling. To destroy was another thing entirely. Without my anger and fear, I doubted it was something I could call easily into being. It wasn’t just my mind at work. An elemental ancestral power had drawn on every inch of me and slammed into the correct centres of his mind and body to deliver that most poetic blow against him. My personal control had been minimal. I still didn’t know how I’d held back from annihilating him altogether. But the power had some sort of mind of its own. It followed that leaving him alive had been a calculation of its own. Part punishment. Part knowledge that his men were so well trained and indoctrinated that they would either have torn me limb from limb or sentenced me to death as part of the power struggle that would have emerged if I’d succeeded. No doubt his council held papers that would have dictated who the contracts he held would devolve to.

Christopher was there. In the sanctuary. His twin boys were with him, sitting quietly and reading. They were young to be doing that, I thought inconsequentially. Perhaps they weren’t. I had no experience with children.

“Can I help you with anything? Would you like me to send the boys to their mother?”

I managed a half-hearted smile. “Please don’t let me disturb you. I was in search of a quiet place to sit and meditate for a few moments. No problems, only a little tired.”

He smiled, in a friendly way. “You’re very welcome, stay as long as you like. If you want to be entirely alone, the inner sanctuary is empty. No ceremonies today. I’m only dealing with the inevitable paperwork.” Hesitantly, he added: “I’m holding a memorial for those who died in the ostium. In two-days’ time. I’m hoping you’ll be there. I know your husband is against the idea, but he hasn’t actually said ‘no.’ There would be riots… our traditions are solidly built into the contracts.” He shut up quickly. Obviously, he didn’t know how far he could trust me.

It seemed a good idea to have at least some of my fellow refugees on my side, though I didn’t dare confess the truth about the hand-fasting. “I should appreciate being here. It will mean a lot to me. I won’t advertise it to my husband,” the word choked in my throat: “He and I don’t always share our views on such matters. Especially since the catastrophe with the ostium.”

“Enemy soldiers, I understand.” Christopher was probing.

“So I’ve been told.” I couldn’t go any further. My trust might be misplaced. “Look, thank you for your time. I must go for my walk now – I’ll see you at the memorial, let me have a note of the time.” I hurried towards the door, but Christopher placed a hand on my arm.

“If you ever need to talk, I’m here.”

“Thank you.” I left in a hurry, the temptation to talk was too strong and I dared not risk it. The boys looked up and smiled at me, politely, as I exited through the open doorway, turning briefly to wave to them.

After that I did not delay any further. I would be early meeting William, but I didn’t care. Better to lurk in a cave and wait for him to arrive, than remain inside where Richard Anstey might find me.

Alternating Heaven and Hell

My days thereafter alternated between heaven and hell.

Heaven was time spent with William, kissing, holding each other so close, and then, finally, succumbing to the desire that neither of us could fight against. I did with William what I would never have done with Anstey. It was unforgettable…his love, his gentleness, and then his passion. He was my first and I swore he would be my only. We were living a life out of time and careless of anything but each other: an Aurigan and a human, joining our lives together. But eventually, there were consequences. All at once, there was another life to protect. For the first time in my own life, there were two other lives that mattered more than mine ever could: William’s and the child’s. A girl, I was sure of it, my power ebbed and flowed around the edges of her as it strove to identify this new being that was a part of us.

Hell was my evenings with that brutal man. There was scarcely an inch of my body left without bruising. Only my face was unmarked. Anstey hid his treatment of me from everyone else. My threat to expose him to ridicule obviously held sway over his desire to punish me endlessly.

My fear was of what William might risk. His anger when he realised what was happening was startling in its ferocity. I couldn’t make him fully understand the kind of man Anstey was…cruel, that he understood, that he wanted to do battle with, but the long-burn vindictiveness that I sensed in Richard. If he thought William had achieved what he, himself, had wanted to do, there was no way that he wouldn’t hunt down the man I loved and destroy him.

William countered my argument by voicing his concern that our baby could be damaged by Anstey’s treatment of me. I countered his by saying that if William tried anything and was killed, then both the baby and I would be as good as dead. Even if William succeeded in killing Anstey, then his enforcers and his committee would exploit the situation as they vied for control, and we would both be put to death should we survive. We had to work together on a plan, not rush into a fight without some concrete idea of how we might escape.

At the same time as all of this was going on, I became aware that I wasn’t a lone sufferer at Anstey’s hands. There was unrest amongst others of the exiles, mutterings from families where elderly parents had perished in the ostium, and even more from those who had travelled with young children. Anstey had come up with a plan to remove youngsters to school them in classes controlled by the committee and enforcers.

It was, on the face of it, exactly what happened as a matter of course on Domum-Orbis. But there were differences. Attending appropriately graded schooling was compulsory back home. However, those who taught were properly accredited as teachers and the academies were regulated and rigorously inspected. Each child was sent to an institution appropriate to their birth grade. However, they could expect a fairly rounded education before moving on to places like the EWF or university or straight into appropriate workplaces.

In exile, Anstey was the sole arbiter of what happened in his school. Fighting and other enforcement activities were to be taught, alongside the bare minimum of skills needed to keep the complex running smoothly. The children were to be groomed to continue fulfilling their parents’ contracts in due course, naturally, but this seizure of the children was something more than that. Anstey’s values were to be perpetuated.

With my days and evenings so occupied, it was difficult to find out exactly what was happening. Apparently, all the children over the age of five or six years had been removed from the complex and placed in a prison-like building on the surface. Part of the old manor was given over to this enterprise, and, despite being right next to the complex, parents were being denied all further contact with their children.

All talk of leaving the complex to settle in the surrounding area, attempting to fit in with the local populace, was at an end. One of Anstey’s lures to attract the workers he needed, a benefit that had been expressly promised, verbally, was withdrawn.

The ones who were the most disaffected, because their children had, in their view, been ‘snatched,’ were all technical families. Parents who had thought they would be allowed to teach and train their own children in their new home. There was a library after all. Christopher Notfeld and his wife Mary were amongst these. I thought of their twin boys, reading so quietly in the sanctuary just a few weeks ago. Was Anstey’s savagery a direct result of his fury at me, or had he always intended this outcome?

Christopher sympathised with the loss of my parents, others I was introduced to were more suspicious of me, being Anstey’s wife, but Christopher and Mary argued on my part. A plan was being hatched. There were about fourteen in on it, I wasn’t privy to the names of the others: they didn’t volunteer them when we met. Afraid that their children might be injured in any fighting, and that they would be easily overwhelmed, they planned to steal horses and money and to ride out from the complex early one morning. They intended to leave when Anstey was away: he rode off with enforcers on a regular basis, on some business or other. I didn’t take a lot of notice of the rest of their plans: I didn’t intend that anyone else should find out about William. He and I would do things differently, I decided. Vaguely I registered that they were going to set up somewhere to stay and later sneak back one night, under cover of darkness, to retrieve their children and take them to the new homes that would be awaiting them by that time. I wished them luck with the idea, but privately, knowing Richard Anstey as well as I had come to do, I thought their chances were slim. William and I would have to be a lot more devious.

Preparations

William was going to be away for a few days. He didn’t want to be parted from me—always afraid for my safety, however much I tried to hide the terror Richard Anstey aroused in me. Not having William close was going to be unbearable. I was living on a knife’s edge, expecting at any moment that Anstey would discover my pregnancy and destroy our child—and us—before we could get away. Hating the necessity, I had to pretend a nonchalance that I was far from feeling as William kissed me one last time and I waved him ‘goodbye.’

That day, we’d made love in the cave in which we met most days. Only in the storms, when the sea was too fierce—lashing angrily at the rocks along the shore-line—did we miss the chance of being together. Standing there alone, once his figure had receded into the distance and knowing we would be three or four days apart, was horrible. But there were arrangements to make and no-one else could do it.

The escape would be soon; I knew that much. For certain, the others wouldn’t wait for me. William had to make sure everything was in place so that we could depart on the same night. Our plans were set, but there were lots of urgent details to take care of in order for us to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I suspected that the second the group made its final decision on the date and time of departure, that would be the first moment I would have any inkling that the escape was underway. At that point I would still have to contact William. There were arguments amongst my co-conspirators and a reluctance that I should know too much about their intentions in advance. I was grateful to Christopher Notfeld who argued eloquently on my behalf. The less I said about William to this Aurigan gathering the better. They wanted their secrets; I was equally determined to protect mine.

Luckily, William knew someone with a small, somewhat-ancient sailing-vessel which he was arranging to buy. He was familiar with boats, had gone fishing a lot with local friends before it became another thing his father had forbidden. Although we planned to leave when the others did, they were heading out on horseback, whilst our intention was to put out to sea and follow the coast around to the estuary at Barnstable. At some safe point on the journey, we were going to ditch the boat, smash it on the rocks, and make it appear as if we had drowned. William’s first task that day was to consolidate arrangements with an old acquaintance of his. The man was going to meet us at a pre-determined point with horses, supplies and dry clothing. Today William was taking the money to seal the bargain and organise a go-between to send notice of the date and time. Once that was all sorted out, William was going to travel on to his Uncle Samuel’s house and pave the way for us to stay with him. The idea worried me, but William assured me that he had always gotten on well with his godfather before his own father, Humphrey Wrenn, broke off all relations with his brother and that branch of the family. He assured me, once again, that he liked and trusted his uncle.

That was the last part of the plan we were currently preparing. We had to know that there would be somewhere safe for us to head to, somewhere far away and untraceable. William’s uncle would have to understand that we were running from someone dangerous, that I was expecting his godson’s child, and, most importantly, that William’s parents must never know our location or even that their son was alive. William didn’t trust them not to give us away if they learned where he had fled to. His father’s anger was of the abusive kind. Maybe even a pale human version of Anstey: if William rejected him, together with the life his father expected him to lead, then he would be quick to find some means of revenge. The less he knew the less he could let slip, and, if he thought his son was dead, so much the better. But far more important than Humphrey Wrenn thinking his son had drowned, Anstey had to believe that I was dead, together with the human who had contrived at my escape. That man would never imagine I had found love with someone from an inferior species. The way Anstey’s mind worked was predictable; he would only believe that I had paid someone to smuggle me away. Hopefully, he would also be convinced that I had perished in the attempt to get away from him.

When I returned to the complex, I hoped for some continued respite from Anstey’s beatings. The self-proclaimed director had been missing for a few days. Rumour suggested he and selected enforcers had been meeting with pirates from the off-shore island of Lundye. I didn’t want to know; I was just grateful for his absence. What frightened me most was that I was suffering from sickness, the kind that happened to women who were carrying. Unable to control the violent spasms, I was petrified that Anstey would guess at the reason. Instead of heading straight for my room, I went instead to the infirmary, hoping to come up with an excuse good enough to acquire some remedy that would bring relief from the morning’s heaving into the privy.

Entering the infirmary, I hadn’t intended to confess my situation to anyone, but I was greeted by a particularly friendly young woman, someone I had seen conversing with Christopher Notfeld on numerous occasions. (I say she was young, but not so young as me: I reckoned she was in her mid-to-late twenties, against my eighteen years.) It wasn’t difficult to hazard a guess that she was one of those who would form part of the group intending to escape. Christopher had mentioned that the woman’s son, Stephen, was one who had been taken for Anstey’s ‘school.’ She knew about the baby, of that I was certain, despite her mind being guarded against me. If anything, I was the vulnerable one: she was an empath, so my emotions were an open book to her. I didn’t know her name and she didn’t entrust me with it. She gave me the medicine I needed but was clearly puzzled.

Her: “Why do you wish to leave the safety of the complex when you are bringing new life into the world?”

Me: “You know what he’s like. I don’t want my baby born into this place and taken away from me.”

I had hit a nerve. When she examined me, insisting that it was important to check that all was well, she saw the bruising. I heard her breathe in sharply, but she said nothing as I re-arranged my clothing.

Her: “I will join Christopher in persuading the others to ensure you are part of our escape.”

I thanked her, feeling happier than I had since saying farewell to William.

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