Friday, May 04, 2007

Return From The North.

Sebastian was clearly confused: it didn’t take Carol and Gregory long to accept that he knew nothing about the cottage, beyond my telling him the ghost story. Carol, since there was no secret to protect anymore, told him everything she’d told me. Sebastian looked at me in disbelief.
“So where was she?” He said to Carol, still looking at me. “When her powers failed. What was she doing?”
“She was elsewhere. She mostly was. She described it as a brighter world, of which this world was only the shadow. The town was here, and her home, but it was not this town.”
“She hid in other realms.” Added Gregory. Carol described him as Naima’s creditor, but she never said what the debt was for. Sebastian asked for her state to be described again, but not by me.
“And who else knew?” He asked.
“No one. Absolutely.” Carol and Gregory agreed. “That’s why we’re here. There’s no one else. We haven’t even told our closest friends.”
“I meant, who else knew where she was last Halloween, and then heard the ghost story.”
“And then saw us arguing in the street, like oiks.” Carol shook her head.
“It’s not an easy conclusion to reach, but if someone knew her power.” Sebastian let the thought hover. Carol couldn’t believe that anyone who knew her could wish her harm. “But that was before she became so valuable.”
“Why would anyone steal her?” I asked. I understood that she was fascinating, but valuable?
“Desperation. It sounds as though she had the potential to be…” Sebastian looked at Carol and chose safer words… “Worth attention. If she’s holding on to a magical realm, or at least her means of reaching there, then she could be a key. Or at the very least, a foot in the door. Either way, there’s evident potential.”
“For what?”
“For the return of magic.”
Gregory curved over uncomfortably on his seat. Carol looked amazed and then puzzled: “But what will they do to her?”
“Hard to say. They need her alive, obviously. But, do they care if she’s safe? The best parallel I can offer, is that she’s the mouth of a mine – the wealth of which is magic. The priority for those who exploit a mine is efficiency, not the well being of the way in. I really wish you’d come to me sooner.”
“And what could you have done?” Asked Gregory. I wasn’t sure where he stood on the idea of exploitation – again there was the issue of her debt. Was he appalled at Sebastian’s clarity on the issue, or was he sore about an opportunity missed? It was odd how he and Jack had tended on her, like a bonsai tree – as though obliged by both duty and a sense of opportunity.
“I would like to have seen her.” Sebastian said, to me.

He returned from Edinburgh last night, and went straight from the hotel to his girlfriend. This morning he let me know that Edinburgh had been a washout – with only second-hand reports of seeing Challoner, and sketchily, similar faces. To the once-magicians he was only ever a groupie, or a voice on the phone. It was unlikely they’d know him for sure.
“Any news on your ghost?” He asked.
“None. The woman you met has gone home. So’s that bloke. We swapped numbers, but I doubt I’ll call them.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me earlier.”
“How d’you mean?” I’d found out about Naina on my own; it was my thing. I don’t understand how Sebastian’s decided to assume this authority over me, or claim ownership of anything magical, this moral propriety.
“You should have told me about her, after you’d been to the cottage. You know you should’ve done. What did you hope to accomplish there on your own?”
“I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I was just… looking I suppose.” I was sure I’d been helping somehow.
“Precisely. I never expected you to let me down quite so badly.”

His disappointment hollowed out the questions I’d been storing up about Naina and what he’d meant by exploiting her, or what he could have done himself. Of course he’s right, that his expertise would have been useful from the start, but it’s too easy to say that now. It’s too easy to confuse a person’s worth with their position and their true self.


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