Jennifer had been becoming accustomed to life in the cellars and, whilst it was frequently arduous and often painful, it no longer held the dread that she had first held it in. It was, as Rachel had said, a very safe environment, even cosy in some bizarre way. You felt cocooned in the cellars, protected in some way and whilst many of the experiences were difficult to understand there was at least the comfort in knowing that they were not incomprehensible and that they were not random but carefully controlled. There was a security in knowing that one’s fate was held in the hands of competent and commanding people who meant nothing but the best for one. No sooner had Jennifer come to this comforting accommodation with her situation however when an event occurred that threatened to turn this secure little microcosm upside down.
In the early afternoon following her examination at the hands of Dr Chandra Jennifer had been put through the sort of barrage of tests that were by now becoming a familiar part of the day’s routine. At about the time that Rebecca, Julie, Alice and Debra were just beginning their afternoon meal Rachel had drifted off to attend to some undefined duties and Sebastian had politely requested Jennifer to accompany him for her daily whipping. Jennifer had sighed and followed Sebastian, her body already tingling in anticipation of the lash’s sting. It had been a repetition of the previous day’s ordeal but Jennifer had found it easier to take merely through its familiarity. She’d been restrained in the same way with her wrists held high above her and Sebastian had snaked the whip around her body re-igniting the smouldering embers in her flesh and drawing screams from her throat as she struggled futilely against her bonds. But there’d been an end to it and Sebastian had mercifully slackened her chains so that she could at least sink gratefully to her knees before leaving her to suffer alone. For the next hour or so she’d been left chained in the odd nether space beyond the agony of the whip whilst her breathing returned to normal and the burning welts on her flesh subsided into a background throbbing. She was learning tranquillity and patience, knowing that soon Rachel would come for her and soothe her pains with gentle caresses and her loneliness with her beloved presence. She smiled in relief and anticipation as she heard the soft footfall of bare feet enter the chamber from under the big arch behind her and she turned in greeting.
“Rachel…” she began but the words froze on her lips. It wasn’t Rachel. Walking under the arch into the big circular chamber was a woman that Jennifer had never seen before. In an instant the hair on the back of Jennifer’s neck bristled in sudden fear. The woman seemed an apparition, eerily strange as she walked slowly into the chamber. She was quite naked but it was not this that leant an air of incongruity and sinister appearance. For one thing she was completely bald, in fact there was no bodily hair at all on her. Her skin seemed unnatural too. It was so pale as to be almost white, translucent even and this gave her a wraith like appearance as she glided into the chamber. She didn’t even seem to see Jennifer. Her eyes seemed misty and focussed far away. Her walk was almost robotic and her arms dangled limply by her side. She hardly even seemed to be breathing and her silent movement was uncanny. “Er ….h… hello.” quavered Jennifer fearfully but the strange woman didn’t appear to hear her as she walked trance like across the chamber. “C… can I help you miss?” Jennifer said but her words sounded foolish even as she said them and she hardly knew what sort of assistance she could possibly render whilst chained up in the middle of the chamber. The woman drifted on and through without the slightest acknowledgement of Jennifer’s presence and for one awful moment Jennifer thought that she would simply walk through the solid rock of the chamber walls. But the ghostly woman merely walked out through another arch and disappeared down a long corridor leaving Jennifer staring wildly after her.
Until this apparition the whipping chamber had felt almost comfortable to Jennifer, warm and soothing in its gentle light. Now however it felt as if a chill breeze had blown under the arches and frozen the air with fear and uncertainty. Jennifer felt herself trembling and close to panic. The ghostly visitation had deeply unsettled her and now she was chained and helpless in a haunted chamber. She shook at her chains almost begging them to release her so that she could fly from this terrible place. Now all the shadowy arches leading off from the chamber seemed portals of doom from which any sort of supernatural being might emerge. Her eyes darted from one to another in terror and always back to the one from which the strange female had departed, dreading her return. Could ghosts harm you? Was there anything more substantial to the fear they inspired other than that of the unknown? Could they spirit you off into some awful nether world of living death or something? Jennifer was whimpering in fear. Summoning her courage she called out aloud “RACHEL! HELP ME!” but her cries just echoed in the high vaults of the chamber and she fell silent.
Another thought occurred to her. Perhaps this was just another test of her courage. Perhaps Rachel had simply sent this strange woman to frighten her and test her reactions. If so Jennifer was failing badly at the test for she was badly shaken and all her lessons of tranquillity and forbearance were useless against this soul sapping fear. She swallowed the bile that had risen in her throat and fiercely tried to compose herself. She closed her eyes and counted slowly to fifty willing calm to possess her. Fear was useless. She was chained and helpless and must accept whatever happened to her. Wasn’t that the lesson of these cellars? Didn’t they teach you tranquillity in the face of the inevitable? Fear was only useful if you could use its imperatives to fight or flee. There was not the slightest point in fearing the whipping you could not avoid. It was just to be endured. It was the courage of the condemned. The hangman was a friend. He merely helped you quickly through that which must occur. And weren’t we all condemned? Wasn’t the fear of dying simply an obstruction to the enjoyment of life? Why waste one’s time in terror of that which must inevitably occur? Weren’t whole religions founded on the premise of fear? Didn’t we spend so much of our time in penitent prayer just because we were afraid to die? Wasn’t the promise of heaven just a way for a person to avoid the inevitability of death? Wasn’t this the reason why we enslaved ourselves to beings we could not even see? Wasn’t God after all just the Master that, in exchange for our worship, took our fears away and told us that we would not die?
Yet then what point had fear at all? Did fear have a true purpose? It was a condition inherent in every a****l and the more intelligent the a****l the more it appeared to manifest itself. It was an emotion tested in the crucible of evolution. Were it useless then it would have been discarded long ago. Fear must be necessary, a survival characteristic of life. Therefore it must be welcome, a state of mind to be as honoured as much as that of pleasure or love. And why? Because of course not everything was inevitable. Only if you were completely fatalistic did fear have no meaning. If you believed that you had absolutely no control over anything in your life then of course there was no reason whatsoever to be afraid. It only made sense to be frightened of those things that you could actually do something about. And there was one of Her Ladyship’s “teardrops of wisdom” there wasn’t there. Wasn’t there an old saying that you could paraphrase in that, “be frightened of those bad things you can change, accept with equanimity those you can’t and learn the wisdom to tell the difference.” Then Jennifer heard the soft footfalls of bare feet on the stone floors and was frightened all over again.
She leapt to her feet and span around on her chains, her eyes wide with dread. Rachel was stood at the archway looking at her quizzically. “Why Jennifer what ever is the matter? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost!”
“I have Rachel!”
“Good grief girl! What’s all this nonsense now?”
“Oh Rachel please! Did you send her here?”
“What? Who? Whatever are you talking about Jenny?”
“The woman Rachel! The strange woman!”
“S… she was bald and… and had white skin and….” Jennifer trailed off. If she’d been frightened a minute ago then she was doubly afraid now for the bl**d had drained out of Rachel’s face and she was staring at Jennifer in abject horror and shock. Rachel seemed to stagger back against the wall covering her mouth with her hands.
“Oh Goddess! Oh no! I… I must have… “
“What is it Rachel? Tell me!”
“When Jennifer? When? When did you see her?”
“I don’t know Rachel. Perhaps twenty minutes ago. What’s the matter?”
But Rachel was darting around now, her gaze flitting around the archways leading off the chamber in a state approaching panic. “Wh… where is she? Which way did she go Jenny? Tell me quickly!”
“D… down that passage there Rachel. Please tell me what the matter is.” But Rachel was flying to the passage to peer down its dimly lit length, sobbing frantically.
“Oh Goddess! Not that way!”
“Rachel please calm yourself!”
Rachel looked back at her wild-eyed and flew to the machinery on the wall that held Jennifer’s chains. As the chain grew loose she was at Jennifer’s cuffs releasing her desperately with trembling hands. “You must help me Jennifer. Please! You must help me! Oh Goddess!”
“Help you do what Rachel?” Jennifer was staring in shock at her mentor. She had never seen her so frantic with terror. A trembling wreck of a woman had replaced the almost sublimely tranquil Rachel.
“You must help me find her Jenny. We’ve got to find her! Oh Jenny! If you love me then please help me now!”
With her hands free Jennifer took hold of Rachel’s wrists fiercely and spoke commandingly to her. “Calm Yourself Rachel! You’re pregnant remember! You’re getting into a terrible state! I can’t help you unless you tell me what’s happening. Who is that woman?”
Rachel was sobbing feverishly “She’s … she’s a woman that I… well I’m caring for Jenny. I left her in her cell over an hour ago. I… I must have left the door open! Oh Goddess she seemed alright then! Jenny we’ve got to find her! She… she doesn’t know what’s happening Jenny. She could get lost or fall down a pothole or anything down there! We’ve got to try and find her and get her back to her cell!”
“OK! We’ll go after her Pixie! But please calm yourself! Remember your baby!”
“Y… you’re right Jenny.” Rachel took a deep breath. “Please Jennifer. This is very important. I… I’m responsible for that lady. If anything happens to her….”
“We’ll find her Rachel. She can’t have gone very far. She was walking very slowly. Is she ill or something?”
“N… no Jenny. Please let’s find her. I’ll explain later. I promise I will.”
Jennifer leapt up decisively. “Come along then Pixie lets follow her. But let’s not panic ok! You’ll miscarry if you get yourself any more worked up!” The two women strode briskly down the passageway the strange woman had disappeared into but Jennifer curbed Rachel’s desire to break into a dead run. Along the gloomy passage they were negotiating it was asking for an accident and in any case Jennifer was worried about Rachel’s condition. The passage seemed interminably long and it was unfamiliar to Jennifer. “Where does this gallery lead?” she asked.
“We don’t normally come down this way Jenny. It leads away from the Hall and into the caves under the grounds and beyond. I know some of it but I’ve never gone too far in this direction. Up ahead there’s a maintenance chamber and a lot of branches off the main gallery. There’re some flashlights there so if she’s gone any further down into the caves we can pick up a couple of torches. It’s dark beyond there! Oh Goddess! There’re all sorts of big holes and side passages beyond that! Let’s hurry please! She could be lying at the bottom of a pothole even now!”
“Can’t we call out to her?”
“She won’t hear us Jenny!”
“She…. Well she’s asl**p.”
“You mean she’s sl**p walking?!”
“Yes! She’s walking in her sl**p. She’s hardly aware what’s going on around her. She could just walk straight into a hole and never even see it.” It made sense when Jennifer thought about it. The trance like state of the pale woman had been almost zombie like in its measured tread. There were also a few other things beginning to make sense.
“These “other jobs” you’ve been having to do the last couple of days Rachel. They were about her weren’t they? You’ve been looking after her!”
“Yes Jenny, and others like her.”
“You mean there are more women like that down here?”
“Six all told Jenny. Look I’ll explain later. Let’s just find her!”
“All right Rachel! But you’ve got an awful lot of explaining to do!”
“I know Jenny! Look here’s the maintenance cabinet. Start praying that the torches in there have working batteries!” Thankfully they did and the powerful flash lamps gave out reassuringly strong beams. That was one problem solved. Of greater importance was the fact that the gallery now deviated into five separate branches and there was not the slightest clue on the face of it which passageway their quarry had taken. Rachel leaned against the wall desperately trying to think. “Goddess! Let me do something right today for heaven’s sake!” After some moments she came to a decision. “Ok the two branches on the left I think go back towards the Hall. She probably won’t come to much harm there and we ought to be able to find her. That passage on the extreme right ends in a dead end after a few hundred yards if I remember correctly and there are no hazards down there so she’d just come to a halt. That leaves the other two. Both of those carry on into the caves and I’m not sure of the routes. We’ve got to explore those first however because they’re potentially the most dangerous.”
“Shall we take one each?”
“Goddess No! Let’s not get split up for goodness sake!”
“Listen Rachel there are some chalk sticks in that cabinet. Let me go down this passage as far as I can until it gets too difficult whilst you wait here in case she comes back. If I draw marks on the walls I‘ll be able to find my way back. I promise I won’t get too far. Let’s just try and eliminate one of these passages.”
“Jenny No! It’s too dangerous!”
“Rachel we’ve got to do it this way! If we both go down there and she doubles back we could lose her completely. I’ll be careful! I promise I will!”
“Perhaps we should go back to the Hall and organise a search party.”
“By which time she’s lying at the bottom of a pothole Rachel! Please let’s do it my way to begin with. If it doesn’t work we can call out a search party.”
“I can’t let you do this Jenny! You’re too valuable.”
“Then let me prove my value Rachel! I can do this! I know I can!” It was true. Jennifer felt a great surge of confidence in herself. Her own fears were gone and there was a steely determination and focus in its place. She might have reflected at that moment that one’s own fears became irrelevant when faced with the necessity of protecting and saving one far more vulnerable than oneself. She’d been afraid of the strange lady but now she was afraid for her. Her earlier fear had robbed her of reason, her new fear had empowered her with terrible resolve and there was a curious revelation present in those seemingly irreconcilable aspects.
Rachel looked at her and saw the Goddess ascendant in the set face of her protégé and surrendered to its power. “Please be careful then Jenny! If you’re in the slightest doubt or danger turn back! Promise me you’ll turn back!”
“I will! Trust me! If I find her what do I do Rachel?”
“If she’s still walking just take hold of her gently but firmly. If you can, turn her around and guide her gently back here. Talk quietly and reassuringly to her. Just let her walk back at her own pace. Try not to wake her! It might be dangerous. If she’s lying down and safe for the moment fly back here and fetch me. If she’s hurt then just shout. Your voice will carry though these galleries.”
“Ok I’ll do my best Rachel. Now please sit down and recover your breath. I’ll find her!
“Do…. Do be careful Jenny!
“I will!” Then Jennifer was gone moving quickly down the dark high vaulted gallery. The flashlight’s beams reflected back off myriads of shining crystals in the rock walls and illuminated the caves in front of her. It was cooler down here than in the habitable regions she was used to but the bl**d rushing into her muscles with the imperatives of urgency warmed her nakedness and she scarcely noted the chill. Within a few hundred metres she came to a fork in the gallery. It was the moment she had dreaded for now she was faced with a terrible choice. Agonising in indecision she shone her light into both passageways. The left hand one seemed to slope downwards gently whereas the right hand one took a sharpish upward incline. If you were sl**p walking which way would your feet carry you most easily she wondered. In sudden decision she chose the left hand fork leaving a streak of blue chalk on the wall. Some distance into the passageway however the incline became steeper and she began to worry if her decision was right after all. Surely this would have tested the strange lady’s entranced gait. Nevertheless she hurried on. Another few hundred metres further along the gallery made her decision for her. The floor suddenly dropped sharply down a series of high rough steps. They were easy to scramble down but surely impossible to walk down in your sl**p. Desperately Jennifer scrambled down the steps having to use her hands on occasion and scratching her leg on the rough stone. At the bottom the floor of the passage evened out once more and carried on gently further back into the void.
But Jennifer had seen enough. If the lady had come this way she would be surely lying injured at the bottom of this steep descent. She climbed back up hastily and retraced her steps back to the fork in the gallery. The incline of the right hand fork did not last long and soon it too was descending albeit gently. There was a gallery leading off this but it was only some fifty metres long before coming to a dead end and quickly eliminated. The main passage seemed to go on forever however and as she moved along it she could hear a distant echoing rumble. The gallery made a long sweeping turn to the left and the noise became louder. Then in front of her was a big yellow and black sign on a trestle saying “DANGER!” The sign was no impediment to one who could not read it however and she pushed on without hesitation although with greater caution. Then the passage way opened out into a high vaulted cave. Here the noise was close and thunderous. With a shock Jennifer saw that, at the far end of the cave, the floor disappeared. She approached the divide tentatively, her senses screaming caution. At her feet was a great open chasm and a thunderous noise emerged from it. She recognised the noise as the roar of masses of running water down below her feet. She examined the chasm carefully, flashing the beam of her torch around it. It was passable she saw. There was a ledge that followed the curve of the cave wall along one side of the frightful hole that with care could be negotiated. She could negotiate it that is. A person walking in their sl**p… never! Then if the lady came this way then…. It didn’t bear thinking about. The only other possibility was that the lady was already down that awful hole. On her belly Jennifer crept to the edge of the gaping pothole. She shone her light down it. It seemed to have a kink in it and she could not see the bottom but the noise and dampness emerging from it left her in no doubt that it ended in some imposing subterranean torrent. If the lady had fallen here then she had not caught at the kink but fallen down beyond and must surely now be dead.
If so then any further examination here was useless. She was wasting time when the lady could still possibly be alive elsewhere. She scrambled back from the chasm edge and turned back, running as quickly as she dared. It was a long way back to where she had left Rachel. She was astonished by just how far she had come. She wondered, in one moment of panic, if she had missed some branch in the caves after all and in spite of her caution was now terribly lost but then there was a distant gleam of light and gasping in relief she found her way safely back. Rachel was nearly beside herself with worry peering with growing anxiety down the passage into which Jennifer had disappeared. Her relief was palpable when Jennifer re-emerged. “Oh Goddess Jenny! Are you alright?”
“I’m fine Rachel really!”
“Jenny you’ve hurt yourself!” Rachel was pointing to a trickle of bl**d down Jennifer’s thigh in horror.
“Oh Rachel it’s only a scratch!” Jennifer felt bemused by Rachel’s concern. This after all was a woman who after all had her beaten daily to the point of agony and yet here she was worried about a trifling sc**** that Jennifer hadn’t even noticed.
“You didn’t find her then?”
“No she can’t be down that passage Pixie.” Jennifer hoped she was telling the truth. There was no need however to worry Rachel just yet with the possibility that the lady was at the bottom of that pothole, her broken body being carried swiftly away by the underground river. “I’ll try the other passage now.”
“Look Jenny I don’t know if this is a good idea. What if something happens to you?”
“It won’t Rachel. I’m getting used to it now and I’m being very careful. Now let me go!”
“Please take care Jenny. Our Mistress would never forgive me if you came to any harm!”
“I’ll be fine.” In a twinkling Jennifer was up and away down the other gallery. It was true she was getting used to it by now. Her formidable sensory capabilities had turned on and she was a walking bundle of switched on nervous system. The torch was just an aid. She felt she could easily find her way in the dark so finely tuned were her senses. That lady, had she come this way must have walked in the dark. How had she found her way? Jennifer felt the stone on her bare feet feeling the path in front of her. At times, to orient herself, she closed her eyes and walked slowly until she bumped gently against the walls of the caves and used the contact to direct her forward. So must the lady have wended her way through here had she come this way. Jennifer came to yet another off branch but she quickly discarded it. The roof came so low that the lady would have banged her head. You could only pass that way bent down.
Two more offshoots ended abruptly, one in a stone wall and the other in a steel mesh gate that closed the passage off. Her eyes everywhere, Jennifer penetrated deeper and deeper into the system. Another fork caused her to think hard. The right arm of it however had a very broken floor with a considerable amount of rubble lying about. Not difficult to walk across with plenty of light and watching where you put your feet but a nightmare to cross with your eyes closed without stumbling. Jennifer pressed on down the left hand turn. From somewhere deep within this passage Jennifer could detect another noise. It was a deep throbbing hum almost on the edge of her hearing. She rather felt it in her diaphragm than heard it audibly but it was a persistent nagging background tone. Then she came to a wide-open cavern. As she flashed the lamp around she despaired. The cavern seemed huge and there were numerous openings leading from it. In the centre was a still dark pool of water several metres across and there were large piles of Rubble s**ttered about. There was evidence of human activity here too. It seemed as if this gallery had once been mined. There were rusting pieces of machinery, old desiccated piles of rough timber, even some old rails on the floor and old rusting trolleys. Jennifer shone her lamp around seeking some clue. The light caught something pale perhaps a hundred metres to her left. The woman was sat in strange isolation on a stone ledge next to an old derelict machine of some description.
Jennifer gasped in relief! Perhaps the woman had wandered about in here bumping into the many obstacles until some inner sense had made her sit down on one and go no further. Whatever the reason she seemed unharmed. Cautiously Jennifer approached her. She could see scratch marks and faint bruising on the unnaturally pale skin. The woman at least was a living creature. Ghosts did not bruise or bleed did they? With enormous care Jennifer sat down beside her and lay her hand on her. The skin felt cold and clammy. “You’re going to be alright miss. Everything’s going to be fine. I’m going to take you back to where it’s nice and warm.” Jennifer’s voice was a soothing whisper but there was not the faintest indication that the woman had heard her. The curious pale blue eyes were open and Jennifer passed a hand before them but elicited no reaction. Jennifer examined her closely. Had it not been for the dreadfully pale pallor and the grotesquely shaven head the woman would have been beautiful. She had a shapely body and the face held the promise of finely chiselled features. It was impossible to say how old she was. She seemed to belong to another time line and though there was barely a wrinkle in her features she seemed ancient like an old faded porcelain doll. Jennifer took her wrist and felt her pulse. It was faint and very slow. The woman’s breathing was nearly imperceptible and she sat as still as a statue, her wrist limp and heavy in Jennifer’s grasp. Jennifer quailed at the thought of getting the lady to move once more. She seemed so inert. How on earth was Jennifer to get her to her feet and start to lead her back to Rachel? She quickly saw that it would take two of them to lift her up and guide her. They might even have to half carry her. She needed help. That was a problem however. Surely she was too far away for Rachel to hear her calls for help. She could go back and fetch her of course but that held a hazard in its own right. If she left the woman now she might wander away once more and there were any number of passages she could take and the Goddess alone knew what hazards there were beyond this cave. Jennifer racked her brain for a solution as she held the woman’s hand in her own. The hand was cold and pale resting limply in her palm, the white skin in sharp contrast with the black leather of the cuff on Jennifer’s wrist. “Of course!” thought Jennifer in sudden inspiration. Quickly Jennifer unfastened the cuff from her left wrist and gently buckled it on the wrist of the pale lady. The heavy clip on the ring of the cuff she attached to a bar on the rusting framework of the old machinery. Now the woman would have to wake in order to detach herself. If not then she was firmly secured whilst Jennifer was free to seek assistance.
“I’ll be back soon miss. Just sit here and wait. I promise that I’ll be back soon.” The woman sat still her unseeing eyes directed at the ground. Jennifer picked up her torch once more and in seconds she was flying down the passage from which she had emerged into the big cavern. She was nearly a mile from where she had left Rachel and she returned to find her mentor very nearly psychotic with anxiety and on the point of following her into the caverns. Rachel was nearly as pale as the strange lady herself by now and she sobbed in relief as Jennifer returned.”
“Oh Jenny! Where have you been?”
Jennifer ignored the question in her excitement. “I’ve found her Pixie! She’s in a big cave down here! I’ve found her.”
“Oh Gracious Goddess! Thank you! Is she alright?”
“She’s a bit scratched and bruised Rachel but she seems to be unharmed otherwise. I couldn’t move her! We’ll both have to get her.”
“Have you just left her then? Oh Jenny what if she walks off again.”
Jennifer held up her left wrist “She can’t Pixie! I’ve put my cuff on her and fastened her to an old machine. She can’t go anywhere!”
“You’re just brilliant Jenny!” Rachel leant momentarily against the wall taking deep breaths. “I don’t know how to thank you Jennifer.”
“Come on Rachel! Let’s go and fetch her. She’s cold.”
“Right Jenny! Lead the way.”
The two women rapidly retraced Jennifer’s path. The woman was still sitting precisely as Jennifer had left her, her arm slightly raised where Jennifer had secured it to the machinery. Rachel seemed much calmer now as they approached her in the torchlight. With almost touching tenderness she took the woman by the shoulders and conducted an examination of her whilst crooning softly to her, “Cara mia. Why have you gone walking my sunshine? There’s nowhere for you down here in these caves my precious one. You belong back in your cell and in your dreams. Come back with us my darling. Let us lay you down again and rest your sweet head on its pillow. There your mind can wander in the dream-world cara and you’ll be all warm and snug in your cell.”
“Is she alright Rachel?” Jennifer whispered.
“Yes Jenny I think she is. She got a couple of contusions but nothing serious. She seems to be going a bit dopey however so we’re going to have a right job getting her back. We’ve got to try before she goes too far under though.” Rachel stroked the woman gently “Come beloved you must walk once more. Then we can take you back to your cell where you’ll be safe my treasure.” Rachel whispered to Jennifer “Take her under the arm Jenny and we’ll try to lift her.” To their surprise the woman came easily to her feet under their ministrations. “Grab the torch Jenny and shine it forwards and we’ll try to walk her.” With one of them supporting her under each arm they gradually managed to lead her forward. Before they left the big cave Jenny turned her head to listen. The persistent throbbing hum was still there.
“What’s that funny noise Rachel?
Rachel listened for a moment “I don’t know Jenny. It seems a long way away. There’re all sorts of things, secrets, buried in these caves Jenny that I don’t know about. Some of them I don’t want to know about! Never mind it now Let’s get her back.” Jennifer complied but the strange subliminal noise refused to go away. The sound of it made Jennifer’s senses tingle and the hair on her nape rise. Of two things she was certain. Firstly it originated far beyond the cavern they had found the pale lady in and secondly it was no natural noise.
By increments they guided the woman forward. It was a slow progress however and they were obliged to stop frequently as the woman became heavy on them before they could carefully urge her on again. They had covered perhaps half the distance back to the lighted chamber where Rachel had waited when Rachel observed. “This is no good Jenny! We’ll never get her all the way back to the main cellars at this rate!”
“What shall we do then?”
“We’ll get her as far as the lighted chamber if we can and then I’m going to go and find Sebastian to help us Jenny. You’ll have to stay with her alright?”
“Yes fine Pixie.”
“Ok one last effort.” It was a slow and tortuous effort. Several times Jennifer thought that they had walked the woman as far as they could. She seemed to grow heavier by the minute. Twice they had to shore her up when she seemed on the point of collapsing and soon they were both sweating with the effort. “Just a bit further Jenny!” Rachel breathed and so they struggled on until mercifully the light appeared ahead. It was plain that they could have got her little farther when they reached the lighted chamber and they eased her to the ground. “Sit down Jenny and rest her head in your lap.” Rachel ordered. “Keep hold of her whilst I fetch Sebastian. Goddess it’s a good job that I’m pregnant. I’d be looking at the worst whipping of my life for this day’s work otherwise! Will you be alright Jenny?”
“Yes! Yes of course. Now go and fetch Sebastian quickly.”
“Trouble is I don’t know where he is!”
“It must be nearing time for our evening meal Rachel. He’s bound to be in our chambers preparing our dinner for us.”
“Yes probably. But if he finds us missing he’ll lose the plot! I hope he hasn’t sent out a search party for us! Then there’ll be good hiding coming to both of us!”
“When you’ve dropped little Gentiana and her landing tackle Rachel I’ll gladly take a whipping with you.”
Rachel laughed and it was warming to see her humour returning. She knelt down and kissed Jennifer who was sat cross-legged cradling the lady in her lap. “Thank you for your bravery today Jennifer. You’ve been just wonderful. I love you!”
“I love you too Rachel but fetch Sebastian now and then we’ll both take our desserts!” Then Rachel left quickly leaving Jennifer holding their precious charge tenderly on the floor. Jennifer looked at the lady’s face and saw with surprise that her eyes were closed. She hadn’t seen her close them. “Who are you strange lady?” she asked softly. “What mystery of these cellars are you my pale skinned one?” She looked fondly now at the strange woman who had so frightened her earlier. She seemed so quiet, so still. Jennifer stroked the bald head with tenderness and felt the baby like smoothness of the skin. She clutched her against the warmth of her breast and rocked slightly. She felt as if she wanted this woman to have the sweet oblivion of sl**p. Softly she began to sing the little song that she had so loved when her mother had sung it to her in her bed as a c***d. Her voice was high and sweet
“Hush little baby don’t say a word, your mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that Mocking bird don’t sing, your mamma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring turns to brass, mamma’s gonna buy you a looking glass,
And if that looking glass gets broke, then mamma’s gonna buy you a billy goat,
And if that billy goat won’t pull, mamma’s gonna buy you a cart and bull,
And if that cart and bull fall over, mamma’s gonna buy you a dog called Rover,
And if that dog called Rover don’t bark, mamma’s gonna buy you a horse and cart,
And if that horse and cart fall down, you’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.”
Jennifer looked down at the strange woman and in some unfathomable way loved her. She leaned forward and kissed her gently on the high pale brow and it seemed to Jennifer as if the peace intensified. Of all the lessons that the cellars were teaching Jennifer then perhaps this stillness, this calm tranquillity was the most profound. Jennifer found it there cradling this unknown and enigmatic woman in the silence of that chamber. She was a woman indeed in those long minutes, projecting the soothing quietude of her motherhood onto some strange but terribly vulnerable person. A hypothetical bystander would have seen not a young unformed girl in the soft light of that chamber but somehow the very essence of the mother, pure and unadulterated love, fond protection and calming comfort. It was the very vision of the woman as mother that all people carry deep in the centres of their souls.
Jennifer could have sat there for hours gently nursing her charge but Rachel and Sebastian appeared all too soon. Sebastian looked fraught with worry but his face softened as he beheld Jennifer still holding the pale woman and murmuring to her softly. “Miss Jennifer,” said Sebastian kindly “Perhaps you would let me take care of the lady now.”
“She said something to me!” said Jennifer in wonder “I could hardly hear it but she spoke!”
“What did she say Jenny?” Rachel was at her side frowning.
“I… I don’t know Pixie. It was in Italian I think.”
“She was just talking in her sl**p Jenny. Come on now let her go. We’ve brought a stretcher to carry her back.” Sebastian laid the medical type stretcher on the ground and gently they rolled the woman on to it. Sebastian prepared to take one end of the stretcher and Rachel made as if to pick up the other.
“You are not going to do any lifting in your condition Rachel!” Jennifer told her severely.
“Oh I’ll be alright. She’s not that heavy!”
Sebastian intervened “Nevertheless Miss Jennifer is right Miss. I’m afraid that I must forbid you to undertake any unnecessary physical stress Miss Rachel. I am sure that Miss Jennifer and myself will be able to carry the lady without undue difficulty.”
“Ok! Ok!” Rachel held up her hands in surrender. Jennifer and Sebastian picked up the handles of the stretcher. The lady wasn’t that heavy Jennifer thought. In fact there was so much physical energy pouring through Jennifer at the moment that the weight of the woman seemed almost negligible. Easily and without due haste they carried her back through the cellars. When they finally approached their own prison quarters Jennifer felt a sudden rush of affection for the austere surroundings. It seemed incredible that she had once feared these warm caverns. After the dark mysteries of the caves beyond they felt cheerful and welcoming like the cosy parlour of a beloved cottage on a wild wintry night. They felt like home. Jennifer wanted to curl up in front of the big fireplace in the dining chamber with Chester on her knee, reading through her essay whilst Rachel knitted in the old scuffed armchair. But first they had to return the lady to whence she came.
All through the cellars Rachel had walked beside the stretcher crooning little nonsense words to the still woman and occasionally stroking her brow with concern. They passed through the dining chamber and took a passageway down which Jennifer had never ventured before. The floor sloped gradually downwards following a long curve. The passageway was dimly lit with rosy electric illumination but the floor was smooth and well tended. Well beyond the dining chamber they came upon a few side passages. At the third of these Sebastian turned in. There was a row of heavy steel doors stretching out along the corridor and one of these was open and shedding light out into the corridor. Sebastian turned into this doorway and it let into a quite fantastic small cell. It was more a hospital room than anything else Jennifer noted although the bed in it was large and low. The walls of the chamber were heavily padded and in fact this theme was carried on throughout the chamber. It was easy to see that the room was specifically designed to avoid any sort of sharp edge or corner. Jennifer instantly understood the logic behind this. This woman was as helpless as a baby. Everything that she could possibly harm herself on had been eliminated.
They laid the stretcher on the floor and Sebastian disappeared for a few moments. When he returned he was pushing a medical trolley with a stand for an intra-venal drip attached. “If you would assist me Miss Jennifer I think we should lay her on the bed. Would you be so kind as to cover the bed with that plastic sheeting Miss Rachel?” Once the plastic sheet was in place Sebastian and Jennifer eased the inert form onto the bed. Once in place Sebastian carried out a quick but thorough examination of her. He turned to Rachel and spoke softly. “She appears to have come to no harm Miss Rachel. There is some light bruising and one or two scratches but nothing of any consequence. We have been most fortunate.”
Rachel lowered her head in guilty misery “Yes Sebastian.”
“I think however we should bathe her and dress her wounds. Then I shall replace her body fluids and nutrients.” Sebastian pointed to the bottle hanging on the arm of the trolley. With a bowl of lukewarm soapy water Jennifer helped Rachel wash the dirt from the lady whist Sebastian applied ointments to her scratches and taped them up with surgical plasters. Once they had finished these chores Sebastian and Jennifer gently lifted the woman whilst Rachel removed the plastic sheeting. On the clean white linen of the bed the woman looked almost ethereal in her placid u*********sness. There were heavy straps on each side of the bed and Sebastian used them to secure the woman to her resting place. “I think it better that she was restrained for a while until she recovers somewhat from her adventures.” He explained. “I rather think that she is nearing waking and these incidents are likely to occur with greater frequency. We must see to her with diligence and due attention.”
“Sebastian! I don’t know how to begin to apologise,” began Rachel.
“Please do not concern yourself Miss Rachel. No harm has come of the incident. Now if you and Miss Jennifer would like to retire to the dining chamber I will finish off in here.”
“No Sebastian I’ll stay and help. This whole thing is my responsibility.”
“Forgive me Miss Rachel but you have had quite enough excitement for one day. I would much rather that you went and relaxed for a while. You are in a delicate condition yourself and I won’t have you taxing yourself further.”
“But I’m fine Sebastian really I am.”
“That Miss Rachel was an order!”
Rachel bit her lip “Yes sir!”
“Please have no fear Miss Rachel the lady will be perfectly safe in my hands. I notice that Miss Jennifer has suffered some lacerations during her adventures. Perhaps you could be attending to them from the first aid box whilst I take care of the lady here.”
“Yes sir! I’m sorry Jenny. I’d forgotten that you’d hurt yourself. Come along and we’ll get something on those cuts.”
Jennifer’s mind was reeling with questions but she demurred and with a solemn “Yes Rachel.” allowed herself to be lead back to the dining chamber where Rachel fussed over her superficial wounds as if they were life threatening. Finally she was satisfied.
“That should do it Jenny. Now then let’s have something to drink before we eat. Would you like some beer?” The thought of a big mug of rich, thirst quenching ale sounded just heaven to Jennifer and she nodded eagerly. Rachel smiled ruefully, “bl**dy barley water for me! If Sebastian catches me drinking alcohol today he’ll go completely ape-shit! Stay here and I’ll go and get us some drinks.” Within minutes Rachel returned from the scullery carrying a tray with a pair of jugs and large mugs. Jennifer and she sat down on the rug before the big open fire. The foamy malt beer tasted like nectar to Jennifer. She hadn’t realised just how thirsty she was. She downed half the big tankard in a single swallow wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Rachel laughed and topped up her tankard from the jug. “Jenny I can’t say how grateful I am to you today. You were a heroine in those caves! How can I thank you?”
“It was nothing really Rachel. But if you insist upon showing me gratitude then you can do so by giving me some explanations!”
“Yes Jenny! I owe you that much! What do you want to know?”
“Well to begin with just who is that lady and what is the matter with her?”
“I don’t know who she is Jenny! I know that she was called Magdalena but other than that I know nothing about her.”
“What! That’s crazy Rachel. You told me you were looking after her and others like her. You must know something about her.”
“I’m sorry but its true Jenny. Look you weren’t supposed to know about this yet but we usually have people like her staying in the cellars. They come to us completely anonymously. I’m not even supposed to know anything about them. Oh Sebastian will have all their background details but I’m only an apprentice in this respect so I’m not party to that information.”
“But what is wrong with her?”
“Not a damn thing Jenny other than a propensity for scaring the living daylights out of me!”
“There must be something wrong with her. She’s in a c*** or something isn’t she?”
“No she’s not in a c*** Jenny. She’s sl**ping.”
Or to be more precise she’s hibernating.”
“Am I going crazy or are you Pixie?”
“Both probably sweetheart. Nevertheless I stand by what I say. The lady is in deep hibernation as are the others in those chambers.”
“Bears hibernate Rachel, dormice hibernate, hamsters hibernate…”
“And so do people of the Line Jennifer.”
“You’re being serious aren’t you?”
“Yes Jenny. Hibernation is a common phenomenon among Alpha Sensual human beings.”
“How? Why? I mean people don’t just hibernate.”
“Ordinary Beta people don’t. You’re right. But then ordinary people don’t get to live for centuries Jennifer. That woman that you rescued from the caves today might well be hundreds of years old. Alpha Sensuals are very long lived Jenny. Barring misadventure there’s very little reason why Alpha Sensuals can’t go on indefinitely. You must have heard of this by now.”
“Rebecca started to tell me something about it Rachel but she was reluctant to go into details. She said my mother was nearly two hundred years old. That can’t be true can it?”
“Eminently possible Jennifer.”
Jennifer remembered the portrait of the Lady Anne in the Hall upstairs and how she’d asked Lady Mathom how old she was. You never asked a lady of the Line her age she’d told her. Jennifer began to understand. These were secrets you whispered down the well at midnight. “How.. how old is our Mistress?”
“I don’t know Jenny. Nobody knows really. Sometimes she’s called The First, or The Mother. There are legends about her Jenny. Some say she is one of the original Alpha Sensuals, the beginning of the Line. They say that she and her s****rs founded the Line way back before history began. They say that she was a founding member of civilisation Jenny. Her influence stretches back throughout history. She was ancient when the pharaohs built their pyramids on the banks of the Nile. She was old far beyond the normal span of human lives when the first people left their wandering and hunting days and started to till the soil in the Mesopotamian valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates. She was there at the beginning Jennifer. She’s seen it all. She’s thousands of years old. Your Mistress is the oldest and wisest person alive today Jennifer.”
“This ….this can’t be true!”
“Oh but it is Jennifer! This is not only your Mistress. You carry her genetic inheritance within you. That’s the meaning of the Line Jenny. She’s not just the House of Mathom Jenny. She’s founded houses all over the world. The Line is the empire of the Purple Lady! She’s the Goddess incarnate if you like. First among us, and the most powerful being that walks this planet. You bear the amethyst Jennifer. There is no prouder badge of slavery anywhere!”
“Oh My God! I can’t believe all this!”
“Yet it is the sober truth Jennifer.”
“But…. but how is this possible? How could she live so long?”
“Jenny I only know part of the story. Even the little bit I know about it however would make your hair curl! Once, when I was her lady in waiting, Maureen, Madeleine and I had to accompany her to a conference. It was a big shindig over in America, all confidential stuff, and there were people of the Line from all over the world. I got to meet people who are legends of the Line, founding members of some of the greatest dynasties among us. They took over virtually a whole ski resort in Colorado for a fortnight! I never got near the conference rooms or anything. They were talking about things you just wouldn’t want to know about, all highly classified stuff. The security was unbelievable! It was all under the pretext of some multi-national corporation or something, ostensibly discussing new fields of bio-medical research. In reality it was a major policy formation meeting of the Line, devising long-term future strategy. Don’t ask me what those were! To begin with I don’t really know and what I do know I couldn’t tell you! I was just one of the attendant slaves! There were four big hotels there just to house all the slaves the delegates had brought with them!
The point that I’m making is that this was one seriously important meeting involving some of the most influential families of the Line. There was not the slightest doubt however about who was top dog at that conference! Everybody stood up and kow-towed every time I walked in a room and I was just the Purple Lady’s miserable slave, wet behind the ears and barely out of nappies! Everywhere I went people wanted to know about her. She’s a legend, the biggest there is! She could have taken her fur off in the middle of the hotel plaza and about half a dozen people would have caught it before it hit the ground! At that conference I got to see just how revered she is. Amongst all the other slaves my two s****rs and I had celebrity status. I smoked in those days and every time I took a cigarette packet out some pageboy would spring up out of the floorboards seemingly with a lighter in his hand! We were slaves of the Purple Lady, right at the top of the pecking order and if we said “frog” everybody jumped! That’s how powerful her status is within the Line! We even got to meet royalty and heads of state at that conference and they all deferred to the Purple Lady! She’s the true Queen of the Line, the Empress!
Everybody at that conference was wildly excited just because she was there. We three slaves had a spending allowance for our spare time and what have you but we hardly got to spend a penny in the whole two weeks! We’d walk into a bar or restaurant and there’d be a bottle of bubbly, compliments of the house, on the table before we’d even planted our privileged backsides! Well we got to hear some of the stories about the Lady whilst we were there. People just love to talk about her! How much of what we heard was myth or legend I couldn’t tell you but some of the stories just seemed too fantastic to be true! Everybody plied us with questions about her! Well of course we couldn’t divulge personal secrets but it didn’t seem to matter. People were interested in everything about her, what she ate for bl**dy breakfast, who was her hairdresser, what kind of lingerie did she favour, the most trivial gossip you could imagine!
It was crazy Jenny! One day she sent me down to a boutique to buy a brand of perfume she’d taken a fancy to and I told the girl at the counter that it was for Her Ladyship and to put it on her account. Within two days you couldn’t get that brand of perfume for love or money anywhere in the resort! Every last bottle was sold! They probably had to bring in special shipments of the stuff! On the second night we were there she wore this stunning amethyst pendant to a dinner gala in the poshest restaurant in the whole place and she made us wear matching pendants to accompany her. Within three days there were imitations of those pendants in every jewellery shop in the resort! Every other female slave in town was flouncing about in one, posing it up and pretending to be a Mathom girl! It was hilarious!
Of course it was just nuts for us girls! We’d have fresh flowers and champagne in our rooms every day, chauffeurs to drive us everywhere. We couldn’t even leave the hotel without half the bl**dy staff lined up as an honour guard in the foyer. One day we went shopping whilst the Lady was in conference and we had six guys accompanying us as bodyguards and carrying our things around for us so we wouldn’t sully our precious little hands with bl**dy shopping bags or something! And the offers we got! Goddess! We were married, Maureen, Madeleine and I then but we got so many marriage offers it simply wasn’t true. Everybody wanted to buy us! The Lady could have set up an auction block on the main square and made millions out of us! There was a rumour going about that some rich Asian guy had offered the Lady a cool thirty million dollars for the three of us and when she’d looked down her nose at him he’d promptly doubled the offer! People were prepared to pay silly money just for the prestige of owning a Mathom Hall girl! Gorgeous little Madeleine could have set herself up for life within twenty-four hours of hitting town! Maureen caught the eye of some Middle Eastern guy, his wife and f****y and there was a bunch of roses big enough to decorate a banquet delivered to her room every day!
It was an eye opener I can tell you Jenny. We knew that our Mistress was just far out of course but we’d never really seen just what respect and status she held within the Line. I can’t begin to describe the pride we all felt to be her personal slaves. It was as if we’d been accorded royal status, which in a way, of course we had. We’d all lead quite sheltered lives here at the Hall, deliberately so I suppose, and we hadn’t really been exposed to all this in our pampered little existence. You can bet that the Lady kept a bl**dy watchful eye over all of us! We were so excited that we barely realised to begin with that there was a whole security section specifically designated to watch over us. We couldn’t so much as pop down to the hotel bar without a bevy of sombre looking heavies in dark suits, with ominous bulges in, and sunglasses hovering around in the background somewhere. I doubt if we could have taken a pee without the Lady knowing about it! We told our minders that we wanted to take a walk in the mountain countryside one day. That set the cat among the pigeons! We’d just created a security nightmare! The logistics of that walk beggared belief! There were armed guards with radios covering every last inch of our walk and, I swear its true, a fast reaction team in a helicopter overhead. The harassed head of security came along to the Lady and begged her to keep us chained up in future! Apparently she just smiled and told him that if her young ladies wanted to take a walk then that was their privilege and it was his job to make sure that nothing untoward happened to them! I bet the poor bastard was glad to see the back of us!”
Jennifer laughed enjoying Rachel’s story immensely and feeling thrills of pride in her own status. This was what it meant, to be a slave of Mathom Hall and its revered Mistress, to bask in the reflected glory of an astonishing Lady. This woman could command an empire all over the world yet take the time to interest herself in her beloved slaves. Jennifer felt an enormous gratification that this great Lady had taken her for her own. No wonder her slaves adored her so. Nothing seemed too trivial for the Lady to concern herself with when it came to her slaves. She could sit at her desk by day and make decisions that could change the fate of nations yet find the time to compliment you on a becoming hairstyle and reward you with a kiss. She was magnificent wasn’t she? A Queen indeed. This was what it meant to bear the amethyst as Rachel had put it. Jennifer fingered the amethyst stone on her collar aware now of its far reaching and profound significance. She let the sonorous words roll around her mind, “Slave of the Amethyst!” and it afforded her the most intense satisfaction. But she still had questions to be answered. “But Rachel how can people of the Line live so long?”
Before Rachel could answer Sebastian entered the chamber and Rachel looked up worried. “Is… is she alright Sebastian?”
“Yes Miss Rachel. No harm has come to the Lady. Please do not concern yourself. Are you properly rested now Miss?”
“Yes thank you Sebastian.” Rachel looked sombre and rose to her feet to bow penitently. “Sebastian. Sir. This wretched slave humbly begs your forgiveness for her criminal negligence. Through my foolish neglect I have endangered the well being of one of the people entrusted to my care. I humbly request that I be punished severely for my irresponsible foolishness.”
“Miss Rachel! You are forgiven! You and Miss Jennifer here demonstrated high courage in amelioration of your earlier oversight and thanks to your efforts the Lady is unharmed. The incident is closed. It is by no means the first time that a similar event has occurred and, I confess, that I have been guilty myself on occasion. Let us just be thankful that no harm has befallen either to the lady in question or yourselves. Possibly it was reprehensible for both of you to put yourselves in danger but I can understand your motives for doing so and I am just delighted that you are both safe and well. Now if you’ll forgive me I must see to your evening meal.”
“Oh Sebastian! You mustn’t go to any great trouble. After the events of today Jennifer and I will be well contented with something simple and cold.”
“Nonsense Miss! After your efforts you must have something warm and substantial. In any case I have already prepared your meal. I’ve prepared a pot of the stew and dumplings that you like so well.”
Rachel clapped her hands together in pleasure. “Oh wonderful Sebastian! Jenny, Sebastian here makes the best stew and dumplings you’ve ever tasted! This is a treat! We haven’t earned it but it’s a treat! I’m gonna have three helpings!”
“I would be careful of your calorific intake Miss Rachel.”
“Oh p*o to that Sebastian! I’m eating for two! If you want me to diet sensibly you shouldn’t tempt me with stew and dumplings!”
“Very well Miss Rachel!” Sebastian chuckled warmly “I think after today’s trials we may all indulge ourselves a little. I shall attend to it immediately.”
“Sebastian?” asked Rachel sombrely.
“I know that I do not deserve this but I would ask it as a boon anyway sir.”
“And that is Miss?”
“Would you so kindly grace our table sir and join us for our evening meal? I am unworthy to ask this of you sir but Jennifer is in need of instruction regarding the events she has witnessed today. It would be an enormous assistance for you to be there and aid me in informing Jennifer of some of the mysteries of these cellars and the Line sir. I ask it for Jennifer’s sake and not my own worthless benefit.”
“Why Miss Rachel, Miss Jennifer, I would be honoured!”
“Thank you sir! You do us great honour!”
“Perhaps then if you ladies would be so kind as to set the table I shall bring out the food and then we can dine.” Sebastian frowned remembering something suddenly. “Ah yes Miss Jennifer. You will be wanting this back.” He pulled a black object from his pocket and held it out.
“Oh my cuff! I’d forgotten all about it!”
“You should be pleased that it came to no harm Miss. It is very valuable.”
“Thank you Sebastian.” Jennifer buckled the heavy leather cuff back on to her left wrist taking satisfaction in the re-imposition of her symbols of slavery. “Sebastian?”
“I’m honoured that you are dining with us. I do really want the answers to some questions.”
“And as far as I can I shall answer them Miss. You have at least earned that right today. Let us eat first however. Talking of deep secrets is easier on a full stomach.” They began to lay the table as Sebastian went to fetch their food from the cellar kitchen. Jennifer felt a mounting excitement. Tonight some of the mysteries of the Line would be opened up to her. She was to be admitted to the inner secrets of her heritage.